Incredulity. The sentiment expressed by pretty much everybody who had awaited with bated breath the outcome of the ANC NEC debate on the political future of President Jacob Zuma, when it emerged late on Sunday night, that he had once more survived a motion of no confidence.
It’s not the first time he’s managed to survive such an attempt to oust him. In November, a similar motion, proposed by Derek Hanekom, foundered as spectacularly as did the most recent motion, proposed by respected party strategist Joel Netshitenzhe, despite rumours that this time Mr Zuma’s support base was much weaker than it was in November and that the motion had a good chance of success.
In parallel with the apparently tense NEC meeting in Irene, Gauteng, two Sunday papers carried reports of a slew of damning emails that revealed the extent of the alleged capture of key ANC cadres deployed in government and administration by the notorious Gupta family, as well as a plan by Mr Zuma and his family to secure a “second home” in the United Arab Emirates, the current lair of the Gupta family.
Taken with the avalanche of scandals that have beset Mr Zuma and his administration during his eight years in office, his firing of two respected finance ministers with the attendant devastating impacts on the economy, and the rising tide of opposition to his continued rule within his own party, the question on everybody’s lips is: “How does he manage to survive?”
Is it because he remains the popular first choice to run the ANC and the country? If the recent tide of widespread public protests that washed over the country is anything to go by, probably not, but until we go to the ballot box in 2019, we’ll not truly know just how much damage Mr Zuma has done to brand ANC.
Anecdotal evidence – all we really have in the face of the murky internal politics of the ANC – suggests that his popularity is declining within his own party, along with his death-grip on the throat of the party, but because of the ANC’s insistence on seeking consensus rather than voting, it is virtually impossible for Mr Zuma to be ousted by such a motion of no confidence. Unless everybody agrees he must go, he stays.
Faced as it is with a rising tide of public revolt against the continued tenure of Mr Zuma, the ANC must weigh up what will do the most damage: leaving Mr Zuma in office until the end of his current term, or engineering his removal.
Either course of action will result in grievous damage, but not to the same organism.
Removing Mr Zuma – a sitting president of the country and of the ANC – from office will deepen the divisions that have emerged in the last few months, something the party can hardly afford coming hard on the heels of the embarrassing bloody nose it was dealt in the 2016 local government elections.
Despite all the rhetoric to the contrary, the ANC is deeply concerned by its lacklustre performance at the ballot box and the cool heads amongst the ANC’s election strategists know full well that further dividing the party – which recalling Mr Zuma will do – will further compromise its electoral prospects in 2019.
As an aside, if Mr Zuma loves the ANC as much as he professes, he would have thrown in the towel long ago.
Leaving Mr Zuma in office will arguably have even more devastating consequences, but those consequences will initially be visited on the country, rather than on the ANC.
Our currency is irrevocably tied to the yo-yo that is Mr Zuma’s continued tenure, witnessed by its movement in the currency markets before, during and after the weekend’s NEC meeting. The actual exchange rate is less an issue than is stability, because stability allows investors to take a longer term view of their investments. Stability encourages investment, instability encourages capital flight.
Despite Mr Zuma’s oft-expressed disdain for the international rating agencies, and his assertion that being downgraded to junk status isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the impact of his executive and other decisions have been devastating.
Our shiny new finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, can declaim as much as he likes, that he’ll get us out of junk status pretty quickly, but the reality is that he won’t.
Instead, the downward trend in our growth rate will probably continue, along with the value of our currency, and our investment grade status.
And as our economy tanks further, and we enter that deeply undesirable territory of economic recession, the triple evils of unemployment, poverty and inequality will bite ever deeper.
This is what the ANC NEC chose as a path for the country on Sunday, when it kept Mr Zuma in office, and it was a conscious choice.
Of the 70 odd NEC members present at the meeting, only 18 are reported to have supported his ousting. The rest wanted him to stay in office.
These are the people who we’ll never be able to hold to account for their decision, because we’ll probably never know who they are.
These are the people who believe, that by keeping Mr Zuma in office they will promote the unity that the ANC so desperately needs in order to stave off an electoral defeat in 2019.
These are the people who don’t understand that while the damage done thus far won’t guarantee defeat for the ANC in 2019, it will result in a drastically reduced majority.
These are the people who have chosen the chimera of party unity over the good of the nation.