Goodbye at last, Jacob

By the time you read this, the State of the Nation address (SONA) will be just one day away.

Depending upon who delivers Sona – the annual event which has in the last few years been the most riveting entertainment on February television – we will know more clearly how our politcial future is to play out until the 2019 election.

It will all have come to pass after a Sunday late-night meeting between the ANC Top Six and President Jacob Zuma at his official residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, which was followed shortly thereafter by a summoning of the ANC national working committee (NWC) to a meeting at Luthuli House on Monday.

Despite his candidate, Nkosasan Dlamini Zuma, having been only narrowly defeated at the 54th ANC elective conference, the balance of power in the Top Six has already shifted in favour of new kid on the block, Cyril Ramaphosa, as it is also doing in the national executive committee (NEC), and presumably the NWC.

Yet, Mr Zuma simply refuses to go. Unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, who loyally fell upon his own sword, in the interests of party unity and for the good of the country, Mr Zuma is determined not to go down without a fight.

Mr Ramaphosa has been at pains to say that resolving the conundrum of two centres of power within the ANC – he as party president at Luthuli House, and Mr Zuma as state president in the Union Buildings – must be achieved without humiliating Mr Zuma.

But what does that mean?

The only way to spare Mr Zuma humiliation would be to grant him amnesty from prosecution for past and future criminal charges, complete his term of office, and retire with all of his presidential benefits to Nkandla.

The bad news for Mr Zuma is, that since we are a constitutional democracy, no such deal can or will be crafted.

Were Mr Ramaphosa to go there, he would be perpetuating the subborning of state institutions that has marked Mr Zuma’s presidency and which has largely kept him and his many acolytes who have benefited from his largesse, safe from prosecution.

Any such “deal” would immediately be challenged in the courts, and although it may take some time, Mr Zuma and his cronies will inevitably stand accountable to the law.

The dog-with-a-bone determination of the likes of the Helen Suzman Foundation, Freedom Under Law, the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution and the major opposition parties, and their successes in knocking down successive obstacles to Mr Zuma having his day in court, will make sure of that.

But the legal and constitutional issues aside, letting Mr Zuma off the hook will have devastating consequences for the ANC in the run-up to the 2019 election.

It would also send a damaging message to the international investor community, and more importantly, to the rating agencies.

The dramatic movement of the rand against the major foreign currencies following Mr Ramaphosa’s election as ANC president makes it clear that sentiment in all respects, is on the side of a Ramaphosa presidency determined to make a 180 degree turn in the manner in which the country is run, and the sooner the better.

What positive sentiment Mr Ramaphosa’s stated intentions have engendered would be rapidly eroded, and the country would rush down the slippery economic slope that Mr Zuma’s predations have placed it on, which would be deeply embarrasing, not for Mr Zuma, but for the ANC.

And perhaps that is where Mr Ramaphosa’s focus really is: on sparing the ANC the embarrassment of ejecting Mr Zuma legally, which if Mr Zuma refuses to step down without any guarantees of amnesty, Mr Ramaphosa will have little option but to do.

Mr Zuma has thus far made it clear, more by inaction than action, that he will not go quietly into the night.

His stated willingness notwithstanding to step down if ordered to do so by the ANC – “I’ll go if the ANC asks me to go” he once said in Parliament – he remains stubbornly in office.

Which leaves Mr Ramaphosa and the ANC with only one choice: to remove Mr Zuma by constitutional means in the National Assembly, either through a section 89(1) motion which results in the removal of the president with consequent loss of benefits of office, or a section 102(2) motion of no confidence which results in the executive being dissolved, with the president retaining his benefits of office.

In both instances, it will be humiliating to Mr Zuma and to the ANC, since the party would finally do what the opposition has tried unsuccessfully to do eight times since Mr Zuma took office.

The opposition has already asked House Speaker Baleka Mbete to schedule a section 102(2) no confidence debate, which is set to take place on Thursday February 22, but if the ANC bites this particular bullet, it is likely to launch its own counter motion to avoid being seen to co-operate with the opposition in the removal of its own deployee to the presidency.

What is best for Mr Ramaphosa is also best for Mr Zuma and the ANC: that he is removed from office by a section 102(2) motion of no confidence, because by so doing, Mr Ramaphosa will have the opportunity to accellerate his corruption-busting agenda by taking a much needed broom to the cabinet and ejecting the dross with which Mr Zuma has peopled it in support of his state capture agenda.

Mr Zuma will also retain all the benefits of office, including his pension, which he will most certainly need to fund his ongoing legal battles, since he will no longer have access to the public purse.