A tale of two days – Zuma’s last and Ramaphosa’s first

17Feb 2018
The Guardian
A tale of two days – Zuma’s last and Ramaphosa’s first
  • Jacob Zuma’s last-minute resignation from the country’s presidency left ANC parliamentarians with a palpable sense of relief after the caucus convinced him they would vote with the Economic Freedom Fighters, led by his nemesis, Julius Malema, to oust him
  • if he didn’t leave. Now some are saying that they called his bluff – and that Zuma blinked first.

Somewhere in between his defiant afternoon interview with the SABC and his almost measured suit-and-red-tie resignation speech in the later hours of Wednesday evening, Jacob Zuma must have had a Damascene conversion.

Jacob Zuma's resignation (Wednesday) and Cyril Ramaphosa after he was sworn president on Thursday. Photo: EPA

If talk among ANC strategists is to be believed, the EFF deserves some credit for this.

On that morning, the ANC caucus held a special meeting. It was scheduled for 11:00 to give Zuma a chance to deliver his expected resignation address, which should have happened at 10:00.

Zuma had an apparent change of mind about this, and government communications people were told to “uninvite” journalists by telling them the original notice for the 10:00 briefing was “fake news”.

The 11:00 ANC parliamentary caucus meeting went ahead nonetheless. None of the ANC MPs came out in Zuma’s defence during this meeting, one of those present said. Whereas they had expressed differing opinions before (some ministers were still singing to Zuma for their supper as recently as last week), those who used to defend him were simply quiet on Wednesday.

That caucus meeting had another difference: it was addressed by ANC Treasurer General Paul Mashatile, whose stance about Zuma stepping down is no-nonsense and decisive, and in contrast to Secretary-General Ace Magashule’s no-deadline-he-did-nothing-wrong view.

Magashule addressed last week’s caucus meeting, but had been very much invisible in the last couple of days. He didn’t even attend the National Assembly sitting on Thursday where Cyril Ramaphosa was elected president, as you’d have expected a full-time party official to do. In fact, the SABC’s Aldrin Sampear interviewed him at home in Parys, Free State, where he looked rather nervous when the questions turned to a recent raid on the compound of the Gupta brothers in relation to the Estina dairy project – which happened under Magashule’s watch.

While Parliament was preparing on Thursday morning for Ramaphosa’s election, in Bloemfontein a nephew of the Gupta brothers appeared in court in connection with the case, while one of Zuma’s good friends, Ajay Gupta, was considered a fugitive from justice because he couldn’t be found to be arrested.

Back to Zuma. There was unhappiness in the ANC caucus meeting on Wednesday about his refusal to resign, so much so that they did the unthinkable and resolved to support the EFF’s motion of no confidence in Zuma, scheduled for the next day. The ANC wanted to take ownership of the motion by customising it slightly and making a few adjustments.

Several ANC MPs said they didn’t feel comfortable, but this was a necessary evil.

The prospect of being ousted by the same insolent young man who was kicked out of the ANC six years prior, under his watch, would have been a humiliating prospect for Zuma.

Either that, or someone cut an irresistible deal with him hours before his resignation. The party has vowed it wouldn’t do that.

In his resignation speech, Zuma did express some surprise at the no-confidence ultimatum set to him by the NEC. He said news about the motion of no confidence on Thursday was a “new decision” by the NEC.

He made a rare – for him – distinction between party and state. The same man who previously said the ANC always came first, now expressed some kind of regret that some in his party “tend to place the political party above the supreme law of the country”, the Constitution. He asked that his party remove him in terms of the Constitution, and that they tell him what he did wrong.

Was this, perhaps, a challenge to the ANC, insinuating that he would, before the caucus members had gone rogue and sided with the EFF, have been confident of winning a “fair” vote of no confidence? Or did he want to stretch things out a bit – as he likes to do – with weeks of impeachment proceedings?

Still, he resigned, and on Thursday afternoon Ramaphosa became the fifth president of the democratic South Africa, barely a week after Zuma, according to the original schedule, would have delivered the State of the Nation Address.

Soon after Ramaphosa’s election and swearing-in, pot plants, big screens and red carpets were already being readied for his first SONA.

There was relief among the ANC caucus about the way it had all turned out. ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu lingered with Ramaphosa for a good while after proceedings in the National Assembly chamber. Ramaphosa was congratulated by other MPs and took selfies with the likes of ministers Lindiwe Zulu (former Zuma loyalist) and Lindiwe Sisulu (his former ANC leadership running mate and rumoured to be the next deputy president or minister of international relations).

When asked how he felt after Ramaphosa’s election, Mthembu said: “I am very relieved. Very!”

It’s an understatement – he looked elated. In his message to Ramaphosa from the ANC earlier in the House, Mthembu pointed out that Ramaphosa was unanimously supported by all the parties (nobody mounted a challenge, as happened after the 2014 election when the ANC caucus nominated Zuma), and that “service to the people” was in Ramaphosa’s DNA.

Then, the important bit, that ANC cadres knew Ramaphosa from their student days, “when we fought for the unbanning of the ANC, and when it was unbanned in 1991, you became the secretary-general of the ANC. You have been there,” Mthembu told Ramaphosa.

Just last week a group of Zuma supporters in the party reheated allegations by convicted fraudster and self-confessed gangster Gayton McKenzie that Ramaphosa came to the ANC suspiciously late, and was hence not a worthy leader. Mthembu wanted to show those spreading these stories who’s the boss.

Other caucus members also expressed their relief after proceedings.

“When we elected him, I felt like my parents were still alive. I’m so happy,” a senior ANC member said, with reference to the 1990s transition years.

Even hardened ANC loyalists felt it had become too difficult to defend Zuma in recent years due to his mounting scandals and corruption allegations.

“You know, the last elections campaign was so difficult. When you gave people T-shirts with Zuma’s face on it they said, ‘what is this, we don’t want to wear this’. Then we had to go and get T-shirts with ANC logos for people to wear,” the caucus member said.

Most of all, she said she was elated that it didn’t boil down to the ANC having to vote with the opposition parties “to get rid of one of our own”.

Ramaphosa, in his acceptance speech, steered clear of ANC politics and kept it presidential.

Ramaphosa reached out and responded to the points made by opposition politicians, but never got personal or paranoid. Lame jokes might just be his biggest transgression during his expected address to the nation at Friday’s Parliament opening. DM

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