Goodbye Ramaphosa?

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Photograph: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

If the rumours currently doing the rounds in our politics are to be believed, past president Jacob Zuma just will not go away.

Numerous press reports suggest that various members of a powerful group of ANC officials met on two occasions last week – Wednesday at the Beverley Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks and Thursday at the Maharani Hotel in Durban – to plot the removal from power of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

What has that to do with Mr Zuma, one might ask? Well, according to the rumour mill, he was present at the Thursday meeting, along with the likes of ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, ANC Women’s League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba and ANC Youth League KwaZulu-Natal secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo.

Quite naturally, the protagonists have stoutly denied that any such meetings took place, despite the apparent existence of photographic evidence to the contrary.

Equally naturally, there has been not a peep from the office of the Presidency about the matter.

That a group of disaffected ANC bigwigs have apparently met to fulminate about Mr Ramaphosa’s lacklustre crackdown on state capture and his recent – somewhat disingenuous – warning that corruption will not be countenanced, could be dismissed as of little consequence. Except that one of the protagonists occupies one of the most powerful positions in the ANC.

Ace Magashule, ANC secretary-general, is responsible for the day-to-day running of the party, while at the same time allegedly plotting the removal from office of the party and the country’s president.

The apparent disquiet among senior ANC officials at Luthuli House is therefore, quite understandable.

But just how possible is it for this alleged cabal to remove Mr Ramaphosa from office?

After all, it cannot simply be done on a whim. There must be at least an appearance of credibility in the allegations levelled at Mr Ramaphosa in an attempt to remove him from office.

If reports are to be believed, Mr Ramaphosa’s election at the Nasrec elective conference will be challenged on the grounds that there were mass irregularities at branch meetings in the lead-up to the conference, which resulted in a large number of illegitimate delegates.

But that is a double-edged sword. Opening up that particular Pandora’s Box of who should have been there and who not, could work against the interests of those who would presumably want to replace Mr Ramaphosa with the loser in that contest: Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

But even if that strategy were to be pursued by the disaffected, how would it play out?

It isn’t simply a case of making the assertion in the NEC or the NWC, having it voted on and reversing the outcome of the elective conference.

According to the ANC’s constitution, although the NEC is the party’s highest decision making body between conferences, it cannot overturn conference decisions and resolutions.

The only way to get this right, would be to convene an extraordinary national conference to debate a properly formulated series of resolutions pertaining to the alleged irregularities in the lead-up to the December elective conference.

Preceding this conference, there would need to be a thorough audit of what transpired in the pre-December conference period, and a report prepared for consideration at the extraordinary conference.

Quite naturally, the accreditation of branch delegates to the extraordinary conference would also have to undergo a thorough audit, to avoid the inevitable post-conference accusation by the losing side, that there were irregularities at branch meetings in the lead-up to the extraordinary conference.

Whether or not any of this could actually come to pass depends on the balance of power in the ANC, and the murkiness of internal party politics being what it is, we don’t really know.

Mr Ramaphosa was elected by a razor-thin margin, and the balance of power in the NEC, although apparently nominally in his favour, does at times, teeter on a knife-edge.

Who can ever forget his hard-fought battle to clean out his cabinet, which resulted in compromises that kept in the executive many who should have been summarily removed?

But even if these unlikely events were to get under way, how would they play out?

If there are question marks about delegate legitimacy which led to the election of Mr Ramaphosa as ANC president, the same question marks apply to the election of every other office bearer and every resolution adopted at the December elective conference.

This means that the entire proceedings of the ANC’s 54th national elective conference would need to be set aside.

The timeline implicit in such a process notwithstanding – a national and provincial election looms – what are the chances the ANC would risk embarking on such a disruptive process, without even the vaguest predictability of outcome?