Where to now, Cyril?

Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters

Now that Cyril Ramaphosa is ANC president, the question on everybody’s lips is: “What is Cyril going to do about Jacob Zuma?”

The expectation that the ANC’s first post-elective conference would consider the matter of Mr Zuma’s future in the Union Buildings was still-born – in terms of the ANC constitution that first national executive committee (NEC) meeting is devoted to electing a national working committee, appointing heads of policy portfolio committees and agreeing on the incoming ANC president’s January 8 statement.

Nonetheless, the question of two centres of power in the ANC, and what is to become of Mr Zuma, will inevitably occupy Mr Ramaphosa’s mind until it is resolved.

That Mr Zuma acceded to the North Gauteng High Court’s October 26 ruling by announcing the appointment of Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, recommended by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, to head the commission of inquiry into state capture on the eve of the NEC meeting, makes it quite clear that he is painfully aware of just how tenuous is his position.

Whereas the elective conference resolved that the state capture inquiry must be expedited, Mr Zuma chose to appeal the court’s ruling two days later.

It is not unreasonable to conclude that Mr Zuma expects this sudden olive branch – he ignored the court’s October 26 ruling to act within 30 days – will shore up his position and avoid the ignominy of recall that he visited on his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, way back in 2008.

Master manipulator and political opportunist that he is, the control that Mr Zuma is accustomed to wielding in order to protect himself, is rapidly slipping away.

At the ANC’s 106th anniversary celebrations in East London over the weekend, Mr Zuma was booed no less than five times, despite Mr Ramaphosa appealing to the 16 000-strong crowd to desist.

The new NEC’s inclination to paper over the cracks in the interest of unity notwithstanding, it is clear that Mr Zuma’s popularity is waning fast, so now is the time for Mr Ramaphosa to act, but what are his options?

First prize is for Mr Zuma to voluntarily step down, but that is unlikely to happen, unless he is given an ironclad guarantee that he will not be prosecuted, either for the long standing 783 charges, or any new charges that might emerge from the state capture inquiry.

Even if Mr Ramaphosa were to cut such a deal, it would be illegal, and the likes of Freedom Under Law, the Helen Suzman Foundation and the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), would challenge and overturn it in the courts.

Constitutionally speaking, Mr Ramaphosa has two options: a motion of no confidence in the president in terms of clause 102(2) which requires a simple majority vote, or impeachment in terms of clause 89(1) (a) a serious violation of the constitution or the law; a or (b) serious misconduct, which requires a two-thirds majority vote.

In the course of Mr Zuma’s presidency he has faced and survived eight clause 102(2) motions of no confidence, the most recent, with a not unsurprisingly reduced majority.

Mr Zuma is unlikely to survive another opposition-sponsored motion of no confidence, even if the NEC instructs the ANC caucus to vote against it.

Nonetheless, if such a motion were to succeed, the entire executive steps down, and the Speaker of the National Assembly (NA) – Baleka Mbete – acts as president for up to 30 days while the NA goes about electing a new president and deputy president.

Mr Zuma gets to enjoy all the Union Buildings’ post-occupation benefits of office, including a fat pension, and he can retire in relative comfort.

Mr Ramaphosa gets the opportunity – which he will grasp with alacrity – to clean out his cabinet, getting rid of the compliant, self-interested weaklings appointed by Mr Zuma, and (hopefully) appoint technocrats who will roll up their sleeves and do the hard yards required to get our country back onto a growth path that finally addresses the triple evils of poverty, inequality and unemployment through sustained economic growth.

A clause 89 impeachment is, however, a horse of a completely different colour. It requires a two-thirds majority in the NA, leaves Mr Zuma’s cabinet intact, and it strips Mr Zuma of all the post-occupation benefits of office. Which might pose a small “challenge” for Mr Zuma.

There is a fourth possibility, but for Mr Ramaphosa and the ANC, it is a nightmare too horrifying to contemplate: that the NEC decides to recall Mr Zuma as president of the country, and Mr Zuma – as he is constitutionally entitled to do – simply lifts his middle finger at the NEC.

Which means that Mr Zuma remains in office until the 2019 national election, and continues to wreak havoc on the ANC’s electoral prospects, and on the country, as he has done for the last 10 years.

Which leaves Mr Ramaphosa with three courses of action: suffer the consequences and leave Mr Zuma in power, or pursue a motion of no confidence or motion of impeachment in the National Assembly.

What’s it going to be, Mr Ramaphosa?