President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko

Johannesburg - The knives are out for President Jacob Zuma after the election of the new ANC leadership, headed by Cyril Ramaphosa.

There is growing sentiment across party factions to recall Zuma to avoid the spectre of two centres of power - and boost the ANC’s chances of retaining power in 2019.

The possibility of Zuma’s removal was discussed at the conference, where it was resolved that the ANC national executive committee (NEC) had the power to recall the president should it decide to.

The Star has established that moves were already afoot to oust the embattled president, with Ramaphosa supporters discussing how to remove him.

An ANC leader and former MP central to Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s campaign said it was almost certain that Zuma was not going to finish his term as president in 2019.

“We understand that there are moves to remove him. We are saying it cannot be done here (at the conference). It is a matter for the NEC.

“If I were the president, I would resign. He is not the leader of the organisation anymore. He cannot impose himself on the ANC."

It was likely that Zuma would be recalled in the same way former president Thabo Mbeki was ousted. The leader said an exit plan that does not humiliate Zuma had to be put together, if he refuses to resign.

But this would depend on the composition of the NEC, which is the party’s highest decision-making body between conferences.

Ramaphosa’s supporters would have the power to oust Zuma if in the majority in the NEC.

By last night, the party was yet to announce 80 of the 86 leaders who made it into the powerful structure.

There had been fears that a divided and weak NEC might hamper Ramaphosa’s ability to fulfil his pre-conference promises to root out corruption, probe state capture and fix state-owned enterprises.

One of the main tasks facing the new NEC is ensuring that there is synergy between the party and the government to avoid the emergence of two centres of power.

This assertion was affirmed by NEC member Fikile Mbalula, who said the conference had resolved that the new NEC should “manage” the two centres of power. Mbalula, who is the ANC’s chairperson of the organisational renewal subcommittee, said the new NEC could recall Zuma if it so wished - in the interests of the ANC.

He alluded to the “tense” situation after the party’s 2007 Polokwane conference, which had elected Zuma as ANC president.

Mbalula added that the current situation mirrored 2007 - with Ramaphosa as party president and Zuma the country’s president - saying this situation had to be “managed carefully”.

“So, what the conference has said is something that arises from that situation (post-Polokwane) - it’s not something that is new to us. But should there be a recall (of Zuma), the NEC is (empowered) to take that decision".

Ramaphosa is the only Top Six member serving in national government in his capacity as the deputy president.

Former Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool said the new ANC president would need “a decisive ANC” if he was going to restore the public’s confidence in the governing party.

“That’s what all the lobbying has been about today (at the conference)," said Rasool, adding that Ramaphosa needed “50 solid people on his side (in the NEC) to fulfil the mandate of his campaign”.

There was talk during the conference that Ramaphosa needed to act tough on Zuma, while a heated debate ensued as delegates debated the two centres of power.

Among the resolutions taken was on state capture, with delegates agreeing that the public protector’s recommendations on state capture should be implemented expeditiously.

However, Ramaphosa may still face fierce resistance from Zuma’s allies, who claim the 2008 recall of Mbeki had cost the party dearly.

KwaZulu-Natal ANC chairperson Sihle Zikalala warned that any move to remove Zuma would be seen as a purge, further dividing the ANC.

“What is important for the ANC is to ensure unity and not to be seen to be purging anyone. In the ANC we balance politics and powers,” he said.

He was of the view that Zuma and Ramaphosa should keep their government positions the way they are until the general elections in 2019.

Political Bureau