Some national executive committee (NEC) members told The Star that the fallout over Zuma’s actions and subsequent calls for his removal were supposed to be handled by the NEC, the party’s highest decision-making body between elective conferences.
The Star understands that the aggrieved NEC members are also mobilising some provincial executive committee members on the matter.
Zuma has had to face his critics only in meetings of the organisation’s top six leaders and the national working committee (NWC) – both of whom don’t hold the power to take final decisions.
Zuma’s detractors, defeated at an NWC meeting on Tuesday, have been meeting informally to hedge a plan to force secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s hand to convene a special NEC meeting to hold the president to account.
They believe Zuma and his allies were wary of an NEC meeting following the revolt he faced late last year when a motion of no confidence in him was tabled by Derek Hanekom, the recently fired tourism minister.
An NEC member said an extended NWC meeting – which included provincial chairpersons and secretaries – didn’t have the final authority on a matter as vital as the fallout over the reshuffle.
The 26-member NWC is dominated by cabinet ministers, who are mostly Zuma allies.
“They are afraid of the NEC. When there is this kind of an issue, it is expected that the NEC will be called to give direction,” said an NEC member, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“I can tell you that most people in the NEC feel strongly that there should be an NEC meeting. There are calls for the president to resign; that is a crisis.”
His comments came in the wake of Tuesday’s extended NWC meeting, during which Zuma’s allies launched a strong fight-back.
On Wednesday, the secretariat of the ANC put on a show of unity and closed ranks.
Mantashe said they had accepted Zuma’s explanation that he fired Pravin Gordhan because their relationship had broken down “irretrievably”.
He said the previous explanation was that the removals were based on an intelligence report alleging that Gordhan would use the investor roadshows in the UK and US to plot Zuma’s downfall. This, Mantashe said, caused “complications”.
Mantashe, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and treasurer Zweli Mkhize spoke out against Zuma’s reshuffle, saying it was influenced “elsewhere”.
But on Wednesday, Mantashe and his deputy, Jessie Duarte, said they had known about the impending removal of Gordhan as early as last November and had convinced Zuma to put it on ice.
He said they reminded Zuma that he was not doing them favours to consult, but it was a decision of the ANC conference.
In a further sign that Zuma’s allies won the day at the NWC, Mantashe said Zuma remained the leader of the party and warned those who wanted to vote with the opposition to remove him through Parliament.
“There is no ANC member who will vote for a motion of the opposition. That will be uncharacteristic of the ANC,” he said.
The vote is set to take place on April 18 in the National Assembly.
But another NEC member said they were angry that the NWC did not sanction Zuma.
The NEC member said Gordhan’s removal on the basis that his relationship with the president had “irretrievably broken down” was inadequate, adding that the outcome of the NWC meeting did not address the nation’s concerns.
“I think it’s no longer an internal ANC matter, but a national matter, and this (NWC) statement falls short of (addressing) the national concerns.”
Mantashe could not be reached for comment, while ANC spokesperson Khusela Sangoni said they were not aware of the calls.
Cosatu spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said they would meet Zuma this week and “listen to everything he has to say”, while SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo said their position, that Zuma must go, hadn’t changed.
Meanwhile, the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association and the ANC Youth League were clear that disciplinary action should be taken against Hanekom and Gordhan.
MKMVA chairperson Kebby Maphatsoe also said Ramaphosa had compromised himself by speaking out against Zuma.