Cyril Ramaphosa’s conundrum: How to get the Zuma elephant out of the room

CAPE TOWN — With Zuma suddenly agreeing to a State Capture probe, regardless of whether his heir-apparent, Cyril Ramaphosa, twisted his arm or whether the wily Msholozi pre-empted matters in a bid to see out his full presidential term, he’s now yesterday’s man. There are various speculative versions based on unnamed NEC sources, but two things are certain; it will buy him time as the cogs in wheels of an enquiry are carefully put together, and that the writing is on the wall. The only questions left are when he will go and whether he’ll jump or be pushed. Either way, the chances of his sewing together a parachute deal are quite high with Ramaphosa likely to gamble on outlasting the damage that would do to him and his party. One thing all the analysts and the markets agree on; the sooner the better for the economy, not to mention the ANC at the 2019 polls. That Zuma’s departure was not on the new NEC’s first agenda on Wednesday, nor discussed, shows how split the party currently is. The house will have to be deconstructed to let the elephant out of the room – and it’s obviously too soon for that. – Chris Bateman

By Sam Mkokeli

(Bloomberg) — South African President Jacob Zuma agreed to the appointment of a commission to probe allegations that his son’s business partners had exerted undue influence over state decisions, a move aimed at defusing calls for him to step down immediately, three ruling-party officials with knowledge of the matter said. The rand fell.

President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa react during the ANC’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg on December 18, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Zuma, 75, announced the formation of the commission late Tuesday, two days after he agreed to the probe in a private meeting with Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly appointed leader of the ruling African National Congress, the officials said. They asked not to be identified because the talks weren’t publicly disclosed.

The president appealed a court ruling ordering him to initiate the inquiry headed by a judge nominated by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as directed by the nation’s graft ombudsman, despite the ANC adopting a resolution that the investigation should proceed. Zuma argued that only he had the right to appoint judicial commissions and decide on their terms of reference.

Zuma’s about-turn came a day before the new top leadership of the ANC met for the first time on Wednesday in the southern city of East London. It was hoped that his climb-down would lessen the chances of him being removed before the party’s 106th anniversary celebrations this weekend, the people said.

Voters’ Ire

While Zuma’s term as ANC leader ended in December his tenure as national president is only due to end next year. His scandal-tainted rule has eroded support for the ANC, resulting in the party’s worst ever showing in municipal elections in 2016, losing it control of the capital, Pretoria, and the economic hub of Johannesburg. That’s led to growing calls for his exit from senior members of his own party as well as the opposition.

Anticipation that Ramaphosa, a lawyer and one of the wealthiest black South Africans, would imminently replace Zuma helped boost the rand 11 percent against the dollar last month, the most among the world’s major currencies. The rand extended its decline to as much as 1.6 percent, to 12.5461 to the dollar on Wednesday after ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule told reporters that Zuma’s removal wasn’t on the party meeting’s agenda, before rebounding to 12.4434 by 3:16 p.m. in Johannesburg.

Earlier this week, three of the 86 voting members of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the option of toppling Zuma would be raised at the meeting. Calls to Bongani Ngqulunga, Zuma’s spokesman, didn’t connect.

The ANC’s former head of intelligence, Zuma, took office in May 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped graft charges against him. He’s spent years fighting a bid by opposition parties to have those charges reinstated and fending off allegations that he allowed the members of the Gupta family, who are his friends and are in business with his son, to influence cabinet appointments and the award of state contracts.

Ramaphosa is seen as more likely to promote investor-friendly policies. He accumulated his fortune after going into business and partnering with companies including Glencore Plc and McDonald’s Corp.