Zuma on his knees?

Andrew Donaldson says it appears the ANC may be experiencing an outbreak of backbone


TOKYO Sexwale is quite the introspective tycoon these days. Earlier this week, the ANC veteran took a trip back to Robben Island, where he’d been imprisoned for 13 years. 

There, he said, in his old cell, he was struck by all sorts of thoughts, about the principles and sacrifices of the struggle, and the sort of society he and his comrades had wanted to build after the fall of apartheid. 

He’d had the same thoughts, he said, when, some time before that, he’d visited the “death cell” at what used to Pretoria Central. 

(I know, I know, the things he does for fun.)

“Was it worth it?” he asked. “Yes, it was worth it. But look at what’s happening now. It’s a tragic comedy of errors.” 

Sexwale was addressing the media on Thursday, and he announced that he had distanced himself from the Gupta-linked Trillian Capital Partners, where he is a non-executive chairman, and he wanted a judicial inquiry into the firm as part of a bigger inquiry into state capture.

More to the point, he recommended that the Chief Justice appoint the judge to head this investigation — and not Jacob Zuma. It was time, Sexwale said, that the President did some explaining.

He pointed out that he had appointed advocate Geoff Budlender SC last year to investigate allegations that Trillian management had prior knowledge of then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene’s axing in 2015, and added: “I’m not a Johnny-come-lately as far as #ZumaMustGo is concerned. I’m just glad that there’s more of us now.”

Here at the Mahogany Ridge, we were struck by the resolve and sincerity in Sexwale’s tone. He means well. But then, being back in a prison cell, even briefly and just for sentimental reasons, will do that to a person.

But Sexwale is correct in suggesting that more and more ANC members are publicly calling for Zuma to stand down. You may think of it, as some do, as an outbreak of spine in the party, an epidemic of backbone. 

More cynically, nothing brings out the backstabbing bastards so much as a man on his knees. And uBaba is that man.

According to analysis done by the Mail & Guardian, 54 of the 106 members of the ANC’s national executive committee, which is meeting at Pretoria this weekend, are now opposed to Zuma.

At the NEC’s last sitting, in November, only a handful of members, led by Derek Hanekom, the former tourism minister, challenged Zuma’s presidency — and were quickly shot down. Accused Number One left that meeting relatively unscathed. 

Six months later, and it’s a different scenario altogether. The axing of the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, may have been in accordance with Zupta Inc’s state capture plans, but it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped.

Lawmakers with the ruling party are now greatly enraged at the Guptas’ alleged influence in procurement deals with state-owned companies, like arms manufacturer Denel. 

In fact, ANC MP Zukile Luyenge suggested to the parliamentary oversight committee on public enterprises that the President’s friends be summoned to Parliament to face a grilling. 

The committee was quite the centre of attention, especially on Tuesday, when Gordhan made his debut as a member with a clinical evisceration of the Eskom board and Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown over Brian “Maternity Leave” Molefe’s reappointment as CEO of the power utility. Gordhan may be just a backbencher now, but he is a backbencher with an axe to grind.

The President still has a lot of supporters, and will, according to ANC Youth League secretary general Njabulo Nzuza, oppose any attempt to remove him from office at this weekend’s NEC meeting. 

Such a recall would be unconstitutional, Nzuza insisted.

“Those people really can’t raise a motion of no confidence in an NEC,” he said. “Only congress, which elected him [Zuma], can deal with such a thing. Even our constitution makes no provision for such. People are being sold a fallacy of something here.”

The people were sold out long ago, but never mind. 

When it comes to state capture, there remains a willful blindness in some Zuma supporters. The Communications Minister, Ayanda Dlodlo, one of the new appointments in that disastrous reshuffle, insists that it is grossly unfair to suggest that she and her colleagues in the cabinet were part of some tainted group.

“We are all seen as part of this state capture gravy train, a corrupt team appointed by President Zuma, without giving us the benefit of the doubt.”

As one of the regulars has pointed out, that happens when most of the ANC give the rest of the party a bad name.

This article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.