Questions left unanswered as ANC backs Zuma's "bold leadership"

by Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst, NKC African Economics 0

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The African National Congress (ANC) National Working Committee (NWC) hosted a papering-over-the-cracks presser on Tuesday, December 15. The event was little more than a public pledge of support for embattled President Jacob Zuma and gave no clarity on the underlying reasons for the chaos of the preceding week.

If onlookers were expecting some insight into the reasoning behind the disastrous decision to remove former finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, from his post on December 9 and then replace his replacement some four days later, we were left none the wiser.

Rather, the world was expected to swallow NWC “assurances” that Zuma had offered an acceptable explanation. The facts of the matter are that Nene is no an ordinary Member of Parliament (MP) and we still have no idea why he was removed from his post – there were some vague, rather farfetched references to a possible position in the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) bank.

The NWC press conference – run by ANC Deputy Secretary General Jesse Duarte in the absence of Secretary General Gwede Mantashe – spent most the session painting a positive picture of Mr Zuma’s indecision and blundering by describing the fiasco as “the president’s willingness to change deployment.”

Zuma had apparently “demonstrated bold leadership, bringing certainty and insurance to the finance portfolio.” Furthermore, the NWC attempted to claim that the reason for the turnabout was that the “ANC had heard the people of South Africa, its alliance partners and main stakeholders to make sure the ANC as a listening organisation has heard the cries of the people.”

Just in case there was any confusion over why Zuma played musical chairs with cabinet ministers, the leader of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), Sdumo Dlamini, said the climb-down was “not in response to the market but to the people.”

But the real message was clear: the NWC was backing Zuma, marches or no marches, dissent in the ranks or not. It was an implicit report that there had been a decisive vote of confidence in Zuma, although it was a limited one given the absence of several luminaries from the stage, including specifically Mantashe (who was overseas) and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The NWC also appeared to have had some time to rethink the degree of consultation that had taken place between the president, his cabinet, and the ANC, and to remember that actually there had been consultation.

Present at the NWC presser was Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe who had said just a few days before that he was “no sangoma” and had had no inkling of Zuma’s plans to remove Nene. “At the conclusion of the cabinet meeting [of Wednesday, December 9, just hours before Mr Nene’s redeployment] there was no new minister of finance….There was no way we could have predicted, because we are not sangomas,” Radebe told a press briefing.

Yet last Tuesday the NWC claimed it had in fact been consulted about Nene’s possible removal some six weeks before. Ms Duarte told the gathering that “in terms of consultation the president did consult ANC officials about six weeks ago about the BRICS bank nominee […] he explained he will need to send someone with high stature and Nene fitted at the time what was appropriate.”

This raises a key question: had there been consultation or not? If Zuma had in fact consulted the ANC but not his cabinet then the sin is even worse and gives new meaning to his statement that the ANC comes before the country – a statement which, we were later told, had been “taken out of context.”

In spite of all the spinning at last week’s press conference, the ANC has done nothing to restore public faith in Zuma’s ability to make rational decisions or to make us believe that his actions are for the good of the country rather than in line with some personal agenda. We still have no idea why Nene was sacked – the BRICS bank ‘explanation’ is a joke – and we are still in the dark over when, whether and whom Zuma actually consulted before his disastrous gambit. 

If indeed he did really consult anyone then in many ways that puts the country in even deeper peril. In that case a clearly flawed and reckless decision was endorsed by ‘yes-people’, meaning that it is not only the president who may be unhinged.