President Jacob Zuma (front left), Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (front, second right) and  ministers and deputy ministers celebrate Africa Day 2017.  Picture: GCIS
President Jacob Zuma (front left), Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa (front, second right) and ministers and deputy ministers celebrate Africa Day 2017. Picture: GCIS

It’s never nice to be the one to spoil the fun, but the story doing the rounds this week that the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) will ask President Jacob Zuma to step down, sadly is a case of wishful thinking.

There is no doubt that Zuma’s presidency is damaging the ANC’s credibility and its chances at the polls, come 2019. There is also a growing realisation that instead of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma being helped in her campaign for the ANC presidency by her proximity to Zuma, the association is proving more of a handicap day by day.

To dump Zuma now and shore up support ahead of the election is the rational and sensible thing for the ANC to do.

The problem is that the ANC has been neither rational nor sensible for quite some time.

Although signs of dissent grow by the day — now Zuma is banned from addressing gatherings of Cosatu and Parliament plans an inquiry into Eskom — the NEC is sharply divided. Convention is that all decisions are taken by consensus or sufficient consensus and that no voting takes place. To win a no-confidence vote in the NEC would require a good deal more than 50% plus 1. Probably only 70% could do it. The anti-Zuma crowd just doesn’t have this kind of support.

But what of his supporters; the many men and women on the NEC who owe their positions to him and who are part of his monstrous patronage machine? They too are well aware that should the ANC’s electoral fortunes decline significantly, they will find themselves outside Parliament and the government — which means they will be without the only livelihood they have ever known.

This lot are caught in a double bind. As much as they realise the damage being done, they have no alternative candidate in the ANC to put forward to step into Zuma’s shoes. Dlamini-Zuma, who is their choice for the next president, is not popular enough; neither is she a member of Parliament. Baleka Mbete, another option, is extremely weak and could do more damage than leaving Zuma in place. An opponent of their faction — Cyril Ramaphosa, Zweli Mkhize or Lindiwe Sisulu – is simply unthinkable, given the reversals in the patronage machine that would be sure to follow.

For them, it is best to hang on until December, when the ANC’s national conference sits. It is only six months away and the general consensus among them is that this faction will win the conference hands down. They will not give away power, when the big prize is almost in sight.

For the ANC and for SA, everything now depends on the December conference

For the ANC and for SA, everything now depends on the December conference. Aside from Dlamini-Zuma, all of Ramaphosa, Sisulu, Mkhize and Mbete continue to campaign and mobilise branches as if this is a fair and open contest. So do provincial strongmen aligned to Zuma, Ace Magashule, David Mabuza and Supra Mahumapelo.

No matter who wins, big political changes are afoot. If it is the Zuma faction, then it is likely that, at last, he will be asked to step down and a new power bloc will be assembled to prepare for 2019. If it is the Ramaphosa side that wins, to keep Zuma on as president will be intolerable.

There is also the possibility that in the light of a highly contested conference, the conference could collapse or the ANC could split into two halves, each proclaiming itself the true party.

SA is impatient for change. From investors, who seek hope in wishful headlines, to workers who are watching joblessness and desperation grow, all agree that change in political leadership is now imperative. The exact size, shape and form of it at this point is highly uncertain.

But there is only another six months to wait before that change will be here.

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