It is rich that the ruling ANC is forced to adhere to legal niceties to remove a "constitutional delinquent" — Jacob Zuma — from his office as president of the country.
A marathon 13-hour meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) this week ended in Zuma digging in his heels and rejecting calls by the party to relinquish the presidency.
This is unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who voluntarily resigned once the party had "recalled" him — a clear signal that it had lost confidence in him. Mbeki’s director-general in the presidency, Frank Chikane, in his book on Mbeki’s recall, Eight Days in September, likened it to a "coup d’état" as the ANC did not follow parliamentary procedures.
Perhaps in the coming years Cyril Ramaphosa’s long dance to end Zuma’s reign will, with hindsight, be seen as having been both wise and necessary to ensure the party would not again be accused of knifing the incumbent, and would not suffer another split.
The special NEC meeting began at around 2pm on Monday and received a report from top party officials on their talks with Zuma and on an earlier recommendation by the national working committee for him to be recalled.
Several sources told the Financial Mail that a proposal from Zuma to resolve the impasse was placed on the table during the report-back: he offered to resign unconditionally provided he could serve out a three-month "notice period".
It is understood that Zuma told Ramaphosa he would use those three months to "introduce him" to international bodies such as the African Union, the UN and the Brics partners Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Sources sceptical of Zuma’s motives suggest that what he really wanted was to continue as top dog for a little longer to ensure that deals favourable to his family and friends — including his alleged pact with Russia to build six nuclear power stations — get the go-ahead.
Zuma’s proposal was rejected by the NEC, whereupon Ramaphosa and secretary-general Ace Magashule left the meeting to inform him, at his residence in Pretoria, of the NEC’s stance.
Magashule at a media briefing on Tuesday confirmed this, saying the nation was going through much uncertainty and anxiety over the matter.
Even die-hard Zuma backers like his preferred successor, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, spoke tacitly in favour of his removal. According to insiders, she appealed for unity but conceded it was clear Zuma could not see out his term and could not deliver the state of the nation address.
The meeting remained in session and was kept on "lockdown" while Ramaphosa and Magashule went to see Zuma.
It was a brief meeting, at which Zuma told Ramaphosa to "do what you have to do" because he would not resign.
Armed with Zuma’s recalcitrance, Ramaphosa returned to inform the NEC of the president’s stance.
Insiders said this hardened attitudes against Zuma almost immediately; even some of his erstwhile backers then came out in favour of his removal.
About 65 members lined up to address the NEC, and it is believed almost all were in favour of recalling Zuma.
The possibility that Zuma might refuse to go voluntarily led to a proposal to table a motion of no confidence in him in parliament, which was agreed upon.
A decision was taken to communicate the recall to Zuma in writing to give him an opportunity to "formally" respond. The letter was delivered to him by his allies Magashule and Jessie Duarte on Tuesday morning. Magashule told journalists that Zuma’s recall was in line with rule 12 of the ANC constitution.
Ramaphosa in his closing remarks at the NEC said that the "legal process" of removing Zuma from office should now unfold.
The NEC agreed that by February 19 a new president should be sworn in so the state of the nation address could go ahead and the budget — due to be delivered by the finance minister on February 21 — could be tabled on schedule.
The ANC under Ramaphosa is now preparing for an unprecedented parliamentary removal of its defiant head of state, Zuma.
It set to work quickly on Tuesday, convening an urgent meeting of its parliamentary caucus and requesting a chief whips meeting be brought forward.
But there are pitfalls ahead.
Once a motion of no confidence in Zuma is passed, the entire cabinet would have to resign. Insiders say there’s some discomfort over whether the ANC caucus will vote in line with the party decision, given the fallout when it voted in a motion of no confidence against Zuma last year, which he survived.
However, caucus insiders are confident that even without the help of opposition parties, the ANC will on its own muster the votes to remove Zuma. The official opposition DA and other smaller parties will no doubt vote to see the back of Zuma.
But there could be a complication. The main opposition parties, the DA and Julius Malema’s EFF, announced on Monday that they would approach the courts to have parliament dissolved altogether.
What it means:
Zuma’s intransigence over ANC demands that he step down bodes ill for the party
They also gave national assembly speaker Baleka Mbete a deadline of Tuesday this week to bring forward the EFF’s motion of no confidence in Zuma on an urgent basis. It had already been set down for February 22.
Of course the ANC does not want to vote out its president in an "opposition-sponsored" motion of no confidence. It would prefer to bring its own. However, Mbete is once again in a bind.
She cannot be seen to favour the ANC, her own party, and schedule an ANC-led motion of no confidence ahead of that brought by the EFF. So the ANC may have to wangle a deal with opposition parties to drop their motion so it can table its own. But they are unlikely to bite.
Malema said Mbete had not responded to his party’s request to bring the vote forward from February 22 to February 15.
DA leader Mmusi Maimane also wrote to Mbete and national council of provinces chair Thandi Modise on Monday requesting the dissolution of parliament in terms of section 50 of the constitution, and calling an early election.
"This section of the constitution envisages a situation such as the one that we find ourselves in whereby the country needs a fresh beginning and a fresh mandate," he wrote in the letter.
"Moreover, whoever succeeds Zuma as president of the ANC does so with the mandate of the ANC and not the people of SA."
If parliament is dissolved, a general election would need to take place within 90 days.
Amid all this, at the time of going to press, Zuma remained mum.
He seems unlikely to co-operate, though — he has remained obstinate throughout, with talk that he may even approach the courts to block his removal.
While the ANC has finally fallen into step with the rest of the nation over its rogue president, "Zexit" is far from sealed — a situation bad for the economy and for the country’s young democracy.
What is clear is that Zuma is not going gracefully. He will have to be squeezed further into a corner before he relents.
And that could turn ugly.