The return of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to Parliament leaves the door open for President Jacob Zuma to make an early exit from government once his successor has been elected at the ANC’s elective conference in December, party insiders say.
Dlamini-Zuma is expected to be appointed to Cabinet in what would be a second reshuffle by Zuma this year, following the dramatic one in March that involved the axing of then finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas.
Lobbyists for Dlamini-Zuma are divided on whether the move will affect her campaign to succeed Zuma.
The former minister of health, of foreign affairs and of home affairs is one of the frontrunners in the governing party’s presidential race, alongside Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters in the ANC say her move to Parliament has been on the cards for some time now.
They believe that her deployment in Cabinet now would make it easier for Zuma to step down at the beginning of next year and hand over to her – provided that she wins in December.
“It was the plan all along,” said an ANC national working committee member in Dlamini-Zuma’s camp.
“We spoke about the fact that baba [Zuma] is considering leaving before his presidential term is up, probably after the December conference. He is avoiding this thing of two centres of power, so we need her to be a parliamentarian to take over from him.
“We just need to meet and discuss where she will be placed in Cabinet. Of course, someone like her will have to get something prestigious. Cyril has had a lot of platforms from being in government, so she will also have that advantage now.”
Dlamini-Zuma’s surprise move comes as the race for the top ANC post intensifies, with accusations flying about that dirty tricks are now being used on contenders.
Last week, Ramaphosa was cornered into admitting to a past extramarital affair when purported personal emails were leaked, along with allegations that he had several affairs.
Ramaphosa admitted only to one relationship, saying it ended eight years ago.
He also claimed that the emails had been obtained illegally by his detractors in the ANC using state intelligence resources.
“Now it is her turn”
Some sources have speculated that, besides a Cabinet reshuffle, Dlamini-Zuma’s return to the National Assembly could mean a reconfiguration of the ANC caucus in Parliament – with the axe falling on the outspoken chief whip, Jackson Mthembu, who came out in fierce defence of Ramaphosa this week, saying he would continue to support Ramaphosa’s bid to become president, despite the “sleaze and dirt” being thrown at him.
Yesterday, Mthembu was unaware of any threat to his position, saying that, if the ANC’s national executive committee decided to remove him, he would accept this.
“So far, I have not been told anything,” he said.
“But if there were to be such a decision, I would have no qualms about it.”
Mthembu said he would sit down with Dlamini-Zuma to discuss where best she could serve, as he did with all new ANC MPs.
“She is very senior, very experienced. We will look at her strong points and the expertise that she has gained over the years as an MP,” he said.
“We are dealing with someone who headed a number of portfolios at a political level.”
Mthembu said Dlamini-Zuma was not removed from the 2014 ANC national list and was now taking up her right to be part of Parliament.
“It is in keeping with what we have always done. Whoever is supposed to take their seat in Parliament, takes their seat. Now it is her turn.”
Mthembu also confirmed that Dlamini-Zuma was filling a vacancy left by the resignation of ANC MP Pule Mabe last month.
Meokgo Matuba, secretary-general of the ANC Women’s League, said Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters were not concerned that her campaign would suffer because, as a woman, she would be able to multitask.
“There are those who are campaigning while they remain MPs. We will just need to work around the programme. We are not worried about the campaign taking a nosedive. Everything is on track. We are women; we always multitask.”
Matuba said the league was excited about Dlamini-Zuma’s return to Parliament, adding that, while it was the president’s prerogative to make Cabinet appointments, “we wouldn’t mind a Cabinet position for her”.
Dlamini-Zuma is expected to be sworn in along with former Rustenburg municipality mayor and former murder accused Matthew Wolmarans.
ANC members in North West said their chairperson, Premier Supra Mahumapelo, was hoping that his close ally, Wolmarans, could also find space in Cabinet.
Another senior ANC member and Zuma loyalist added that the resignation of former deputy minister of higher education Mduduzi Manana had provided a much-needed opportunity for a reshuffle.
A Dlamini-Zuma lobbyist said her campaign would not be disturbed because Parliament provided for MPs to miss up to 90 days.
He said Economic Freedom Fighters general secretary Godrich Gardee and party leader Julius Malema, had made good use of this provision.
He said Zuma could target a minister who did not have a strong constituency and replace them, and that there was a possibility that Dlamini-Zuma would be ready to step up if Zuma decided to vacate the Union Buildings after the December conference to avoid two centres of power.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe confirmed that Dlamini-Zuma would be sworn in as an MP, but said he had no idea if Zuma would appoint her to Cabinet. He said it was Zuma who had the power to make Cabinet appointments.
“I don’t know. My own plan is to send her to Parliament. I have no other plans,” he said.
“We are not going to retreat”
Mantashe, touted for the position of chairperson on both the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma slates – took exception to the number of candidates standing for the ANC’s top job. At least eight senior ANC members have availed themselves for the ANC presidency. They include Mathews Phosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe, Zweli Mkhize, David Mabuza, Baleka Mbete and the frontrunners, Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa.
“The last time we had this many candidates was in 1952. There were 10 candidates then. We cannot have that in 2017. Eight candidates, and all of them wanting to be president, is sick,” he said, speaking in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, on Friday. “We know our capabilities, so it can’t be that we are so confused that there are eight candidates.”
Those in the Dlamini-Zuma camp took a different view, saying the emergence of multiple candidates who were commonly opposed to Zuma was, in itself, a vote of no confidence in Ramaphosa.
An insider in the Dlamini-Zuma camp explained: “It means the one thing that unites them is that Zuma must go. But immediately after that, they cannot agree on who must take over. If Ramaphosa is the natural heir to the throne, it means they do not think he is different from Zuma.”
Responding to what he has labelled a smear campaign against him, Ramaphosa told ANC branches in QwaQwa in the Free State yesterday that he would not be deterred. “The season … of dirty tricks is now upon us. There is now this thing of attacking people.
“They target people so that they can intimidate them into retreating. But we are not going to retreat.
“We cannot allow dirty tricks. The next thing, they will kill people. In KwaZulu-Natal people are being targeted. It is not the behaviour and the tradition of the ANC to target those who you differ with by using dirty tricks against them and by even killing them. This is what we are seeing in KwaZulu-Natal and we are saying that must come to an end.
“And, where we differ, let us differ through debate and persuasion. This thing of targeting comrades – and smearing them and using dirty tricks against them, and even killing them – must come to an end.”
(Photo credit: Gallo Images / Sunday Times / Masi Losi)