President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS

There is a push to have the ANC’s top six officials "manage" President Jacob Zuma’s early exit from the Union Buildings, instead of the 80-strong national executive committee (NEC) recalling him.

This is the view that emerged from caucuses that took place ahead of the first ordinary sitting of the NEC, which started in Irene, north of Johannesburg, on Thursday. The party is holding a two-day NEC meeting followed by a two-day lekgotla, which is expected to end on Sunday.

Zuma’s future will be discussed at the meetings, with a group aligned to ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa pushing for the NEC to mandate the top officials to handle Zuma’s removal.

This was despite new ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule insisting the issue was not on the table.

NEC insiders told Business Day discussions about Zuma’s possible exit were unavoidable.

Ramaphosa was set to brief the meeting on these discussions in his political overview on Thursday afternoon.

Insiders said the discussion on Zuma’s removal could flow from the briefing.

Business Day understands the top six managing the matter would allow it to be done "sensitively". Zuma had handed the new leadership a poisoned chalice when he announced free higher education on the eve of the ANC’s national conference.

A view has emerged within the caucus backing Ramaphosa that Zuma should be left to deal with the fallout of this decision. "Let him see the consequences of his actions," said a source close to the talks.

The options for funding higher education would be unpopular and would lead to unhappiness, particularly from within the ANC-led alliance. Zuma’s removal could then follow as the new leadership moved in to repair the damage.

There is also a push to have Zuma implement certain immediate changes in the government, such as appointing a new Eskom board and dealing with the crisis there. His failure to do so would provide grounds for his removal.

The ANC is the centre of power and Zuma will have to act on decisions handed to him by the party. This is why he appointed a state-capture inquiry, despite his resistance to it for over a year and his court appeal of the decision.

The ANC resolved at the December conference that the inquiry be set up. By not doing so, Zuma would have been going against the party. In what was seen to be an attempt by Zuma to avoid being recalled ahead of the January 8 statement, the president announced the appointment of the inquiry.

Magashule said the party would discuss the resolutions taken at the 54th national conference, including land expropriation without compensation and free higher education.

The NEC would also discuss leadership in the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal following court judgments handed down in 2017 that nullified leadership structures elected in those provinces. It is understood Zuma backers are set to push for the KwaZulu-Natal executive committee, which was declared illegal by the high court, to be converted to a provincial task team with a few leaders aligned to former chairman Senzo Mchunu included in the structure. There is likely to be resistance to this.