Columns 28.11.2016 04:05 pm

If Zuma doesn’t fire ’em all, we’ll know just how lame a duck he is

Derek Hanekom and Jacob Zuma.

Derek Hanekom and Jacob Zuma.

The president’s supporters appear to have reached a stage of asking their opponents in the ANC to quit. Smells like desperation.

Things have clearly become even more difficult for President Jacob Zuma’s people since the weekend’s news that even some of the president’s Cabinet members have become bold enough to call for Zuma to either resign, be fired or otherwise removed from being able to inflict any further pain on our economy and national administration.

Most analysts agree that there’s more at work here than mere antipathy towards the president and his scandals.

The issue is not that people don’t want to vote for the ANC any more. They just don’t want to vote for this ANC.

It seems self-evident that if the ANC were able to get back on track, its voting base would stage a miraculous recovery. The party’s losses in the local government elections had less to do with people voting for other parties, such as the DA and the EFF, and far more to do with the ANC’s traditional voter base, particularly in the metros, staying home.

It isn’t “unpatriotic” of senior members of the ANC to ask for Zuma to go. It isn’t an act of betrayal. It’s their right, and part of what could only reasonably be called their own sense of greater self-preservation and the continued health of their party. They’re probably just doing what they think is best.

The ANC has always been a “broad church” capable of containing a wide array of viewpoints, and critics used to be encouraged to join the party in the spirit of democracy, in order to “change the ANC from within”.

I myself remember being encouraged in 2007/8 to do precisely that. But the “new ANC” is all about telling dissenters to get out and go and be “cold outside the ANC”.

It also seems pretty obvious that those who are calling for the battlements to be manned in support of the president in these dark days are those who know only too well that any president with any sense of responsibility and accountability (ie, not Zuma) would not have time for them in his (or her) administration.

But even from among Zuma’s supporters, I’m more than happy to concede that some of them are still good people and may simply also have convinced themselves that sticking by Zuma is the right thing to do. Perhaps they believe he really is saving us from the evil World Bank and IMF, or whatever it is they think he’s doing well.

That’s fine. They have every right to defend their man and their views on why he should not go. But it’s in their reaction against those asking for Zuma to go that you can see the “Zuma ANC” at work. It’s exemplified by Free State premier and provincial chair Ace Magashule, who, according to a Mail & Guardian report, suggested that those who supported Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom’s anti-Zuma motion this weekend should voluntarily resign from their positions “as it would be difficult for them to serve under someone they had lost confidence in” reports the M&G.

They would no doubt agree with that, just not on his proposed “solution”.

Apparently, the anti-Zuma crowd felt emboldened on Saturday by the fact that most of Zuma’s “diehard” supporters were attending Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina’s wedding in Cape Town.

Magashule also asked Zuma to just fire all these people if they don’t go on their own.

This is the same president in his first term who used to do Cabinet reshuffles like he was a presidential David Copperfield. You never knew which minister would end up where or even still be in the deck at the end of any given year.

But that was when Zuma was almost all-powerful and could do as he pleased.

The suggestion of gutting the Cabinet of all Zuma’s enemies was surprisingly shot down by even some of Zuma’s supposed supporters, including Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and Small Business Minister Lindiwe Zulu.

Who is and who isn’t a Zuma supporter these days, however, is becomingly increasingly difficult to tell.

The president hasn’t reshuffled anyone since his sneak attack on Nhlanhla Nene on a Sunday evening in December last year. He’s been firmly held in check by a resurgent middle ground of reason in the ANC.

If he doesn’t fire them, as Magashule is demanding, and if he himself doesn’t go, then Zuma’s transition to being the ultimate lame-duck president will be complete.

To ask for Zuma’s opponents to just up and quit at this very moment is the clearest act of desperation yet seen by the Zuma faction. It’s a bit like asking the mighty Italian rugby team to start tackling each other the next time they’re about to defeat the Springboks.

Collen Maine and friends, your enemy is not going to remove itself from the playing field just because you would really like them to. You guys still seem to be hearing words coming out of Zuma’s head when he speaks, while everyone else just hears quacking noises.

Yes, he remains the president. But in order to emerge from this thing with even a shred of authority intact, Zuma needs to fire all the naysayers and challenge anyone else who’d dare oppose him. If that happens we’ll be in for a very interesting lead-up to the ANC elective conference next year.

But that’s probably not going to happen. And, if it doesn’t, we’ll know Zuma’s little more than a chess player down to his last few pieces.

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

Charles Cilliers, Citizen.co.za digital editor

 

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