King Zuma holds out – so far ignoring the invading leader’s white flag

CAPE TOWN — Like the true academic she is, political analyst Susan Booysen’s take on the country’s current slow-moving, post-Nasrec transition acknowledges the many tangled complexities – yet concisely maps out the contested terrain. Two charismatic and wily political veterans are facing off, using very different weapons and styles. Zuma occupies the crumbling fortress, his troops defecting in droves as they witness the amassed invaders. Yet he still has allies in the enemy’s top brass – and in key positions. Ramaphosa has crossed the moat and is at the gate; carrying a white flag, willing to negotiate the power-sated and deeply-compromised Nkandla King’s surrender. Zuma is under siege on five fronts, eloquently outlined below. He can very quickly alienate his party subjects by putting himself above the ANC Kingdom and fighting to the death. His allies have read the portents and know the curse is upon him. They also know that his affliction could threaten them and all in the kingdom, a trump card not lost on Ramaphosa who knows how important dignity is to political royals. Meanwhile the crops lie untended and the rotting compost needs urgent digging into the earth. This story is reproduced per kind permission of the Daily Maverick. – Chris Bateman

Zuma calling the shots. More of Zapiro’s brilliant cartoon work available at

By Susan Booysen*

Broadly speaking, the complex 2018 transition is unfolding across five fronts:

By late January each of the fronts remains contested.

Zuma’s continuous and against-odds occupation of the Union Buildings, while South Africa and much of the world are mesmerised by the question of “when Zuma will go”, makes sense (to the extent that it is possible at all) only when one considers the totality of strategy, rules, compromises and ANC fears across the five fronts. Each brings its own rules and demands – and, as we have seen in the days of suspense on Zuma’s exit, resistance from the remaining enclaves of Zumaist power, including those centred in ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule.

qnThe net has been tightening around Zuma relentlessly. Zuma and his proxy lost the Nasrec 2017 battle for the ANC presidency. Parliament is preparing impeachment modalities for the president of South Africa, and legal processes to implement the Nasrec resolution to fight corruption are shaping up. In addition, the Ramaphosaists’ margin of dominance in the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) is growing and has been confirmed in the National Working Committee (NWC). Interpretations are contested but the NEC agrees that the Zuma exit moment is when the 2019 election campaign takes off. For all practical purposes the campaign has started.

It is all but obvious that Zuma’s days (whatever the exact number) as South African president are numbered.

Meanwhile “President” Zuma is sitting tight, despite suffering ever-evaporating powers. The ANC (read ANC president Ramaphosa) is confirmed as the centre of power. Zuma’s state presidency is by now largely ceremonial – except that his continuous occupation of the position negates the project of a new, self-renewing ANC. Power has shifted: Zuma has to report to ANC headquarters of Luthuli House; Ramaphosa is at the World Economic Forum; he appointed the new Eskom board; he oversees (granted, they are tentative) prosecutorial and legal action on state corruption.

Read also: Giving Zuma enough rope to hang his political career: Ramaphosa remains patient.

Zuma’s continuation, however, even in a ceremonial role, is the antithesis of the 2018 model of the ANC that is to be reconnecting with the people to regain their trust. Given his arms deal, Nkandla and Gupta brothers’ histories (think, for example, 783 corruption counts still pending, the State of Capture and the #GuptaLeaks), Zuma is dead weight.

The Ramaphosa victory in becoming president of the ANC has been consolidating beyond the scant 179 vote margin of December 2017. Power speaks, and the fact that Ramaphosa will determine top government appointments and wield massive influence in the South African economy if the ANC wins Election 2019 serves as a magnet. His consolidation of power has been leveraged by the ANC’s recognition of the party as the centre of power, and the ANC’s own conference resolutions, especially its pledge to act decisively on corruption. Many Nasrec cadres had probably not grasped that action against the Zupta network of corruption would follow as tangibly as it did in the early days of the de facto Ramaphosa regime.

President Jacob Zuma looks on during the 54th national conference of the ANC in Johannesburg on December 17, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Zumaists have been using the cards of “unity” (necessary as it is at this stage of the ANC’s existence) and “non-humiliation of the president” as ruses to protect Zuma as patron of the subverted or corrupted-by-power-abuse state institutions. Of course, Ramaphosa in a Mandela-esque mode might still decide to do one presidential term only and save himself from being the next candidate to be declared president non grata upon the election of a potentially hostile ANC successor president a decade down the line. For now, he is playing it safe.

Read also: Keeping time with a ticking clock – Ramaphosa’s subtle, decisive moves

Unity” links to the front of preservation of ANC electoral prospects. By all reports the ANC fears alienation, losses and electoral revenge from especially the KwaZulu-Natal electorate should Zuma, and his purported strong provincial loyalty base, not be appeased. In times of ANC electoral decline since 2004, KZN has bolstered the ANC’s national election performance. The ANC’s internal research still needs to reveal the extent to which post-Ramaphosa gains in other provinces will compensate for possible KZN losses, but it is likely that they will.

The 2018 transition is complicated greatly by the need for the new regime to balance its political transition with the actions required to make the South African economy more respectable and humane. For example, it needs to salvage state-owned enterprises (besides extracting state security agencies from Zuma-Mahlobo-Bongo capture), stabilise the economy above the junk that the Zuma regime bequeathed, and get growth at levels that generate jobs effectively.

Cyril Ramaphosa, newly elected president of the African National Congress (ANC). Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The “Cyril factor” is a useful addition to the mix – but effective action is all that will count at term’s end. Talk-talk has run out of steam for the ANC, both internationally and with the South African electorate. More talk-plus-walk will be the benchmark after 25 years of potholed ANC rule. The Ramaphosa regime will be held to account substantively on its promise to “deepen transformation”.

Notwithstanding the contradictory rules and tensions between the five fronts, the Ramaphosa-ANC needs to balance the possible gains and losses, and there is little space for vacillation. If it requires that the obstinate Zuma occupation be ended, politically, gains on the other fronts are sure to recompense.

  • Susan Booysen is a political analyst, professor at Wits University and author of books on the ANC, so far The ANC and the Regeneration of Political Power, and Dominance and Decline: the ANC in the Time of Zuma. She also consults on policy and governance, and mentors emerging scholars.
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