Why so slow, Cde Cyril?

By the time you read this, President Jacob Zuma ought to be just plain old Jacob Zuma.

He will either have moved out of the official presidential residence, Mahlamba Ndlopfu, and presumably be ensconsed in his modest private residence, Nkandla, in KwaZulu-Natal.

This does assume, of course, that he was able to cut a deal with ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa that is legally doable, failing which, after the ANC NEC meeting on Monday Mr Zuma will be facing either official recall by the ANC, or a motion of no confidence in the National Assembly.

Mr Zuma’s serial intransigence in vacating the Union Buildings is driving the country crazy, and as time drags on without an apparent solution to the conundrum, the level of anger towards Mr Zuma increases, both within the ANC and in civil society in general.

Mr Ramaphosa is also taking a great deal of stick, because of his perceived softness in dealing with Mr Zuma, preferring to cut a deal rather than doing what is increasingly called for: force him out of office without any guarantees.

Why, so many people are asking, is arguably the greatest negotiator we have, finding it so difficult to bring Mr Zuma to heel without any public blood-letting?

Mr Ramaphosa, after all, persuaded the apartheid regime to voluntarily surrender power despite it holding all of the overt power cards: control of the police, the military, the state security apparatus and a plethora of covert agencies able to mete out death on demand.

As time passes, Mr Ramaphosa is increasingly seen as weak, and Mr Zuma is perceived to be retaining power which he clearly no longer has, and that is not good for Mr Ramaphosa, the ANC, or the country, so why is this happening?

If you think back to September 2008, when Mr Zuma forced then president Thabo Mbeki out of office, after his failed attempt at the Polokwane elective conference to defeat Mr Zuma’s bid for power, the answer is self-evident.

Even though Mr Mbeki willingly stepped down after being recalled by the NEC, he noted that he was doing so in the interests of party unity and for the good of the country.

Nonetheless, three months later, a coalition of the wounded as they became known, split from the ANC and formed the Congress of the People (Cope) under the leadership of Mosiuoa Lekota, Mbhazima Shilowa, and Mluleki George.

Despite begin publicly warned that “It’s cold outside the ANC” Cope came into being, just 113 days ahead of the 2009 national election, and contrary to ANC wisdom, managed to garner 7.42% of the vote.

Cope polled 1 311 027 votes and took 30 seats in the National Assembly, compared to the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) 2 945 829 votes and 67 seats, which would have given both the DA and the ANC pause for thought.

That Cope never reached its full potential because of its long-running leadership squabbles is moot. The damage done by the split that saw Cope formed, still haunts the ANC to this day.

Although it is widely accepted that the initial impetus to form the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) was the Marikana Massacre on August 16 2012, when 34 striking miners were gunned down by the SAPS, Cope’s initial electoral success probably also played a role in Julius Malema’s thinking when he formed the EFF in July 2013.

The EFF came into being nine and a half months before the 2014 national election, and since the EFF didn’t eviscerate itself in a bloody leadership contest, it was well positioned to disprove the lie once more, that “It’s cold outside the ANC”, which it handily did by polling 1 169 259 votes (6.35%) and getting 25 seats in the National Assembly.

The DA polled 4 091 584 votes (22.23%), a significant increase since the previous election, so the EFF’s gains logically came at the expense of the ANC, which lost 33 seats compared to the 2009 election.

That Cope had dropped down to 0.67% of the vote and a paltry three seats, is instructive: don’t air your dirty laundry in public.

And that is precisely what Mr Ramaphosa is trying to avoid, because he knows just how damaging to the ANC’s electoral prospects Mr Zuma’s excesses have become since Nkandla-Gate.

Although local government election results cannot be used to directly extrapolate what is likely to occur in a forthcoming national election, that the ANC polled only 54% of the national vote in the 2016 local government election, must have terrified Luthuli House.

For the first time since being swept to power in 1994 the ruling party must confront the unpalatable truth: it is faced with the very real possibility that it will no longer be the majority party in the National Assembly, or in a number of provincial legislatures, aside from the Western Cape.

Mr Ramaphosa is mindful of what might happen, so his apparent weakness in dealing with Mr Zuma is simply a mechanism to limit the damage to Brand ANC in the run-up to next year’s election.

Imagine for a moment, the ANC having to climb into bed with the EFF, or horror of horrors, that the DA – despite its current efforts at self-evisceration – manages to corral sufficient multi-party support to form a minority government if the ANC polls below the magic 50% plus one it needs to retain power.

It is these twin horrors that Mr Ramaphosa is attempting to keep at bay as he negotiates his way through the minefield that is Mr Zuma’s final departure.

And once more, despite Mr Ramaphosa being seen as our saviour, it is clear party comes before country.