from Africa in Transition

Uncertainties Mount Whether Zuma’s Presidency Will Survive

April 4, 2017

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Voices calling for President Jacob Zuma to resign or to be removed from office are getting louder in the wake of his cabinet reshuffle and removal of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Within his African National Congress (ANC) the Integrity Commission – intended as an internal corruption watchdog but often toothless – has announced that at an April 9 meeting with the president, it will ask him to resign. Powerful ANC figures including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Treasurer General Zweli Mkhize have disassociated themselves from the reshuffle, though they have not publicly called for Zuma to go. The Mandela Foundation and the Kathrada Foundation, keepers of the liberation movement flame, have done so, as has former President Kgalema Motlanthe.

Even the ANC’s political allies are calling for a change. The South African Communist party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) have both expressed their concern regarding the abrupt cabinet reshuffle. On April 4, COSATU called on Zuma to resign. The SACP has posted at the top of its web site its call for the ANC to remove him from the presidency. Meanwhile, the leading opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are asking for a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Civil-society is mobilized and has led demonstrations in the larger cities.

The focus of anger increasingly appears to be Zuma’s failure to consult the ANC leadership and that of its communist and trade union allies before his cabinet reshuffle. The Integrity Commission summarizes this point of view: Zuma “disregarded the principle and tradition of collective leadership, both within the ANC and with our alliance partners” (SACP and COSATU). COSATU never liked Gordhan, and there is anger on the South African left at Standard & Poor’s downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating to junk status; COSATU spokesmen have characterized that act as “intervention in the internal affairs of South Africa.” But, seemingly, everybody can agree on Zuma’s lack of consultation.

So, will Zuma go? It is by no means certain. The National Assembly is on Easter recess. To consider a motion of no confidence, the Speaker, Baleka Mbete, would have to call it back early. She is generally regarded as a Zuma ally. More generally, Zuma has built up a formidable patronage/clientage network within the ANC that may not be prepared to abandon him just yet. The ANC is set to choose a new national leader in December. ANC politicos, including Ramaphosa, are jockeying for position. For many in the ANC, it may be tempting to leave Zuma in place until a later date, rather than engage in a messy internal fight now.