Donwald Pressly: #Zumxit not nigh – trough guzzle goes on

If you’ve read the transcript or listened to the tapes, you must be asking yourself the question: How long will President Jacob Zuma survive? It sounds like a title for RW Johnson’s next book. But remember South Africa’s number one has stood firm despite 783 charges of corruption, Nkandla and Schabir Shaik, all things outside of Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report. Donwald Pressly considers the calls for his resignation – which have included ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s hint that the Big Boss must look to his conscience. Pressly, who has watched Zuma long before the day he became president, believes that #Zumxit is not nigh. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

It would not be at all surprising that President Jacob Zuma remains in office until 2019, to the end of his constitutional term as president of the nation. He will most likely not be president of the ruling ANC as of December next year but he will stay on as head of state till the end – when elections are held in 2019.

Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.
Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.

The chances of him doing a Thabo Mbeki – breaking tradition by standing for a third term for the ruling African National Congress’s leadership as Mbeki did in 2007, and lost – is most slim. If he pulled that trick, he would probably get defeated.

The smart money is on ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize – who significantly faces a probe by the Hawks. It appears to place him on the opposing side to Zuma, which suggests that he is starting to stick his head above the parapet. The distinguished analyst RW Johnson has suggested that Mkhize may stand aside for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa will be a sort of “proxy” president while Mkhize – still pretty young in political terms – girds his political loins and prepares to take over, say in 2024 or even 2029. But these things are difficult to predict.

(Interestingly the late Allister Sparks had a similar view. When he spoke to the Cape Town Press Club in March this year, he said it was his private thought but he drew much significance from the fact that Dr Zweli Mkhize, the ANC treasurer general, had nominated Cyril Ramaphosa as deputy president of the governing party at the 2012 Manguang national conference. He said he had no evidence for it but there may be a plan to break the Zulu dynasty in the ANC. Mkhize, described by Sparks as “a clever and sophisticated medical doctor” who also happens to be Zulu, may just have put two-and-two together. He has realised, Sparks speculates, that one needs to avoid another 10 years of Zulu dominance in the ANC with a President Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the helm. Sparks commented that although she was bright, she was exceedingly dull.)

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma

The thinking may emerge within the “non-Zuma” faction that Mkhize would be better able to defeat a “tenderpreneur” candidate. The latter person would carry on the “trough politics” where the pickings of state – including from parastatals like Eskom, Transnet and the state entity, the Public Investment Corporation – flow to the politically connected as they have been under the Zuma administration. The support for the Zuma-family-continues-to-rule lobby are coalescing around Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who just coincidentally appears also be on pretty friendly terms with the now infamous Guptas, otherwise known as Zuptas.

One suspects that Nomura analyst Peter Attard Montalto is right in his prediction that there are “too many reactions and moves” to pull from the ANC which would allow it as a party to hang on to power. By extension, Zuma can hang on to power. Montalto says it is likely to be “in the short term at least”. But knowing President Zuma, he is pretty much sure to be thinking that it is better to be marooned in power, than to be at the mercy of his detractors out of power. Evidence of this can be seen in his filibustering of the questions put to him on Zuptagate by Madonsela.

Zuma detractors ‘are not part of ANC structures’

So, it is likely, Zuma will hang on until the bitter end. He will use every gerrymandering, filibustering and pettifogging trick in the book that he can. He will avoid answering questions, he will laugh his way through. He will do a Donald Trump, such as suggesting to his support base – at Nkandla at the weekend – that cries of resistance from the Old Guard in the ANC (that he should resign) were the rumblings of the irrelevant and people who were not members of party structures. Yes, Montalto is right: “We are likely to see major leadership changes (in the ANC) sooner or later.”. But he adds the rider the situation of political check mate in the ANC may stay roughly the same. “We should not overplay its (the Public Protector’s report) impact for 2019 yet.”

Jacob Zuma's presidency as seen by Jerm. More magic at www.jerm.co.za
Jacob Zuma’s presidency as seen by Jerm. More magic at www.jerm.co.za

Montalto notes in particular that Brian Molefe, the Eskom CEO, has probably had his name sullied by the Madonsela report. He is right. He is now dead meat. He is most unlikely to be transported into the national treasury as Finance Minister – as previously suggested as a possibility by Montalto. There will be victims while the fight within the ANC continues, but Montalto is right: One must never underestimate Zuma’s power of patronage. He will use it to the end. He most likely still has a majority in the ANC national executive committee – as alluded to by analyst Nic Borain last week.

Noting that it surprised some – including those parties trying to compel its release – that Zuma backed down and withdrew an interdict motion against the Madonsela report before the High Court, Montalto believes that Zuma did just that so he could “manage the narrative much quicker”. That is, he could nip the issue in the bud.

Thirstily drinking at the political trough

Peter Attard Motalto
Peter Attard Motalto

At the same time, Montalto believes that the “rent-seeking faction” – those who make drink at the political trough thirstily – have dictated that they “want to move on now and strategies like trying to charge (Finance Minister) Pravin Gordhan haven’t worked.

Now is a good time to predict the markets. It will be good for brokers with a bit of political nouse. Markets, as Montalto points out, will rally strongly “on anything that looks like Zumxit is getting closer”. But he believes that Zuma will continue to play his role in stopping sensible economic reforms. Those predicting an early Zumxit will be rewarded by any cabinet resignations (watch Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi and Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom in particular).

Montalto is probably again right when he says the political dynamic in the ANC is NOT moving apace against tenderpreneurship – political trough feeding and gulping. This lobby is just trying to find ways of doing patronage “more efficiency and quietly”. Enter Mkhize. He may be the man to watch to continue the work of this faction – although he appears to be from the other faction to outsiders. Yet, as he is in the current top six, he is unlikely to rock the Zuma boat while it is still sailing. one thinks.

  • Donwald Pressly is Cape Messenger editor