President Jacob Zuma is known in ANC circles as a master tactician who, when cornered, can be devastating.
This is a man who outmanoeuvred what was then a powerful faction, led by then president Thabo Mbeki, during the 2007 watershed ANC Polokwane conference.
It was after that event that he was elevated to the top of the political food chain.
Back then, Zuma had time on his hands to mobilise the support of those of his comrades in the ANC who felt suppressed under Mbeki’s rule. He had been fired as Mbeki’s deputy in 2005 after being criminally charged.
Alliance partners Cosatu and the South African Communist Party joined forces with Zuma’s faction and mobilised support for him to be reinstated. When that failed, they used the ANC elective conference to set him up to lead the party.
Things have since changed. Zuma has lost the support of almost half of his national executive committee (NEC), though he managed to survive another motion of no confidence.
The same alliance partners who rallied behind him when he was facing certain jail time are now calling for his head. At the centre of the turmoil are allegations that Zuma has outsourced his power – both in the state and in the ANC – to the Gupta family.
The e-mails that emerged in the Sunday Times and City Press show how the Gupta family allegedly control certain ministers and parastatal heads, lending credence to the allegations that the state apparatus is under threat.
As a result, the ANC has resolved to finally force Zuma to institute a judicial commission of inquiry into state capture, as recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.
While many have welcomed this decision, there is still scepticism that the inquiry could be tainted if Zuma is left to appoint a judge of his choice, rather than leave that appointment to Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, as recommended by Madonsela.
The point of reference in this regard is the Seriti commission into the arms deal, which found no wrongdoing despite the mountain of evidence that was presented to the commission showing there had been corruption.
The ANC NEC’s decision to have the commission of inquiry instituted is now finding its momentum in the campaign to install Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, at the helm of the party.
Ramaphosa’s posture has changed, as can be seen in his message of support delivered at Cosatu’s congress on Tuesday.
He told Cosatu members that, should the alleged state capture by the Guptas not be nipped in the bud, it could mark the end of the ANC.
Zuma is once again in a corner. His grasp on power is being wrested out of his hands.
The united ANC and its alliance partners that protected him all these years is no more. The faction supporting Ramaphosa’s elevation to take over the ANC and replace Zuma as president is well aware that they are in for the fight of their lives.
They are facing a raging bull who knows that should Ramaphosa defeat Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma at the ANC’s national conference in December, a recall from the presidency is certain and jail time inevitable.