What happens now? Will Zuma stay or go?

December 19, 2017

With Cyril Ramaphosa elected as the new president of the ANC, the big question is whether Jacob Zuma will resign as president of the country. There is nothing legally or constitutionally that forces him to do so. The ANC did agree in Polokwane that they did not want two centres of power. But that was 10 years ago and a lot has changed in the ANC since then. The decision is not part of the ANC constitution so could easily be changed again.

It is important to remember that apart from a vote of no-confidence or impeachment proceedings in Parliament, the only way to get a new president mid-term is for the current one to resign. The question remains whether President Zuma will finally out of his own accord say goodbye to his beloved compatriots and head off to Nkandla, and if he doesn’t whether the ANC will force him to do so.

The answer to that will be largely determined by the composition of the new NEC – something we tend to neglect with all the focus on the top job.  One can assume that Ramaphosa would want to move into the big office in the Union Buildings as soon as possible.

However, if Zuma is not willing to hand over the keys, the NEC will have to tell him to go. If the newly elected NEC has a majority of Ramaphosa supporters, one can assume that they will do so.

If he then defies the NEC’s instruction to resign, it is most likely that the NEC will ask the ANC members of Parliament to remove him as soon as it reconvenes at the beginning of February.

This can be done by a vote of no-confidence tabled by the ANC or by the opposition and supported by ANC MPs. There is also a real danger for Zuma that they could impeach him. For that a 75% majority is required, which is a very high threshold. But one can safely assume that all of the opposition MPs would support such a motion and if most of the ANC caucus also votes in favour of the motion it would easily pass.

In that instance Zuma would lose all his benefits. So no bodyguards or cars for him or his wives. No pension and no free flights on SAA. I think we can safely say that he would try and avoid that option at all costs and would therefore resign before it comes to that.

It is also important to remember that it is not an automatic handover. After the president resigns, Parliament has to convene and parties will then nominate their respective candidates. In the case of more than one nomination, MPs vote through secret ballot for their preference. Whoever gets the majority of the vote of those present on the day (so not a majority of the total seats as in a vote of no-confidence) then becomes president.

With Ramaphosa as ANC president and a strong Ramaphosa NEC, we can assume that Zuma would, at most, still do one more State of the Nation Address. Of course, Parliament can be convened before SONA to vote in a new president if they so want. Someone told me that the invites for SONA are already being printed, but without the name of the president as is usually the case – presumably to accommodate such an eventuality.

If the NEC is more balanced towards the Zuma faction and he is not willing to step down, it is unlikely that they will push for his resignation. The MPs can still move a vote of no-confidence, but it would most probably be a repeat of the recent no-confidence vote, with the majority of MPs obeying the NEC’s instructions.

The question has also been raised about the possibility of an interim president as in the case of Kgalema Motlanthe after Polokwane. Although it’s possible, it seems unlikely. There is not an obvious candidate and both of the front-runners seem to be chomping at the bit to get started.

If opinion polls are to be believed, the ANC will struggle to gain an outright majority in 2019 with Zuma still at the helm of the country.

Even though his camp blames everything from monopoly capital to the media for the decline in ANC support, one can only hope that sanity will prevail. For the sake of the country and the ANC, Ramaphosa must insist that Jacob Zuma packs his bags and retires to Nkandla. And while he is at it, he can “sommer” take the Guptas with him.

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

* This column was originally published on 29 November and has been adapted.

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(Photo credit: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)