President Jacob Zuma
Will the #GuptaLeaks shift opinions within the ANC? Some in the party thought they could, writes Mcebisi Ndletyana.

That’s why they leaked the e-mails to the Sunday papers two weekends ago, while the organisation’s national executive committee (NEC) was holding a meeting.

Among the items discussed at that meeting was whether to recall Jacob Zuma as president.

The e-mails revealed damaging information, providing specific details of the patron-client relationship between the president and the Gupta family.

That meeting didn’t recall Zuma. Why not?

The expectation of a recall betrayed a misunderstanding of what we’re confronting. The recall doesn’t just affect Zuma, but also involves numerous other individuals in the NEC. Some of the NEC members are part of the patron-client network, while others are simply indebted to the president for appointing them to positions.

These appointments come with authority and immense income.

The gratitude is even greater to the president if one was on the margins, or never thought such an appointment was possible.

These two groups of individuals are both beneficiaries of the Zuma presidency, but obviously in different ways.

Some are simply office-holders (or career politicians), while others are involved in illicit exchanges (or patronage-politicians).

This is what differentiates their level of support and loyalty to the president. Beneficiaries of illicit exchanges won’t be moved by revelations of sleaze. That won’t outrage them for the simple reason that they too are involved – and the likelihood of criminal prosecution hardens their resolve to back Zuma.

The president, through all manner of shenanigans, is their protector. His departure makes them vulnerable. So patronage politicians won’t vote Zuma out. Conversely, the office holders can be persuaded to move against Zuma.

They need some guarantees, however, that ousting him will not see them out of jobs.

Remember, they were out in the cold until Zuma appointed them. And they need their employment to earn a living, which is not unreasonable. Some guarantees that they won’t return to the cold, in the aftermath of the Zuma presidency, is sufficient to sway them against Zuma.

Future prospects also make career politicians prone to recalling Zuma. Because they are untainted by corruption, they stand a better chance of being appointed in a future administration.

This is partly what makes them want to save the ANC from Zuma’s ruin. They still have a future in politics. But they won’t move against Zuma until they are certain that his presidency is ending, and so, if he does fire them, they won’t be out for long.

We are not there yet. While unable to influence the outcome of the recent NEC meeting, however, the #GuptaLeaks are likely to be a game-changer. Already, the party has experience that a scandal exerts electoral harm. That’s what Nkandla did. These e-mails contain multiple Nkandlas, and cannot be easily dismissed.

The Guptas' threat to go to court hasn’t materialised, which goes to show that the e-mails are authentic. In the face of these scandalous details, the ANC needs to limit the damage.

That’s why the NEC meeting came out openly in favour of a commission of inquiry into state capture. The patronage politicians have tried to dilute that resolution by extending the scope of the proposed investigation back to 1994. For that to happen, however, Zuma must overturn former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s recommendations in the State of Capture report.

That court case will be heard later this year in October. In the meantime, Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown wants the Special Investigative Unit (SIU) to investigate Eskom.

In other words, the leaks are so damaging that they demand immediate remedial action. Who knows what will come out tomorrow, and the day after? There are approximately 200 000 e-mails.

It may well be that an SIU probe into Eskom will reveal more evidence further implicating the president and his associates in sleaze. That’s if the investigation does happen at all. The president has to authorise it. He may not want to do so.

Even if no investigation happens between now and October, when the court decides on the president’s review application of Madonsela’s report, the e-mails are fatal on their own.

They simply make it impossible for the ANC to refocus public attention away from the party’s corruption. The 20th anniversary of South Africa’s democracy in 2014 enabled the party to come up with some noticeable slogan, “A good story to tell”, for the national election that year.

At this rate, what respectable election slogan can the ANC possibly come up with in 2019, after four years of ceaseless revelations about its own corruption? Only a message of renewal can get the ANC any serious attention from voters in 2019.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has impeccable credentials, but she’s not a convincing representative for renewal. Her message of starting afresh can’t possibly be taken seriously with Zuma at the helm of her campaign.

Actually, the #GuptaLeaks are possibly going to harden attitudes against Dlamini-Zuma. They provide evidence that her ex-husband is actually worse than we thought, which, in turn, will raise more questions about her association with him. This increases the worry among her backers about her electability in 2019. ANC members will not only elect Zuma’s successor in December, but some will also be looking for a candidate that can win them the 2019 elections.

KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) appears to be one of those staunch Zuma supporters thinking beyond the elective conference. KZN has not been overly enthusiastic about Dlamini-Zuma. Instead, the provincial chairperson, Sihle Zikalala, has been talking a lot about unity lately. Politicians that are guaranteed of outright victory hardly talk about unity. Magnanimity doesn’t come easily to politicians.

This suggests that Zikalala doubts Dlamini-Zuma’s electability in 2019.

A similar reconsideration is reportedly happing in Mpumalanga. DD Mabuza is also shifting loyalties, but his intentions are entirely selfish. Mabuza has a lot of skeletons.

This is the same fellow who reported a case of theft of money totalling R4million from his garage. A former senior policeman put the figure at R40m.

How did Mabuza get that money, and what was it doing in his garage?

These questions have apparently been giving Mabuza restless nights lately, especially because he is beginning to doubt Dlamini-Zuma’s electability.

Losing national elections in 2019 creates uncertainty and is a massive risk for unscrupulous fellows like Mabuza.

A coalition government will possibly clean house, ridding the state of partisan civil servants like Shaun Abrahams at the helm of the National Prosecuting Authority.

This will make way for ethical bureaucrats who will ask Mabuza to explain how his garage became a bank. Mabuza is not keen on that eventuality.

Getting the ANC re-elected in 2019, with his support, is Mabuza’s only safeguard. It gives him a seat at the table to manoeuvre.

One is not underestimating Zuma’s determination to have his ex-wife succeed him, by hook or crook. But he may no longer have the support of his associates.

The #GuptaLeaks have just got them more worried about re-election in 2019.

They need victory for their security, too.

* Ndletyana is an associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent