> Tichaona Zindoga
Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma last week hit one of his most turbulent times at the helm of the revolutionary ANC government when he fired the influential Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and others, but indications are that he will live to see another day after surviving growing internal external pressures to step down.
Zuma sacked Gordhan and his deputy Mcebisi Jonas and set former Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba at the head of Treasury, torching off political and economic reactions that appeared to seriously threaten his leadership.
But this past week, amid some disgruntlement, Zuma appeared to have weathered the storm and analysts told The Southern Times it is all down to his uncanny ability to survive in the treacherous political jungles of ANC and South African politics at large.
Interestingly, he appears to have the coast clear for him to implement his policies aimed at radical economic transformation which were seen to be frustrated by Gordhan – blamed to be a mascot of white monopoly capital.
But the crisis in the party and country occasioned by his shock cabinet reshuffle is still being felt as the ruling party has been torn asunder with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa leading a camp that is clearly unhappy with President Zuma.
Ramaphosa said what Zuma had done was “unacceptable” and went public with his sentiments.
“I raised my concern and objection on the removal of the Minister of Finance‚ largely because he was being removed based on an intelligence report that I believe had unsubstantiated allegations… that I find totally‚ totally unacceptable‚ that a person who has served our country with such distinction would do something like that,” he said.
Secretary General Gwede Mantashe was unhappy, too, and suggested Zuma was being influenced from outside – a reference to the undue influence exerted on the leader by the Gupta family.
Treasurer General Zweli Mkize and ANC chief whip Jackson Mthembu also came out guns blazing against Zuma and for once it appeared the leader, who took over in 2009 and has been hit by several scandals, was cornered with a memorial service for the late struggle icon Ahmed Kathrada, to which he was unwelcome, being used to ratchet sentiments against the President.
Kathrada was critical of Zuma and last year wrote a letter calling him to step down, a note that opponents of the President, including former leader Kgalema Monthlante, seized on to ask for change of guard.
Alliance partners, the South African Communist party and labour movement Cosatu have been livid and at the time of writing on Tuesday, Cosatu convened a press conference in which it called for President Zuma to step down.
“Time has come for Zuma to step down and allow the country to be led by a new collective,” said Cosatu, explaining that it “no longer believed in his leadership abilities” nor was Zuma “the right man to unite and lead the movement.”
The ANC veterans also came out guns blazing and called for Zuma to step down at a press conference on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the rand plunged on the back of the reshuffle and on Monday ratings agency Standard and Poor’s downgraded South Africa’s economy to “junk status”.
Opposition parties have called for a massive march to demonstrate against Zuma this Friday.
However in all this, Zuma appears safe – once again.
“Zuma still enjoys significant support within the organisation. He can’t be summarily wished away,” says governance specialist at the Unisa School of Governance, Dumisani Hlope.
Both the ANCYL and ANCWL have expressed support for Zuma and these constituencies mean a lot in the ANC power dynamics. Zuma has another ace in his sleeve.
“He has a keen ability to read the internal balance of power, and then consolidate his power accordingly,” notes Hope.
During the cabinet reshuffle Zuma elevated young MPs and women to positions of power with Gigaba being the marquee change. He is a former ANCYL president and yet another former youth leader Fikile Mbalula was elevated from Sports to Ministry of Police.
President Zuma was seen recognising a number of other young leaders, a move that he says is aimed at promoting intergenerational leadership change.
For his own part, Gigaba has started touting the ideal of radical transformation which chimes in with the majority blacks who have been economically marginalised.
Analysts say the President was not in any present danger, even in light of planned protests for Friday.
“Similar protests have taken place before, and fizzled out,” says Hope.
Piers Pigou, senior consultant at the International Crisis Group thinktank, says Zuma was able to survive due to two interrelated issues.
“Patronage/loyalty (political and economic) and a belief in his camp from some that he genuinely represents the best force for radical socio economic transformation will save him,” he explained to Southern Times.
However, he also believes this comes at a cost to South Africa with continued bickering and questions over Zuma’s leadership.
“For government it creates a crisis of legitimacy…it makes the government’s job rightly or wrongly much more difficult.
It is also likely to have negative repercussions for the esprit de corps in government,” said Pigou.