Deputy secretary general Jessie Duarte has run out of clothes. She’s been in the Eastern Cape for almost a week now and dashed across Esplanade Road from the International Convention Centre on the East London beachfront to buy three or four pieces of mainly crisp white clothing from the dozen or so traders there who had set up their gazebos with ANC designer wear and paraphernalia.
“I have no idea, what is today’s date?” she asked when asked how long she had been away from home. A member of the ANC’s social media team appeared from behind a hanging shirt and took a picture of Duarte, who flashed a somewhat tired smile.
It was around 5 p.m. and Duarte was among the national executive committee members emerging from their first meeting in the ICC on Wednesday. Despite hype in the media beforehand, Zuma’s future appears not to have been on the agenda. The meeting took all of five hours, which would have given them enough time to discuss the birthday statement ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa is set to deliver at the celebratory rally on Saturday. Former president Thabo Mbeki’s recall in 2008, after all, happened during a long and exhausting meeting which took all day and finished well after midnight, after journalists had already been sent packing (this was just before social media, online, and live outside broadcasts were big news).
At least three other NEC members emerging from Wednesday’s meeting confirmed that Zuma was still in a job.
It’s not clear what exactly was said about Zuma’s surprise announcement the night before that he would appoint a commission of inquiry into state capture as recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela.
The announcement took the wind out of the sails of those who wanted to use his previous resistance to such a step as a premise to oust him, and it also took the sting out of Ramaphosa’s reported plans to announce strong anti-corruption measures in his first speech to a major rally as ANC president on Saturday.
Shortly after the NEC meeting, Ramaphosa – confident but without the arrogant swagger of a victorious man – walked out of the ICC’s premises and across the street, accompanied by about three or four bodyguards in civilian clothing. It seemed downright reckless compared to Zuma, who now seldom goes anywhere without an army of guards surrounding him, intimidating journalists and bystanders in the process.
Ramaphosa earlier in the day even went for a run on the promenade. Duarte, who stays in a hotel up the road, also swore that she took long walks on that same stretch in the morning.
Ramaphosa told journalists he had a good meeting and continued taking selfies with ordinary folk on the pavement, as well as traders. People on their way home in cars with windows wide open cheered Ramaphosa on as “president”.
Ramaphosa bought two caps and another piece of clothing from him and told him to keep the change, one of the traders said.
Asked what he thought about Ramaphosa, the trader was philosophical. “As long as there is food on the plate, I will eat the food. Later I will know if my stomach can digest the food or not,” he said. Like with Zuma before him, the trader was willing to give Ramaphosa a chance, but it remained to be seen of Ramaphosa could implement the party’s policies or not, he said.
Even the traditional leaders that Ramaphosa and the rest of the top six leadership have been visiting in the past few days in KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, are looking into the future.
A journalist remarked that, as he had switched off the recording equipment and left the hall to set up outside, he heard a king clearly refer to Zuma as the “outgoing president”.
Daily Dispatch reported that royals at the AmaXhosa King Mpendulo Zwelonke Sigcawu’s Nqadu Great Place near Willowvale on Tuesday were calling on Ramaphosa to release AbaThembu King Buyelekhaya Zwelibanzi Dalindyebo, who has served two years of his 12-year sentence for fraud, murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and assault at the West Bank Prison in East London.
The king, who has a predilection for dagga smoking, saw his membership of the DA terminated after his conviction. He was recruited two days before.
According to the Dispatch, Ramaphosa was noncommittal about the pleas of Sigcawu and the royals, but ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who belongs to the AbaThembu, agreed with them that Dalindyebo should be released.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa and much of the rest of the ANC’s leadership will go to former president Nelson Mandela’s grave to lay a wreath, and then fan out once again to the homes of various struggle heroes in the province for door-to-door work and mini-rallies. About 80% of the branches in this province nominated Ramaphosa for president, and this could be interpreted as an effort to win back hearts here even as the DA had made inroads into the rural areas.
While many are looking beyond Zuma now for leadership, some reckon he would be allowed to serve out his term. Four Limpopo members of the uMkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans, scouring the beachfront for girlfriends just before nightfall, said there was no reason to recall Zuma now. “There is an election in 2019 and he can be replaced then,” they said.
Another organisation, Transform RSA, headed by Adil Nchabeleng who, amongst others, has appeared on ANN7 as a commentator in the past, wrote a legal letter to the ANC’s NEC containing an “urgent warning” against removing Zuma as president.
Transform RSA claimed to be representing “members of the public who have a direct material and vested interests” in Zuma’s removal and they have given the NEC until Friday to respond to the letter, which claims the NEC had no legal powers to remove a country’s president. They are right, the NEC doesn’t, but that’s most probably no grounds for stopping them from making such a call.
Despite some dissenting voices, however, the majority of the ANC is in campaign mode, and the atmosphere is very election-like. The party is pushing – even forcing and engineering – unity ahead of the big day on Saturday, but it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen after that. DM
The article first appeared at https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2018-01-10-ancs-106th-after-the-nec-meeting-lips-zipped-on-zumas-fate/