Let’s assume that time will be needed to appoint all members and officials, to make logistical arrangements, and so forth, and that the Commission will start its work on 1 February 2017. The deadline for the Commission’s report, its findings and recommendations to be presented to the President, is therefore 31 July 2017. The President must then make a copy of the report available to Parliament within 14 days, including an indication of his intentions regarding implementation of the findings. This brings us to approximately the end of August 2017. Unless obstacles are thrown in the path of the Commission, the report should be released at least three months before the ANC’s elective conference in December 2017.
What will the impact be on the ANC and the new leadership if the Commission confirms the findings of the previous Public Protector? It is clear from the statement and actions of the ANC veterans on 3 November that the issue is no longer whether there is a problem with state capture and the President, but rather, what to do about it and how to do it.
For most South Africans and political commentators, it is very clear: President Zuma is an embarrassment and liability to the country and the ANC. The sooner he is removed, the better, especially in view of the elections that will take place in early 2019.
However, as a liberation movement on its way to a political party, the ANC views the situation differently. The right-thinkers in the ANC must think about the long-term future of the party. For example, if Zuma was now to be relieved of his duties as ANC President and therefore as President of the country, there is a strong possibility that the ANC will fracture. The Zuma camp still has the support of a significant number of provinces and branches.
In his book about Zuma, when asked how it was possible that Zuma, despite the rape and fraud charges against him, was elected at Polokwane as President of the ANC, journalist Jeremy Gordin replied: “They were unfazed that he had been charged with corruption and rape… We want one of us in charge; And to have been desperately short of money… to have been in trouble with the law, and to be perhaps a little laissez-faire, or at any rate not holier-than-thou, on matters of morality, is to be one of us…” This is still true of many members and branches of the ANC. They see all the charges against Zuma as just propaganda and lies. If Zuma is forced to go, they will go.
To protect the future of the ANC and ensure that there is still a chance to rule the country after 2019, the ANC cannot (immediately) let Zuma go. And this argument becomes stronger when one bears in mind that that the Madonsela recommendations delay the final decision on the matter until at least September 2017. There is also a reluctance to end a second President’s term early, so as not to create a pattern.
The one thing that could change this assumption is if Zuma resigns and makes it clear to his supporters that they should continue to support the ANC because he is stepping down voluntarily. And he will only do so if he gets amnesty. The question is whether the right-thinkers in the ANC and the opposition parties will be willing to accept this? The DA and EFF get considerable political capital out of Zuma. They will want to maintain this as long as possible. The ANC in contrast, have to choose between the interests of the party (keep Zuma a little longer) and the country as a whole (get rid of him immediately).
The other issue that those trying to set the ANC straight will have to keep in mind is – who will replace Zuma if he resigns or if they let him go? Because it is unlikely that the latter will happen before December 2017, the elective conference will have to wrestle with this question. At the moment, the strongest contenders for the ANC presidency seem to be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zweli Mkhize and Cyril Ramaphosa, with Baleka Mbete, Lindiwe Sisulu and Gwede Mantashe in the wings. It is unlikely that one of the serious contenders will want to take on the role of interim President of the country, because it will be considered as a first term – and will therefore only allow one further term as President. There is speculation that Jeff Radebe or even Kgalema Motlanthe may be asked to stand as interim President of the country between December 2017 and May 2019.
Of course, the choice of a new ANC President also has the potential to tear the party apart. Zuma supporters will struggle to stay in the party if Ramaphosa should be elected. The same applies to the right-thinkers if Dlamini-Zuma (apparently Zuma’s choice) should be elected. Then someone like Mkhize has the inside track as a middle ground candidate. If one of these three reaches an agreement with one of the other two to join him/ her to stand as Deputy President, this could – from the party and the candidates’ point of view – be the best compromise.
What will the consequences be if Zuma is not immediately recalled, or does not resign? At the national level, policy uncertainty will continue and strengthen the possibility of a credit downgrade. At ANC level, it will extend the debate on state capture and the “soul” of the ANC until December 2017. Preparations for this will not only include talks, but also individual election campaigns.
It is clear: South Africa will have Jacob Zuma as sitting President until at least December 2017. The bad news is that the Madonsela report unintentionally extended Zuma’s political shelf life. The good news is that we are very close to the final turning point of this era and that a confirmation of the Public Protector’s views by the Commission will help to remove Zuma in 2017 for once and for all.
By Dr Theuns Eloff, Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation