Will Zuma go?

Stanley Uys reports back on his consultation with the fairies of wishful thinking

I spoke to the fairies the other day, and they told me that President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma will withdraw peaceably from active politics.

I visit Fairyland from time to time, where the fairies, bless their angelic hearts, tell me what I want to hear. They stumbled a little over Gedleyihlekisa, but were quite clear about Zuma.

I suspect many South Africans, more particularly those from the middle-classes, also go to Fairyland. There is nothing wrong with this - hearing what you want to hear. It raises the spirits when the future looks grim.

Anyway, I asked the fairies why Zuma would withdraw, and they replied that it was the booing of him - by black ANC supporters - at the Soweto stadium when tribute was being paid to Nelson Mandela. The sheer volume of it. Zuma felt humiliated, crushed. To retain a shred of self-respect he has no choice but to give up the presidency. He will retire to Nkandla (with his four wives).

Further, President Barack Obama, in his outstanding speech at the stadium, while urging South Africans to be the "master of their fate and the captains of their soul", omitted any mention of Zuma. Analyst Justice Malala summed up the day: "It was an absolutely joyless experience. When the big moment came, South Africa didn't live up. They didn't play."

Surely, I suggested to the fairies, no president of stature could survive the experience of that single day in Soweto? However, a few days later in Pretoria, before the transport of Mandela's body to the burial grounds in his home village Qunu - and before a controlled, selected audience - Zuma tried to recover his position. More composed, he was given a (formal) standing ovation. But the ground was already lost out there in the townships.

Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president, was the next speaker, and the message was loud and clear: if there is a forced change of presidency, Ramaphosa will be the ANC's candidate. Champagne corks will pop in the white corporate world, and elsewhere.

But when is Zuma going? Before the general elections (due not later than July), or after them, when the results possibly show a drop in the ANC's percentage vote below 60% - a party in decline?

That would be the decisive moment. The failure of Zuma's presidential career would be complete. The reputation of the legendary spy master-activist-snake charmer would disappear in a puff. Zuma, living in retirement, then would be haunted by demons. One is the showerhead, favourite of the cartoonists.

In 2007, charged with rape, Zuma confessed to unprotected sex, but explained that he took a shower after the post-coital. He was acquitted. For years, too, he has fought a legal battle to keep multiple allegations of racketeering and corruption at bay. He is still fighting them.

There has been talk in the ANC of offering Zuma a deal: go quietly, and we will ensure that the criminal charges against you will never be brought to court. As for post-presidential comforts, consider Nkandla (the mini tribal village which has been built for you at taxpayer's expense) as a down payment. 

If Zuma left the presidency though what would happen to the Praetorian Guard he has built up, brick by brick, to protect himself from removal? His Zulu placemen are everywhere in the cabinet and among top officials. Zuma also controls Intelligence, Security and Defence; while the millions of ethnically-minded Zulu voters in KwaZulu-Natal make up an ever increasing proportion of the ANC's core support base. Would tribalism, kept at bay so gallantly by the ANC for its 100 years, then spread like a scourge among South Africa's nine tribal groups?

Also, who would replace Zuma if he quit the presidency? Kgalema Motlanthe? Millionaire ex-politician Tokyo Sexwale (who has the knack of backing too many wrong horses, such as Julius Malema's crowd)? Recall Thabo Mbeki, whom RW Johnson dismisses as "a clever, paranoid and unbalanced man"?

Cyril Ramaphosa, certainly, but as ex-ANC cabinet minister Ronnie Kasrils said in an interview last week, there is a "dark cloud" over him - the Marikana mine clash between miners and armed police. Could Ramaphosa turn this around by hastening changes in the mining industry changes beneficial to the miners themselves? According to Forbes, Cyril is worth $625 million.

Cyril currently is the only real runner - unless Zuma brings in someone from KZN. This may be the only deal in town: either Zuma stays in the presidency, or aknowledges his setbacks and installs in his place a selected Zulu from KZN. That would be it.

I contacted a friend, Stephen Ellis, who confirms this: "I think the assumption must be that Zuma will want his eventual successor to be from KZN. I have heard various names bandied around. Could Ramaphosa win in an internal struggle of this sort? I doubt it". Stephen is Professor of Social Sciences at the Free University of Amsterdam and author of the top rated book, External Mission: The ANC in Exile 1960-1990, published last year.

Zuma cut a pathetic figure at the Soweto stadium, but when he appeared in Pretoria last week to preside at the despatch of Mandela's body for burial at Qunu (the scene of his tribal youth), one could see the old fighter had no intention of withdrawing from the presidency.

He bellowed out militant songs and cavorted, signalling defiance in every move. The message was that if the ANC tried to remove him from the presidency, he could tear a huge hole in its structure, and in the administration of the country. So, after my session with the fairies, having heard what I wanted to hear, it was time to get real.

I asked Stephen for his opinion., and he replied: "I am told by some insiders that one of Zuma's key motivating forces is his determination never to go to prison again. From the moment Zuma took the reins of power, his priority was to insulate himself against prosecution by putting his placemen (mostly Zulus) in the key justice and police jobs.

"He remains prosecution-proof. If someone offered him a golden exit (with immunity from prosecution, etc.) I doubt he would accept.

"In any event, the ANC is now strongest in KwaZulu-Natal, and I think the momentum in the organisation suggests that only a Zulu successor to Zuma has much of a chance. Could Motlanthe take over as some sort of caretaker? Possibly, but only to keep the seat warm for someone else. Ramaphosa? I think he has lost much of the respect he once had inside the ANC.

"I sense some profound disturbances in the coming months. What form could these possibly take, other than rowdy demonstrations? The architecture of apartheid, with townships isolated from the city centres, would continue to act against the assembly of huge crowds before the seat of government, Cairo style.

"The space is wide open for a demagogic leader. Julius Malema, with his Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in their red berets and red T-shirts, fits the bill, but he seems headed for prison".

Cry, the beloved country!

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