Success in politics depends on timing (when reaching for power) and counting (once in office). President Jacob Zuma is a master survivor because he is adept at counting the votes he has — not among the country’s electorate, which does not appoint him, but in the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), which does. And in the art and science of patronage, Zuma is a true professional.

Many NEC members owe their material lives to him. Nearly a third of all ANC MPs are ministers or deputy ministers, appointed by him. These facts are all but ignored amid the excited speculation about whether Zuma will serve his full term as president of the ANC and the country.

In the past few weeks, we’ve had crystal-clear evidence emerge of the alarming extent to which Zuma has allowed his friends, the Guptas, to seize SA’s economic levers. We’ve had revelations in leaked e-mails of how he planned to resettle in Dubai, and we’ve had the country’s churches speak out about the silent coup that has allowed Zuma’s shadow state to seize control. We’ve had credit downgrades — and more await.

So if the NEC wasn’t able to tell Zuma that enough is enough last weekend, what will it take to get rid of him?

Clearly, the open hostility of the ANC’s alliance partners in Cosatu and the SA Communist Party won’t sway him, nor will the blunt criticism of distinguished ANC stalwarts. He brushes aside open rebellion from some of his own ministers.

Zuma has sailed through the mounting indignities of his office — the Nkandla extravagance, the Gupta family using an air force base, the protection of incompetent directors at state-owned enterprises, upheaval from his cabinet appointments — as if they were parking tickets.

Richard Nixon, who was moved to resign as US president after his lies over the Watergate burglary were exposed, would blush. Clearly, no level of shame can induce Zuma to leave.

But, then, while Zuma is certainly a problem, he is not the problem. No, that is the ANC.

A decade ago, the organisation humiliated and sent packing a hitherto-powerful president, Thabo Mbeki. Mbeki had his faults — notably his obtuseness on HIV/Aids, and his genial condoning of electoral and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. But he was a major figure in the struggle against apartheid and, as president, he was accomplished, balancing the need for economic growth with the imperatives of redistribution of wealth.

But the ANC and its allies found him increasingly aloof and peremptory, and "recalled" him.

This past weekend, the NEC could have done the same to Zuma. But there had to be a clear alternative candidate, as Zuma was to Mbeki.

This is where timing comes in. If the incumbent is challenged too soon, the rebels will be sent to political Siberia; too late, and the prize may go to someone who will complete Zuma’s state-capture project.

This week, Cyril Ramaphosa seemed presidential as he addressed Cosatu. He struck the right notes, and connected with his audience. But Ramaphosa has not yet proven that he has what it takes, in terms of political appetite, to make the position his own. And until there is a realistic and attractive challenger to Zuma, the ANC NEC will remain paralysed in the headlights of the Zuma bulldozer, driven by the Guptas.

As the Betrayal of Promise report last week made clear, the "rent-seekers" have seized control of the country. By not being willing to act last weekend to dismantle this, it is the ANC that is the problem — not Zuma.

As each new challenge to Zuma remains unmet, the likelihood of the ANC being saved at all once Zuma has gone dims further.

Please sign in or register to comment.