Jacob Zuma’s fate now in hands of new NEC
The ANC has left its former president Jacob Zuma’s fate in the hands of its newly elected top leadership structure, the national executive committee (NEC).
It will once again be up to the NEC to decide whether to recall Zuma after the issue was raised at its 54th national conference, which wrapped up its business at Nasrec on Wednesday night.
The NEC recalled former president Thabo Mbeki about nine months after Zuma had displaced him as party president.
But there is an acute urgency around Zuma’s recall due to the proximity of the 2019 national election and his scandal-ridden decade in office. It is understood that both camps that contested for the ANC presidency would have moved to cut short Zuma’s term in a bid to restore confidence in the party ahead of the 2019 poll.
The party under Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership is now under pressure to act against Zuma also to restore investor confidence and prevent further rating downgrades.
The new NEC is expected to be a "mixed bag", which includes remnants of the Zuma faction. However, insiders said due to the shift in the presidency, many of those who were afraid to speak out against Zuma while he was party president might now be emboldened to do so.
At a commission sitting during the last two days of the conference, delegates raised Zuma’s recall, but it is understood the debate was shut down by provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal. The issue of "two centres of power" was then raised in the plenary session of the conference. The official word from the party was that the NEC was mandated to "manage" the issue of "two centres of power".
This refers to a power base in Luthuli House — which is now Ramaphosa — and another in the state, which is currently Zuma.
Outgoing ANC head of organising Fikile Mbalula told journalists the issue had been raised and it was decided that the NEC would be tasked with managing it.
He emphasised, however, that delegates at the conference had reaffirmed the ANC as the centre of power — implying that Zuma would have to abide by any decision taken by the party.
"The ANC takes decisions and its deployees in government must abide … it is the ANC that gives a mandate to its deployees in government," Mbalula said.
One such decision was for a judicial commission of inquiry — in line with former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report — to be set up urgently.
This was the key decision taken by the conference that places Zuma in a corner — he has also been ordered by the high court to set up the commission with a presiding judge selected by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
Zuma has not indicated whether he would appeal against the judgment, but should he do so, it would be an act of defiance against the ANC.
The party also moved to give its integrity committee teeth by including its powers in the party’s constitution, but this was blocked by Zuma-aligned provinces KwaZulu-Natal, the Free State and the North West.
The committee was set up to protect the image of the party and hold members facing damaging allegations accountable. The matter has now been referred to its next national general council, which will only be held in mid-2020.
The previous council held in 2015 also agreed that the committee be given more teeth.
The ANC has done nothing but ignore most findings of the integrity commission, especially those relating to Zuma.
The party called on the government to "speedily" implement Zuma’s decision to provide free higher education for poor and working-class students.
"There is a very strong call that government must act speedily to implement the free higher education for young people from poor and working-class backgrounds, and also to provide for families in the middle strata who are unable to meet the full costs of higher education‚" said Science and Technology Minister Naledi Pandor.
The call for the swift implementation of the plan came just days after Zuma announced that the government would increase subsidies to universities from 0.68% to 1% of gross domestic product over the next five years as proposed by of the Heher commission on university fee increments.
When asked where the funding for free education would come from, Pandor said Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba had indicated the issue would be addressed during the 2018 budget speech.
With Genevieve Quintal