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The counter revolution is not gonna headline the Sunday Times

That Sunday organ is a well established field of play for leaks from factions struggling for power in and around the ANC – and, just as an aside, proved itself most obliging to the whole State Capture initiative by assisting the decimation of SARS through its exclusive reports on the Rogue Spy Unit. See one of those despicable stories here and here for coverage of one of the ST’s deeply inadequate and belated apologies.

Hey but they said sorry and changed some editorial staff. No use dwelling on the past, or crying over spilt milk. Time to move along, look to the future. Can’t stay a victim forever … ahem, sounds familiar. And anyway, it is probably the ‘better’ Sunday read so ya gotta do what ya gotta do.

You can imagine my Sundays are not shining beacons of light in my work week. I consume the weeklies that day the same way as experts at eating elephants accomplish their mammoth task: by taking very small bites. I also eat with long teeth, as my Afrikaans brethren idiomatically suggest is the correct manner one chews food of questionable provenance.

Anyway.

I read the lead Sunday Times story first thing Sunday morning. It was written by award winning journalist Qaanitah Hunter; who by reputation and in my experience of her work is without blemish or at least no blemishes I know about. I have never heard (or read) her to be fast and loose with the truth, or to be in the service of any of the many nefarious forces that compete for journalists’ attention.

But that story was very iffy. So, Zuma had a “clandestine” meeting with ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule, former North West premier Supra Mahumapelo, ANC Women’s League secretary-general Meokgo Matuba, and ANC Youth League KwaZulu-Natal secretary Thanduxolo Sabelo at the Maharani hotel in Durban on Thursday last week.

The day before, and sans Zuma according to the story, a comparable meeting took place at the Beverly Hills Hotel in Umhlanga Rocks and was “believed” (by whom, one might dare ask)  to have been attended by Magashule, Mahumapelo and former SAA board chair Dudu Myeni.

The allegation at the heart of the story is contained in the following paragraph:

The meeting is believed to have discussed a fightback strategy that involved court action to challenge the outcome of last year’s ANC national conference at Nasrec, where Ramaphosa was elected president.

Hunter was later sent a picture of a gun from the phone of the charming Ms Meokgo Matuba of the ANC Youth League.

Tiffany Blue and White Pearl

(The Smith & Wesson gun pic Matuba’s phone mysteriously sent to Hunter. I did a reverse image search and found this description which I thought I would share with you to brighten up a dull news day and remind you how classy the ANC Youth League  has become since Julius ‘AK 47’ Malema has left (oops – Ed): “This Smith & Wesson M&P .40 has been coated in Tiffany Blue and White Pearl Coat. Top it off with a little custom graphic work, and this is a great look. Get this pistol into the right light and the Pearl Coat really comes to life! Customize something for yourself today at http://www.tzarmory.com” Get it into the right and Ms Matubu is unlikely to be showing Ms Hunter how things come to life. {Don’t be snide, it’s unattractive – Ed}.)

 

Meetings were denied. Magashule met his colleagues in the Top Six and then went on TV to say: yes, I did, in fact, as it turns out, have a meeting with Mr Zuma. No, it was not a conspiracy. There was much clever finessing about who was in which meeting but, ‘it was part of my job as Secretary General of the ANC’ asserted the worthy Ace Magashule. See that interview – here (the links on the eNCA pages seem to be the most stable).

 

So what?

I have little doubt and absolutely no proof that Ace Magashule and Jacob Zuma and a range of other State-Capture-implicated-individuals are starting to quake in their boots at the fine and implacable grinding of the processes that will  hopefully lead to them receiving their just deserts.

Likewise, I have little doubt and no proof that they are plotting like mad to get rid of Cyril Ramaphosa sooner rather than later. I think the Nasrec thing is a non-starter and they should be focussing attention on getting a NDZ win in December 2022, so Cyril Ramaphosa can be a one-term-wonder and they can go back to the unambiguous state capture festival and continue to avoid the legal consequences.

My view is that they are weakened but still dangerous – as a faction throughout the ANC but with particular provincial and organisational strengths. I argue elsewhere that their future, like the reformists gathered around Ramaphosa, depends to some degree on how the ANC performs in the national election in mid-2019 and how this feeds through into the national conference in December 2022.

The thumb-suck heuristic I am using is an ANC above 58% is good for Cyril Ramaphosa – and therefore, indirectly, good for lowered levels of political risk and investment. An ANC below 53 percent, especially one that slips below 50% in Gauteng or even Eastern Cape would leave Ramaphosa vulnerable. (Although thinking about it again, the latter set of results is so catastrophic for the ANC, the party could well disintegrate … but I will have to argue that out in a later post.)

(Note: I realise I am arguing that a stronger ANC victory is better than a weaker one next year, and I realise how controversial that is. It is not a view I have had since the mid-2000’s, but has re-emerged with the narrow victory of Cyril Ramaphosa in December. It is also not a view that I hold with strong confidence. I am aware of many weaknesses in the assumptions … but it is my view for now and I will attempt to defend it here over the next few months.)

I am interested as to why the story was published, why it was given so much prominence and why it made the allegation quoted above (that this was a meeting to plot to collapse the Nasrec result). If there is ‘information’ to be gleaned here it is more in the fact of the story and its publication, and less in its contents.

The last two weeks have been given over to overoptimistic outpourings of happiness. Here is the grumpy note I put out on April Fool’s Day as the aforementioned came out skipping into the park, hope reliably triumphing over experience:

JacobZuma

Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

 

The Constitutional Court ruling against Jacob Zuma yesterday is another significant blow to his credibility and will reflect negatively on the ANC. However he (Zuma) remains in control of his party (even if slightly weakened) and with a significant degree of electoral popularity, especially in rural areas and KwaZulu-Natal. For now I maintain the position that he is most likely not to be recalled before his terms of office ends in 2017 (as ANC President) and 2019 (as country President) – although a recall remains a reasonable possibility. I  outline the arguments for and against this view.

Does Jacob Zuma face a recall?

A flurry of speculation about a possible recall of Jacob Zuma has followed the ruling against him and the National Assembly by the Constitutional Court yesterday.

So what?

The Financial Times yesterday pointed out in an article sub-headed “Real and Ibovespa[1] shine as president’s prospects darken” that “Brazil’s left-leaning president, Dilma Rousseff, probably will not miss when she leaves office … the tendency of markets to loudly applaud her every misfortune” – FT online on March 31 2016 at 08h35.

A similar dynamic is emerging around the apparent fortunes of Jacob Zuma – at least since his unexpected and unexplained firing of widely respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene on 09/12/2015.

So will Zuma be recalled before his terms of office expire?

As an ‘uncertain future event’ question, I am obliged not to give a ‘yes or no’ answer – after all, how can I know?

In the normal course of events Jacob Zuma would be replaced at the ANC’s National Conference in 2017 (probably in December of that year), and as country President after national elections in 2019.

However the damaging scandals that are accumulating around him – the Nkandla scandal and now the humiliating ConCourt ruling, his raid on the National Treasury that underlay his firing of Nene, the widespread criticism of his apparently crony relationship with the Gupta family businesses, the serious deterioration of the State Owned Enterprises and other areas of the state, partly as a result of corruption that directly implicates his (Zuma’s) patronage networks – must in turn be damaging his ANC party.

AGAINST RECALL

  • The ANC’s political history will favour an instinctive taking of a protective stance towards its leader and attempting to present a united external front.
  • The ANC is facing a major electoral challenge in national municipal elections in (probably) August this year. It would be extremely difficult for the party to deal with the recall of a still popular and powerful (however bizarre that might seem) president and fight an election at the same time.
  • The ANC was badly damaged and riven after the recall of Thabo Mbeki by the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in September 2008 and is likely to be cautious about undergoing a similar process against Zuma.
  • Zuma remains powerful within the ANC, having bound the majority of members of the NEC and many powerful provincial leaders into loyalty networks based primarily on patronage and the threat of the loss thereof. His power is slipping but my guestimate is that support is still comfortably above the 50% mark.
  • Zuma remains popular in large sections of the electorate, particularly in the majority province of KwaZulu-Natal and in most rural areas. He has lost significant support in urban areas and amongst the emerging black middle-classes, but this ‘loss’ is still a minority of the ANC’s electorate.
  • The ConCourt ruling essentially affirmed something Zuma’s counsel had already admitted to in the original hearing on Tuesday 9th of February and was surprising primarily for its clarity and depth, its additional criticism of the National Assembly for not holding Zuma to account and its clear list of corrective measures to be taken. This is to say it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the markets or the public.
  • If Jacob Zuma loses control of the ANC and of the succession process the chances of him becoming swamped by serious corruption allegations after his term of offices ends increases significantly. His and his cronies’ backs are to the wall and they will fight vigorously – and with proven skill – to prevent a loss of control of the ANC.

 

FOR RECALL

  • Jacob Zuma has brought much scandal to the Presidency that we believe has damaged the party’s support – although not yet to a degree that puts the ANC in danger of getting below 50% in a national election. (Again a thumbsuck – Ed.)
  • The growing scandals have finally led to the emergence of an internal opposition (internal to the ruling ANC) that showed itself with Jacob Zuma being forced into an almost immediate recall of Des van Rooyen as the replacement finance minister after the Nene firing and the appointment of a previous finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Since then significant cracks have begun appearing in Zuma’s previously impervious hold on the party, particularly around his apparently corrupt relationship with the Gupta family, whereby he may have handed his exclusive obligation to appoint cabinet ministers to the Gupta brothers. Again, these are setbacks, but have not yet left Zuma isolated. (A lot has happened since I wrote that … amazing that it was only 14 days ago).
  • If the ANC does particularly badly in the coming municipal elections it is likely that pressure for some kind of recall will increase in the party.
  • As Zuma moves closer to the end of his term – and the end of his ability to dispense patronage – it is likely that more distasteful aspects of his support will begin to dissipate, leaving him more vulnerable to an early recall.

On balance …

I think it is most likely that Jacob Zuma serves out his full term of office in both the ANC and the country. Additionally I think it is most likely that as we move closer to the end of his terms of office he will agree to take a step back and play more of a ceremonial role – probably in exchange for some form of promise of immunity. (We are not confident that such a “promise” has any value, but will examine this in later posts – Ed).

A recall is not impossible – or a resignation due to ill health, for example – but I consider this a lower probability than the alternative. It is important to point out I am not ‘married’ to this view and we will change it if and when circumstances and the facts change.

Lame duck – or at least limping slightly

What is clear, and should be considered good news, is that Zuma and his allies are fully taken up with fighting a defensive action. This significantly will lower their confidence and ability to engage in untoward activity with regard to state expenditure, also in the expenditure of State Owned Enterprises, or in undertaking any major cabinet reshuffles to achieve these ends. This may also apply to the proposed nuclear programme.

For example any form of follow-through on the December 2015 raid on the National Treasury or attempts to undermine Pravin Gordhan in his role as National Treasurer are likely to retreat (or at least be deprioritised) in the agenda of the Zuma clan and its business allies.

Thus the impunity with which Zuma and his allies have acted in ransacking aspects of the state is collapsing through hubris and overreach. His support is, as I have argued previously, brittle: hard, unyielding but likely to shatter when it breaks.

[1] Ibovespa is the benchmark stock index of the São Paulo Stock Exchange (Bolsa de Valores, Mercadorias & Futuros de São Paulo).

I am a political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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