The first week of November 2016 will be a part of South African political discourse for some time to come and will mark potential beginnings or certain endings for the ruling African National Congress (ANC) as it considers just how to deal with the folly and the flaws of its leadership, particularly those of President Jacob Zuma.

If there had been some wiggle room before developments on Wednesday, November 2, inside and outside of the Gauteng North High Court, that is no longer the case and the brutal choice now facing the ANC is: does the party survive or does Mr Zuma? Because it cannot be both.

The past few weeks have seen an unprecedented shift inside the ANC and its alliance partners that has sought to separate loyalty to the ANC from loyalty to its current leadership, specifically but not exclusively Mr Zuma.

The release on Wednesday of outgoing Public Protector (PP) Thuli Madonsela’s report into ‘State Capture’ marks a point of no return.

While the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC), as well as the Youth and Woman’s Leagues, remain weighted in Mr Zuma’s favour, that position is becoming increasingly untenable and isolated.

The rising internal opposition to the current leadership is gaining momentum and the weight and opinion of this dissenting movement was immeasurably strengthened by Wednesday’s developments, mainly because what we all just suspected to be possible was manifestly demonstrated to be almost certainly true.

The nuts and bolts of the PP report conclusions may well take most of 2017 to play out, but the ANC cannot wait that long and hide behind due process and most likely several more delaying tactics, because that is merely going to accelerate the disintegration of the ANC and the alliance (insofar an alliance with labour and the Communists can still be said to exist).

Too many struggle heroes, and current and former leaders, are lining up to make a strong distinction between the moral and principled ANC of old and the current incompetent, lost and corrupt leadership and demanding the ANC be saved from itself.

The local authority elections demonstrated that this enlightened leadership and internal critics do not stand alone. The public defence of Mr Zuma by his own spokespersons had become lukewarm and contradictory.

The single most important conclusion to flow from developments this week – including the decision to drop fraud charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and the legal developments that followed with regard to the PP report of state capture – is that the ANC will almost certainly lose elections in 2019, unless it acts to clean house comprehensively and swiftly, while ending any bid by the Zuma faction to control the succession and install the president’s former wife as ANC leader.

Thuli Madonsela’s outgoing report on her investigation into allegations of state capture and undue political influence by the Gupta family directed Mr Zuma to appoint a judicial commission of inquiry, but set safeguards to ensure he would have no control over that process.

The PP report states that the commission must be headed by a judge selected only by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. The report directs:

  • That Mr Zuma appoints the commission of inquiry within 30 days;
  • That the National Treasury must ensure that the commission is adequately resourced;
  • That the presiding judge to be given the power to appoint his or her own staff and to investigate all the issues “using the record of this investigation and the report as a starting point”;
  • That the commission of inquiry should be given powers of evidence collection that are no less than that of the Public Protector; and
  • That the commission report with findings and recommendations should be presented to the president within 180 days.

The PP report, which has been at the centre of numerous court battles and which the Gauteng High Court finally ordered to be released on Wednesday, details numerous situations where Mr Zuma and members of his executive acted in “a questionable manner, often seemingly to the advantage of the Gupta family.”

Those implicated in the report include Mr Zuma, Eskom board chairperson Ben Ngubane, Duduzile Zuma, Ajay Gupta, the Gupta-controlled Tegeta Company, Minister of Public Enterprises Lynne Brown, former minister of finance Des van Rooyen and Minister of Minerals and Resources Mosebenzi Zwane.

The details of the PP report have been extensively reported in the news and need no repeating here but several findings suggest that the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) will be required to conduct criminal investigations into the activities of those named, including Mr Zuma.

The PP report found it to be of concern “that the Gupta family was aware or may have been aware” of Mr Nene’s removal as the finance minister prior to it happening and that it was “equally worrying” that Mr Nene was removed after Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas – who said he was offered the job by the Gupta family at a meeting at their home – told him about the offer.

The failure of the authorities to act on Mr Jonas’s public disclosures about the alleged offer in return for further enriching them with state business could contravene the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act and should have been investigated.

The report says: “If the Gupta family knew about the intended appointment it would appear that information was shared then in violation of section 2.3(e) of the Executive Ethics Code which prohibits members of the executive from the use of information received in confidence in the course of their duties or otherwise than in connection with the discharge of their duties.”

Nor did authorities take any steps to investigate the allegations made by former ANC MP Former MP Vytjie Mentor that she too was offered a Cabinet position by the Gupta family and to persistent allegations regarding an alleged cosy relationship between Eskom CEO Brian Molefe and the Gupta family. This appears to be another violation of the Corrupt Activities Act, as well as a violation of Section 195 of the Constitution on relevant State functionaries. 

What is clear from the PP report is that there were several instances where the relevant authorities (i.e. the Hawks and the NPA) should have investigated serious allegations of corruption and violations of various other laws yet nothing was done, but Mr Gordhan and two SARS officials certainly got their fair (or unfair) share of attention.

What is clear from the report is that Ms Madonsela had no faith in Mr Zuma to oversee any investigations or inquiries into the State capture allegations and has directed the Chief Justice take care of appointing an official. That is a damning indictment.

What is clear is that Mr Zuma and Ministers Van Rooyen and Zwane, who attempted to hide the report from public view, must be investigated for breaking the law.

What is less clear is what the ANC will do now to save itself, with its leadership and reputation in tatters.

Does it choose Mr Zuma and the other tainted leadership, or does it opt to self-destruct? What will the many honest men and women of integrity and passion do to save the movement?