President Jacob Zuma File photo: INLSA

President Thabo Mbeki lasted nine months as head of state after losing the presidency of the ANC to Jacob Zuma in 2007. 

Zuma is going to survive for a far shorter period with the ascendancy of Cyril Ramaphosa to the throne of the governing party at its December elective conference. 

Although Zuma was not contesting the party presidency, his candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, was defeated by his deputy despite the fact that the former ANC president tried everything in his power to prevent this from happening. 

This is bad news for the man whose leadership of the ANC for 10  years, and the country for eight, can only be described as disastrous.

At the centre of these developments is a phenomenon famously known as “the two centres of power” in South Africa’s governing  party since it came into power in 1994.

Although the transfer of power from president Nelson Mandela to Mbeki was smooth, subsequent transfers of power from one leader to another are proving tumultuous. 

The 2007 ANC conference in Polokwane was historic in the triumph of factionalism in the century-old former liberation movement. 

The ANC has never recovered from this fratricidal contest that left  this glorious movement tarnished. 

While the 2012 conference was a walkover and consolidation for Jacob Zuma, the 2017 campaign for the leadership of the ANC was arguably more toxic than even the historic 2007 one. 

While remaining the president of South Africa, Zuma leaves the ANC in a sorry state, factionalised and broken. 

The new president of the ANC, Ramaphosa, is probably angry with his predecessor who refused to endorse him and instead marshalled all the might of the state in a bid to stop him from taking the helm of the ANC.

The successful  businessman and former general secretary of the party is in a mean mood after winning the contest against Dlamini Zuma by a small margin following a gruelling campaign battle. 

In his campaign, Ramaphosa promised the party faithful and the nation clean governance and an end to endemic corruption which continues to characterise Zuma’s treacherous misrule. 

The man who co-wrote the country’s constitution, shed a tear on the lonely stage after he was pronounced the new president of the ANC on the evening of December 18. 

He was overcome by emotions as the enormity of his victory sank in. He had triumphed over a well resourced and mean state machinery that was determined to retain the status through a proxy president surrounded by scoundrels who very soon will be subpoenaed to much-awaited state capture commission of inquiry.

Now, the whole country waits with great anticipation to see if Ramaphosa’s pronouncements throughout his campaign will find expression in his first month in power. 

After a ruinous presidency, Zuma still occupies the highest office in the country. 

His plight is worse than that of Mbeki’s in January 2008 after his failure to secure a third term as party leader, courtesy of the marauding and chanting Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma. Ten years on, and Zuma finds himself in the position of his predecessor in 2008. 

A hostile newly elected party leader and a new  national executive committee loyal to the new leader and unsympathetic to the previous one. 

Zuma’s situation is far worse than that of Mbeki’s. As head of state, he is facing serious corruption charges that began during Mbeki’s term; he is faced with an impending commission of inquiry into state capture of which he is a central figure and is the first South African president since 1910 to face possible impeachment. 

What makes Zuma’s situation even more perilous that his party is facing its most difficult general election in 2019 after 10 years of shedding voter support under his leadership. 

While Mbeki delivered a two-thirds majority for the ANC in 2004, Zuma cost the the party three major metros in the 2016 local government election and lost 
the party its solid national majority that polls estimate to be at a dangerous 54% today. 

For the first time since 1994, the ANC is haunted by a spectre of a coalition government without a clear majority. 

All this is blamed on the scandal-prone occupant of the Union Buildings without the support of his party

The impending state capture commission, which he is foolishly continuing to resist, will no doubt be the final nail in his political coffin. 

It is doubtful that Ramaphosa will wait for a drawn-out commission of inquiry as he is expected by the entire nation to show his mettle by recalling his predecessor, and begin the process of rebuilding a broken South Africa.

The great question of the day is whether Zuma will fully understand that this time around the odds are heavily stacked against him and that  leaving office with some modicum of dignity would be in his best interests and that of the country. 

But he is likely to foolishly try to cling to power by all means and for as long as he can. The man is simply incapable of rational thinking as all his disastrous decisions have demonstrated. This is going to be a tragedy for him and the ANC if he digs in.

There is no longer any space for Zuma to manoeuvre. The knives are out for him and the only rational thing to do is surrender. 

There is a myth that Ramaphosa is facing a massive fight back from the Zuma camp. Nothing is further from the truth. Politicians are a self-preserving species. With the new sheriff in town, politicians know that you either shape up to the new chief or you ship out.

Not only will Ramaphosa be appointing his cabinet this year, he will also be deciding on the shape and extent of a reshuffle immediately after the fall of Zuma either this or next month.

This is irrespective of whether he replaces Zuma immediately or he deploys a proxy until 2019. 

Only a moronic minister or politician will remain loyal to a mortally wounded Zuma. 

There is reliable intelligence that the Zuma camp, especially those who were at the forefront of the failed Dlamini Zuma campaign, have started courting and 
pledging support to the new party 
president in the same way they found their way to Nkandla in the heydays of Msholozi. 

The ANC veterans have allegedly fired the first shots by asking Zuma to negotiate a Mugabe-style dignified exit. More and more elements in the party and the broader democratic movement are going to ask him to do the same with immediate effect. 

His options are limited. With the Constitutional Court’s decision last month on his possible impeachment, the opposition parties will, in true popcorn-style, be jumping around in excitement, ready to strike that fatal blow to the man they both love and hate. 

The ANC cannot afford this risk with an election looming in 2019. 

Ramaphosa and his team are probably working very hard to find the most amicable solution to the crisis caused by the two centres of power and Zuma’s antics. 

Should Zuma fail to read the signs correctly, Ramaphosa will be compelled to act decisively to evade a possible electoral defeat.

All the support and goodwill that he generated during the electoral conference will go up in smoke if he falters. 

The people of South Africa have had enough of Zuma and expect Ramaphosa to display courage, resoluteness and some ruthlessness in dealing with the delinquent president. 

The markets have already rewarded Ramaphosa with a stronger rand and a reduction in the fuel price. Most South Africans appreciate this and expect the ANC president to initiate an economic recovery from the ruinous days of Zuma.

Ramaphosa is forced to act quickly and decisively.

My advice to Nxamalala is to convene an urgent meeting of his real comrades in the Struggle to craft a strategy of an immediate dignified exit. 

He should exclude the likes of Bathabile Dlamini, Collen Maine, Nomvula Mokonyane, Supra Mahumapelo, Ace Magashule and Kebby Maphatsoe. 

He should talk to Mbeki, Mavuso Msimang, Siphiwe Nyanga, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Frank Chikane and Kgalema Motlanthe. 

In his last days as leader of the country, Zuma must do the unusual, swallow his pride, denounce the Guptas, embrace his real comrades that he discarded in his moment of power intoxication, apologise to the party and the nation and negotiate a good deal for himself that will allow him some sort of dignified exit. 

The alternative, to borrow an unfortunate phrase, “is too ghastly to contemplate”.

Lediga is a political columnist, author and former spokesperson of the ANC in Limpopo.