Johannesburg – While some of Jacob Zuma’s staunch supporters are ready to see him leave the Presidency this week, others have warned party president Cyril Ramaphosa that removing Zuma now could shutter his fragile hold on the party and the unity they have portrayed.
The ANC is holding its national executive committee (NEC) meeting this week, where it is expected to discuss Zuma’s fate as head of state.
It will be followed by a two-day NEC lekgotla to set the priorities for the government for the year.
News24 spoke to NEC members who have supported Zuma throughout his decade-long tenure – some ready to dump him as they embrace Ramaphosa’s leadership, and others who will defend him for now.
“His removal is something I will definitely support. We don’t even want to see the former ANC president get to the State of the Nation Address,” one member, who was in the forefront of the Zuma brigade, said.
He said ousting Zuma will please the electorate, who have grown tired of negative media reports around Zuma.
However, others want a more “wait and see approach”, arguing that Zuma, unlike his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, has cooperated with the ANC so far.
Mbeki was recalled in 2008 – eight months after losing to Zuma at the Polokwane conference, leading to a split and the formation of Congress of the People (COPE).
Zuma supporters argue that he has so far agreed to meet with Ramaphosa and conceded to a Commission of Inquiry into state capture.
Zuma bowed to growing political and public pressure to set up a Commission of Inquiry headed by a judge, selected by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng.
“If he had resisted, then we would have reason to recall him. So, now we just have to finalise on the terms of reference and see the commission start its work. If Zuma is implicated, then we can deal with that when it unfolds,” another NEC member said.
A heated debate is expected within the NEC over the terms of reference, with some demanding that they be extended beyond former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report. The report focused on allegations of state capture by Zuma, his family and friends, the Guptas.
Zuma has faced public criticism for failing to announce the terms of reference. Some of his supporters said they can engage on Zuma’s departure when he is implicated.
“People must not think we are blind loyalists. Some of us detest the Guptas and are angry that some of our leaders submitted their loyalty and conciseness to them. So, the commission must go ahead,” the NEC member added.
At least three NEC members have warned Ramaphosa that, unlike with Mbeki’s removal, he does not have overwhelming support in the all-powerful NEC.
“He needs to tread carefully on this. People may raise it but it will die,” a provincial leader said.
While another NEC member said: “The outcome of the Nasrec conference means no one can be triumphalist, no one side has leverage to claim victory. He must be careful.”
Two of the leaders advised Ramaphosa to rather continue engaging with Zuma, arguing that they can even insist on overseeing his State of the Nation speech to avoid “surprises”.
ANC Youth League secretary-general Njabulo Nzuza, who also sits in the NEC as an ex-officio member, said removing Zuma now would harm the party and create instability.
The Youth and the Women’s League have led the campaign to keep Zuma in power and supported Ramaphosa’s rival, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“You cannot fire someone who was not found guilty of anything but just because a cloud is hanging over them,” Nzuza said.
He said the ANC needed the next two years to “transition” from Zuma’s leadership to Ramaphosa. He added, unlike during the Mbeki vs Zuma era, Ramaphosa was already in government.
“He is already in the Presidency. He is leader of government business and chairs the deployment committee. The problem is that opposition parties are putting the ANC under pressure. It’s not about Zuma anymore but the organisation,” Nzuza said, emphasising that getting rid of the head of state would cause more division to an already fragile ANC.
In post January 8 statement interviews with broadcasters, Ramaphosa warned against “humiliating” Zuma. He met with Zuma after his election at Nasrec.
“Whatever we do we need to deal with this matter, with the level of maturity it requires, with the proper decorum and I will say we should never do it in a way that is going to humiliate Zuma,” he said.
The NEC is also expected to choose members of the national working committee and chairpersons of subcommittees.