That President Zuma must go is not in question the process of an exit is proving most vexing for the governing party. Should it be a hard exit or a soft one; will he retain his benefits or lose these; will he end up in jail; amnesty/no amnesty; will he form a breakaway party with the residue of his supporters? These are some of what currently litters social media and the broader media in the absence of a crisp political and communications strategy coming from Luthuli House.
The risks and rewards for ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ANC of pursuing a motion of no confidence or impeachment proceedings against Zuma may lie at the heart of the current impasse. Weighing up the law and balancing the interests of the party will feature heavily on how best to deal with Zuma’s exit.
A united party which proffered an unequivocal message would be first prize, but as this is not the case, the option of impeachment or a vote of no confidence are being explored by both opposition parties and some members of the ANC.
Advocate Anton Katz, SC, outlines the process in relation to the options on the table: “So, on impeachment the deputy president becomes acting president, whereas after a successful no confidence vote it will be the Speaker because the entire cabinet, including the deputy president, must resign. The National Assembly must elect one of its members to fill the vacancy, at a time and date determined by the Chief Justice; but if the National Assembly fails to elect a new president within 30 days after the vacancy occurred, the acting president must dissolve the National Assembly and a fresh general election must be held.”
Clearly the perils of a no-confidence vote - which see Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa having to resign - are a risky option in a highly fragmented governing party.
The inimitable Evita Bezuidenhout summed up the public mood: “How long does it take to convince an old skelm to get out of the house?”
The crisis besetting the country has culminated in the State of the Nation address (Sona) being postponed, and rightly so. A president who has lost all credibility and eroded all notions of decency and accountability is not the person to address the nation outlining a vision going forward. That it is taking the governing party as long as it is to address this stasis is of major concern to citizens worried about the future.
While the ANC and the factions within are grappling with party unity and renewal, the economy wobbles, investors are filled with uncertainty and citizens worry about a myriad issues such as the effect of tax increases, including VAT, which will impact every person and all transactions.
As the country guesses at Ramaphosa’s strategy for dealing with Zuma, one must ask the question: Who is playing who? Is the masterful strategist and constitutional negotiator Ramaphosa winning, or is the wily Zuma playing every card in his pack?
Ramaphosa attempted to assuage the concerns of the nation when he took to Twitter: “We will be able to communicate further on President Zuma’s position as President of the Republic once we have finalised all pertinent matters”.
From the same Twitter account came this message, too: “I am aware that the uncertainty surrounding the position of the Head of State and Government is a cause for concern among many South Africans. This is understandable”. A less polite response would have been more useful, Mr Ramaphosa. The nation is anxious.
Zuma’s intransigence and insistence on leaving on his own terms, including as one journalist stated, wanting time to “say goodbye” to cabinet colleagues, among other demands, speaks to a desperation that he must feel at the thought of what awaits him in respect of his pending charges. Fraud, money laundering, racketeering and corruption are no small matters, particularly when a head of state has used public resources as his own personal piggy bank.
In a constitutional democracy, the Rule of Law must not be breached at any cost, not even to save the ANC from itself. The danger of conflating party politics with national politics is the real danger that confronts the country. The business of state and government must continue despite the governing party’s own struggles to balance forces within and approach its bid to ensure unity and renewal. The country cannot be captive while this task is under way.
In the immediate future, it behoves Ramaphosa to unequivocally state that there is no legal basis for an amnesty from prosecution for Zuma, nor the possibility of a presidential pardon, until the full might of the law has taken its course and the National Prosecuting Authority has concluded its work in respect of the charges pending against the president.
That the law must be exercised freely and fairly and not to advance the interest of any indivi- dual or organisation should never be in contention.
The country has suffered far too many setbacks on Zuma’s watch. He has played populist politics that have been racially and ethnically divisive.
Economic and social discontent is palpable across society, with poverty and inequality becoming more entrenched. Change must come so that South Africans can once again embark on a joint mission to reclaim a commitment to decency, respect, ethics, accountability and transparency, and to relegate state capture, corruption and patronage to the dustbin of history.
The re-commitment to a values-based government must of course come with a pledge by the presidential incumbent that pressing concerns must be addressed, including the quick action necessary to ensure policy certainty, financial controls that have gone awry under Zuma, and reintroduce fiscal management systems that bolster and do not deplete the fiscus.
These are first-out-of-the-stalls issues that will stem the tide of state capture and corruption and crucially begin the necessary remedial action to take the country back on course.
Without sustainable growth, expectations will remain unmet and opportunities will arise for divisive agendas to run rampant.
“After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”
South Africans, across hues, have, as per the aforementioned sentiments of Nelson Mandela, climbed many hills. The situation we find ourselves in now requires another hill to be collectively climbed.
* Zohra Dawood is director, Centre for Unity in Diversity
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.