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Former president Jacob Zuma’s detractors have long delighted in deriding his “Stalingrad strategy”. It may be that they’re in for a nasty surprise.
It’s been widely held that his attempts simply to wear down the resolve and commitment of his foes in law enforcement, the prosecuting authority and the courts would ultimately be futile.
The superior forces of a modern, democratic, constitutional order would eventually and inevitably prevail.
They forget that the Battle of Stalingrad had two phases. The first phase attritional, with the Soviets meeting the German offensive with stubborn resistance.
The second was to do what no sane military strategist thought possible, to break out in a surprise move and decisively trounce their tormentors.
Zuma excelled at the first phase. Now, the Zuma-ites might be ready for Stalingrad’s second, aggressive phase.
There’s an air of confidence that they are now sufficiently recovered from 2017’s shock loss of power to take on President Cyril Ramaphosa more boldly.
The first act was to throw down the gauntlet. Zuma has refused to appear before the Zondo Commission.
He has defied an order of the Constitutional Court – to which he appointed the chief justice and six of the other eight judges currently on the bench – describing the judges as a political tool of sinister forces.
And in another cannon shot across Ramaphosa’s bows, Zuma’s pal, ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, was quick to signal where Luthuli House stood in any conflict.
When asked if Zuma would be suspended from the party for defying the courts, he replied: “Why should we suspend a person who believes in what he believes in? Why should we call him into order when he’s done nothing wrong?”
That’s not Ramaphosa’s only insurrection.
Separately and unremarked upon for the startling act of defiance that it is, the SA National Defence Force this week also kicked constitutional authority in the gonads.
A team from the Hawks and officials from the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) were seen off at gunpoint when they tried to act on a valid warrant to seize illegal medicines allegedly corruptly acquired.
The confrontation “was really tense and a minister had to be called before the Hawks stood down and left”, reports the Sunday Times.
In other words, the military can, with impunity, thumb its nose at the legal apparatus.
None of these murmurings of resistance signals an imminent military coup d’état. But it does signal that an internal party revolt is still a possibility.
So, what will Cyril do? Very little. Contrary to speculation that the government will throw the book at Zuma, Ramaphosa will do everything possible to defuse the issue.
After all, our beleaguered president has been there before. The judicial process – look at the “vigorous” prosecutions of corrupt officials and party members that he promised – can be accommodatingly slow.
With a bit of luck and the support of a tortoise bureaucracy, Ramaphosa will limp through to a second-term nomination.
The conundrum for him is whether Zuma is launching a real offensive or just a phoney war.
Is Zuma really willing to embrace prison martyrdom? And if he does, will there be the explosion of populist anger that he is counting on to destroy Ramaphosa?
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