The Commission of Inquiry and NEC confirmation of Zuma's presidency – what does 2017 have in store for us?
13 December 2016
The deadline for President Zuma to appoint the commission of inquiry as per the Madonsela State Capture Report, came and went quietly at the end of November. Hours before the deadline, the President submitted a court application to review the Madonsela Report and its recommendations. With such an action, the recommendations are temporarily suspended. He and his legal advisors apparently don’t take any chances.
His argument is that her directive is invalid because he, as per the Constitution, did not decide independently to appoint such a Commission and that only he (and not the Chief Justice) can take this action. Mr Zuma further argues that he may not be judge and jury in his own court, as the Commission would have to report to him.
The Constitution does indeed state in section 84(2)(f) that the President is responsible for appointing commissions of inquiry. On the other hand, section 96(2)(b) provides that members of the Cabinet and Deputy Ministers may not “act in any way that is inconsistent with their office, or expose themselves to any situation involving the risk of a conflict between their official responsibilities and their private interests”. Surely that which applies to the Cabinet should also apply to the head of the Cabinet.
The President can cite the letter of the Constitution and refuse to appoint the commission of inquiry, and the court may prove him right. But it is clear to all right-thinking South Africans that in this respect he is at the very least, disregarding the spirit of the Constitution. If the President had nothing to hide, the appointment of such a Commission would not have been a problem. It would - according to his own statement - also have been necessary to stipulate that the Commission should report to Parliament and not to him. His actions in this regard raise a strong suspicion that he considers himself and his alleged actions to be above the law and the Constitution. The fact that the President did not - as per all protocol - excuse himself from the National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting when he was being discussed - is further evidence of a lack of integrity.
The second recent development was the confirmation of Mr Zuma's presidency (of the country) by the NEC. It is now apparent that he will remain President of the ANC and of the country until December 2017. But it was also clear from Gwede Mantashe’s statement after the meeting that Mr Zuma would only remain President of the ANC until then, and that a new ANC president would be elected in December 2017. The so-called Putin option - where he remains ANC president and appoints a pawn as president of the country - is therefore eliminated. It's also clear that Zuma's opponents became strong(er) and increased in number, but that the momentum is not yet strong enough to remove him from power earlier. The fact that it was decided to hold a consultative conference by the end of June 2017 is enlightening. This will maintain the pressure on President Zuma and invigorate the focus on the succession battle.
What has become particularly clear, however, from Mantashe’s statement, is that unity within the ANC is now considered more important than letting Zuma go early. As usual, the ANC defuses internal conflict by highlighting the onslaught of old external enemies, “racism, ethnic nationalism and monopoly capital” as more important than the alarming activities of its leader. This ties in to Zuma's own recent speeches about the attacks against him from outside and inside the ANC.
With a little logic, one can hazard a guess at what the possible compromises or understandings were that led to the NEC’s decision. The first compromise is probably that Mr Zuma remains President of the country until 2017. A second logical one is that those who are unhappy won’t try to recall him again before that time. On the other hand, one could also ponder whether the President undertook not to kick the rebels out of his Cabinet, and that he would step down as ANC president in December 2017. Whether there was an agreement about the Madonsela Report from Mr Zuma's side, is unlikely. At this stage, there appears to be no question of amnesty - not so much because it is not a possibility, but because the Zuma camp still feel strong and sure of their position. President Zuma's recent performance during question time in Parliament, where he was almost disdainful of his opponents inside and outside the ANC, bears witness to this.
This leaves us with a number of factors that will influence 2017.
The run-up to the consultative conference at the end of June will serve to place the succession battle in the limelight. Here the recruitment of ANC members and the establishment of branches will play an important role. KwaZulu-Natal already has almost 30% of the votes in the NEC and the other Premier League provinces want to increase this further.
Furthermore, the emphasis is placed on the (apparent) unity of the party to prevent it from splitting, but at the same time to avoid further action against Mr Zuma. The fact that the Madonsela Report is now before the courts, will, at least temporarily, delay the implementation thereof and indefinitely postpone an investigation into Zuma’s alleged activities.
As far as the economy is concerned, now that we have avoided a credit status downgrade, the emphasis will have to be on achieving more than 1% growth. Fact is, our politics are holding our economy to ransom. The question is whether Pravin Gordhan will be able to avoid a downgrade in 2017 without Zuma's political support. The agencies and their critical eye aren’t going anywhere.
Last, but not least, the possibility of a Cabinet reshuffle hangs like a sword over all the Cabinet Members who spoke openly against Zuma's continued presidency. Zuma is a masterful strategist and, possibly, a few ministers will not have a restful Christmas season.
By Dr Theuns Eloff, Executive Director, FW de Klerk Foundation