President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

The end of President Jacob Zuma seems tantalisingly near but also so far. The question on everyone’s mind is how long can he last?

A crescendo of opposition is mounting against him. Cosatu’s call on Tuesday that he step down is immensely important. Together with the South Africa Communist Party (SACP), which came out with the same call a week ago, these two organisations represent a significant number of ANC members. SACP and Cosatu activists and organisers also tend to be among the most active ANC members; they make up the heart of the ANC.

On Tuesday, ANC veterans also called for him to go and it emerged on Monday that the ANC’s own integrity committee had asked him to step down. These follow the many other calls from church leaders, opposition parties, civil society organisations and luminaries from within the ANC tradition.

With pockets of protest starting to spring up all over and the credit ratings agencies beginning to wield the axe, Zuma’s world is closing in.

But even with all this and more — two marches are planned on the Union Buildings in the next week — Zuma is sitting tight. He will not go voluntarily and has drafted in reinforcements in the form of ANC provincial chairmen to protect him at Tuesday’s national working committee meeting. It can also be expected that he will mobilise ANC supporters in the strongholds of his strongmen and put on a show of force.

But while he does, time is running out and attention will inevitably turn to Parliament, which has become a new and important player in resolving the ANC conflict.

The next ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting will be critical. Disaffected ANC MPs have indicated that before they support a vote of no confidence, they must take another shot at persuading the ANC national executive to put the motion itself. This is their insurance policy against being labelled traitors.

While the next NEC meeting is scheduled for May, it is possible that a special meeting will be called before then in the light of the crisis. It is a certainty that a motion of no confidence will be put to the meeting.

One of two things could happen. Zuma’s supporters could reject the motion and support him, with the result that a clear decision cannot be reached. This opens the door for his detractors in Parliament to support an opposition motion on the grounds that the NEC is moribund. Provided this motion is put by a smaller party that would not be able to whip the ANC about it at the polls, there is a very good chance that the vote will succeed.

The other possible outcome of the NEC meeting is that everyone agrees to remove him. For his closest supporters, this is a large gamble, as the loss of the presidency will threaten their hold on the state.

However, for the ANC as an organisation, this is the best possible outcome as it may offer it some redemption with voters in 2019. This could swing some NEC members who have previously insisted that it was necessary to keep Zuma.

The difficulty, though, will be to agree on a replacement. It’s not unthinkable that a suitably neutral person could be found. In this negotiation, though, it would be the Zuma detractors who have the upper hand, given their alternative option of voting with the opposition.

It will be an intense few weeks for ANC MPs, on whom the future of the Zuma presidency now hinges. If they stand firm or can reach an agreement, then Zuma’s days will be quickly over. If not, the country could limp all the way to the ANC’s December conference, while campaigns of civil society and the political opposition, swelled by the activists of Cosatu and the SACP, grow the ranks of the disaffected every day.

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