News / Opinion / Columns

Martin Williams
3 minute read
7 Feb 2018
5:00 am

JZ stymies ‘Cyril effect’

Martin Williams

Despite hype from pro-Ramaphosa media, there are notable shortcomings in the ANC president’s grip.

File picture. President Jacob Zuma and new president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa during the announcement of new party leadership at the 5th African National Congress (ANC) national conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on December 18, 2017 in Soweto, South Africa. Picture: Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius

If Jacob Zuma is the ultimate survivor, has the tribe finally spoken?

It seems so, after yesterday’s announcement that the State of the Nation address (Sona) has been postponed. No longer will Zuma be able to outwit, outplay and outlast his more educated opponents. Although opposition parties asked for the postponement, the final decision rested with Speaker Baleka Mbete.

She had little option, either in her official capacity or as a loyal ANC member.

His own party needed the postponement. If Zuma had delivered tomorrow’s Sona, ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa would have been seen as weak, incapable of asserting his will over a lame duck.

The Ramaphosa camp was worried that Zuma, having already gone rogue, might have used Sona as a platform for further unrealistic populist rhetoric.

The risk was immense. If Zuma wanted to, he could have wreaked more havoc than he did with his unscripted announcement in December about free higher education.

He is intent on leaving a fictional legacy as a leader who, against all odds, fought for the poor, right to the end. If Sona had not been postponed, Zuma would still have held the upper hand. Here’s why.

No one could have predicted with certainty the outcome of tonight’s ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting. And there wasn’t enough time to conclude any of the other options to get him out of office quickly.

For example, neither impeachment nor a no-confidence debate could have been rushed through between the conclusion of tonight’s NEC meeting and 7pm tomorrow, when Sona was scheduled to start.

So, whatever the NEC resolves tonight, it would not have been able to get rid of Zuma before tomorrow night.

And he wasn’t going to budge. Zuma had made it clear that he was in no hurry to leave. Who can blame him? Once he’s out of office, jail is a prospect. Looting by Zupta families will end.

In order for them to survive, Zuma was prepared to divide the ANC and drag the country down. He held the power. Postponement strips him of much of that power, but not all.

It is by no means certain that a delayed Sona, addressed by a different president, can be held in what Mbete calls “a more conducive environment”. There’ll be disruptions and possible violence.

The EFF, who despise Ramaphosa, won’t let the evening pass quietly. A bun fight looms. And who knows what Black First Land First and other paid Zupta thugs will do? When Zuma goes, their ill-gotten incomes shrink.

We are not yet out of trouble. Not by a long way. Despite hype from pro-Ramaphosa media, there are notable shortcomings in the ANC president’s grip. For example, not one Zupta has been arrested.

Government pensions are being raided to bail out downgraded Eskom, whose new board raises eyebrows. Zuma has appointed a Prasa-linked advocate to be a high court judge, etc.

At this point, the vaunted “Cyril effect” is a myth embraced by the middle class. Ramaphosa presides over a divided ANC, which opens opportunities for other parties.

The survivor game is still on.

Martin Williams.

Martin Williams.