Goodbye Jacob Zuma

President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters at Orlando Stadium, as the party celebrates 105 years. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso/The Star

Jacob Zuma delivered his last ever January 8 Statement address at Orlando Stadium in Gauteng on Sunday.

We know this because in the lead up to the ANC’s 105th birthday celebration, the principal purpose behind the annual January 8 jamboree, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said so in an interview on national television.

According to Mr Mantashe, as far back as the ANC’s 2007 Polokwane elective conference, it was resolved, that the ANC’s presidential candidate for the country, must always be the elected president of the ANC.

This means that a sitting ANC president in his or her second term, cannot run for president of the ANC for a third term, something you may recall, that Thabo Mbeki attempted to do in 2007. (One wonders whether this resolution hastily found its way onto the order paper in 2007, because of what Thabo Mbeki tried to do – create two centres of power, that would allow him to effectively rule from behind the throne.)

Thabo Mbeki’s bid to retain power behind the scenes failed – he polled 40% of the vote in the second round of voting, against Jacob Zuma’s 60% – and just a few months later, he was recalled as president of the country by the NEC.

But it was Gwede Mantashe’s reply to a question about the frequent calls for Jacob Zuma to be recalled as president of the country, that provide an indication of what will happen in the not too distant future.

Mr Mantashe pointed out, as he has done previously, that “their is no mechanism in the ANC’s constitution to remove a sitting president of the ANC. Only an elective conference has the power to do that.”

He’s obfuscating, of course, because Rule 25 of the ANC constitution, which deals with the management of organisational discipline, makes provision for the removal from office of any member of the ANC through the disciplinary process.

That the NEC has chosen not to take action against Jacob Zuma for the many embarrasments that he has heaped on the head of the ANC, seems a complete mystery. It is anything but.

The party is desperately attempting to save face, as it lurches from one calamity to the next, all at the hands of Jacob Zuma and his allies.

The embarrassment of removing a sitting president of the ANC through a disciplinary process, would simply be too much for the embattled party to bear.

Why else would the very public attempt by tourism minister Derek Hanekom to get rid of Jacob Zuma by tabling a motion of no confidence at the December NEC meeting have foundered?

Whether or not the motion was voted on – Gwede Mantashe is adamant that it was not – is academic. It could simply not be allowed to happen.

Hope re-emerged after that NEC meeting, that Jacob Zuma might face some measure of sanstion, when he “engaged” with the ANC’s ethics committee, but true to form that august body did what it usually does when faced with a chestnut of this magnitude – nothing.

What is significant, however, is the lack of retaliatory action by a normally vengeful Jacob Zuma.

No cabinet reshuffle to get rid of those who continue to thwart his plans – Pravin Gordhan comes to mind – or dismissal of Derek Hanekom for publicly trying to take down Jacob Zuma.

Why? Because although the ANC desperately wants to avoid the embarrassment of removing a sitting ANC president from office, such retaliatory actions by Jacob Zuma would simply be a bridge too far for the ANC, because of the impact they would have on the economy.

Stalemate. Jacob Zuma won’t go quietly, and unless he does something really stupid that forces the NEC’s hand, he will remain in power, but with a drastically diminished power base.

But something else that Gwede Mantashe said in that interview before the January 8 Statement and birthday jamboree on Sunday, gives an indication of what might happen.

“A president of the country can only be recalled if he is no longer the president of the ANC,” Mr Mantashe said, in response to a question referring – inadvertantly perhaps – to what happened to Thabo Mbeki way back in 2008.

The ANC has its five-yearly ellective conference in December, and it will elect a new president, who we know for sure, will not be Jacob Zuma.

It will also elect a new NEC, which the chances are, will no longer be dominated by Zuma accolytes.

And just like Thabo Mbeki became fair game for recall once removed from power, so too will Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.

The reasons for his recall – desperate damage control – are very different to those which motivated Thabo Mbeki’s recall – vengeful vindictiveness – but the impact will be as destabilising, however, it will instill much-needed hope in the future of the ANC and the country.