Supporters of President Jacob Zuma are demanding that ANC MP Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma take over as the country’s interim president as a condition for him to step down.
Party insiders familiar with the behind-the-scenes negotiations on Zuma’s future say the former ANC president and his supporters have also demanded that some of his key Cabinet appointments, such as Energy Minister David Mahlobo and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, be retained.
Soon after he was appointed in October, Mahlobo made it clear he would make the implementation of nuclear energy a priority, a goal the Zuma administration apparently wants to have secured.
Less than a month into his new post, Mahlobo had already started putting pressure on officials to fast-track the conclusion of an updated integrated resource plan (IRP), a document that maps out the energy mix the country needs for the foreseeable future.
He told Parliament in November that the urgency was in order to ensure policy certainty and boost investor confidence. But his assertiveness has raised suspicion that he may have been mandated to push through plans for a nuclear build programme. Mahlobo has, however, denied that there is any nuclear deal on the table.
His ties to Russia have also been brought into question. During his tenure as state security minister, he was alleged to have accompanied businesspeople Kenny Kunene and Gayton McKenzie on a trip to Russia, where he is said to have acted as an intermediary to help the pair strike a multimillion-rand gas deal.
Mahlobo also accompanied Zuma on his state visit to Russia in 2014, where it is speculated a nuclear deal was discussed with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
There has also been controversy over Bongo, who was likewise appointed to the Cabinet in Zuma’s October reshuffle.
Shortly after his appointment, Bongo was accused of attempting to bribe the evidence leader in Parliament’s state capture inquiry, advocate Ntuthuzelo Vanara. The matter has resulted in the Democratic Alliance laying corruption charges against the minister.
Despite the controversy surrounding Bongo, Zuma also appears to have no appetite to see him removed.
The conditions under which Zuma would be willing to resign as head of state have emerged as the biggest points of contention in the discussions among senior ANC leaders.
Newly elected ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe have privately expressed reservations about some of Zuma’s conditions for stepping down as South Africa’s president.
Magashule, a close Zuma ally, this week could not be drawn on whether Dlamini-Zuma should take over as interim president should Zuma step aside. But he stressed that she had a role to play in the ANC’s future plans.
“Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is part of the collective. All of us will play our role as individuals in the collective. She has a role to play in uniting [the ANC] and in addressing the challenges of inequality,” Magashule said.
ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “We are aware of the discussions between the president of the ANC and the president of the country about how do we ensure Luthuli House remains a centre of power without undermining the president of the republic. We are not aware of conditions.”
Three ANC national executive committee (NEC) members confirmed the behind-the-scenes negotiations with Zuma, and said they were aware of some of his conditions — but dismissed them as unrealistic.
“The old man wants to protect his Cabinet appointments in strategic positions such as energy and security for the next two years. They [Ramaphosa and Mantashe] are refusing that condition. It’s mainly because he’s treating the Cabinet like it is not an ANC Cabinet; it’s his own. Whoever comes in will make or break him,” a senior member of the NEC, who asked to remain anonymous, told the M&G this week.
His sentiments were shared by another NEC member sympathetic to Ramaphosa.
“How do you retain someone like Mahlobo, who has insisted on implementing a nuclear programme which is not affordable to the country? Bongo has been in the media for all the wrong reasons since he was appointed,” the second NEC member said.
The third NEC member said that even though she wanted a woman to take over as ANC president, people should respect the ANC’s democratic processes, which saw Ramaphosa elected as the party’s new leader.
“Surely after Ramaphosa I want to see a woman president. I want a woman president, but not at all costs. Why, now that the Venda guy is supposed to take over, people are raising the issue of gender?”
Zuma met with Ramaphosa on Sunday in KwaZulu-Natal and the pair have been “continuously” engaging since then, according to Magashule.
But a “stalemate” appears to have been reached, a long-serving member of the NEC said on the sidelines of the activities planned by the party in the Eastern Cape this week.
“At the moment, it’s a stalemate [on the conditions under which Zuma would agree to resign]. So we will see where it ends up after the NWC [national working committee] and heads of subcommittees are selected at the next NEC [meeting],” another senior member of Parliament and returning NEC member said.
Zuma’s suggestion that Dlamini-Zuma serve as interim president has been rejected by Ramaphosa, who has argued that Human Settlements Minister and NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu or National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete are better suited to hold the fort for two years.
It’s understood the ANC’s top six leaders have briefed Zulu king Goodwill Zwelithini and Xhosa king Zwelonke Sigcawu about their plans to ask Zuma to resign. King Zwelithini is understood to have backed the proposed move to have Zuma recalled as head of state.
Zuma narrowly escaped a potentially bruising debate in the first meeting of the new NEC this week, when he appointed a commission of inquiry into state capture the day before the gathering in East London. The special NEC was called to discuss the ANC’s annual January 8 statement, to be delivered at the Absa Stadium in East London on Saturday.
An NEC member who had called for Zuma to resign before the party’s national conference said the establishment of the state capture probe had effectively postponed the debate.
“If he didn’t appoint the commission of inquiry, it was going to be a very different NEC [meeting]. The matter [of Zuma’s recall] could have arisen in one form or another from the floor,” the NEC member said.
Sisulu said a decision on Zuma’s future would have to be taken “with everyone on board”.
“Because if we don’t act in concert with each other, we are creating further problems internally, and that’s what we tried to avoid in 2007,” Sisulu said. But she said the ANC retained the power to recall Zuma as it had done with Mbeki.
“The good thing about the power to deploy is that the ANC actually has the power to recall. We saw that in our time; it was a very difficult decision. But it shows the internal dynamics of the ANC: that we put you there and we can take you out again,” Sisulu.
Labour federation Cosatu said it wants an overhaul of the entire Cabinet by the interim president should Zuma leave office.
“We want the president to step down so that the replacement can overhaul that Cabinet because it is redundant and contains people who have really not done well,” spokesperson Sizwe Pamla.
Earlier this week, ANC Youth League secretary general Njabulo Nzuza said in an interview with the Daily Dispatch that the league would be opposed to any calls for Zuma to step down before 2019.
The ANC Youth League would not raise objections if Zuma agreed to any deal to have him finish his term early.
“We have always stuck with the decisions taken in ANC meetings. When we go to a meeting, we have a view. But if our view is not successful and the party takes a different decision, we will accept that decision,” Nzuza said.