ANTHONY BUTLER: Drip, drip of e-mails probably Cyril’s most effective ammunition
Ramaphosa does not command anything like the majority of support he needs to seize control
The nonprofit organisation amaBhungane and the Daily Maverick’s newly launched investigative unit, Scorpio, say they have between 100,000 and 200,000 e-mails and other documents relating to the relationship between the Gupta family and the ANC government.
They indicate the documents are being placed on an “offshore” internet platform, where they will be accessible to “many bona fide journalists” — and, presumably, also to regulators and law-enforcement officials.
We can now expect a relentless stream of damaging stories that will undermine the credibility of members of President Jacob Zuma’s incumbent faction, including Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba.
Will such disclosures bring forward Zuma’s political demise, perhaps in the parliamentary vote of no confidence?
An immediate reaction in Parliament is unlikely. A no-confidence vote is a high hurdle to jump. Since 201 votes are needed in the National Assembly, at least 50 ANC MPs will have to vote for the motion, rather than abstain. Even MPs who are keen for Zuma to go will not wish to see their parliamentary caucus divided. They will probably wait for the national executive committee (NEC) to offer direction.
The no-confidence vote will almost certainly take place without a secret ballot. The Constitutional Court is contemplating whether such a ballot is illegitimate, obligatory or discretionary (with the speaker making the call). It is difficult to see why the court would not leave this decision to the speaker. The NEC has made it very clear that MPs are obliged to toe the party line “regardless of whether a secret ballot is granted by the court or not”. If they do not, they will be guilty of misconduct for collaborating with “counter-revolutionary forces”.
Most strikingly, two of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s chief cheerleaders — secretary-general Gwede Mantashe and chief whip Jackson Mthembu — have weighed in heavily to discourage rebellious MPs. Their unexpected efforts to shield Zuma are a reminder that nothing is straightforward in this succession contest and that timing will be central to its eventual outcome.
Zuma, and his candidate for the ANC presidency, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, are by no means in the clear. The NEC remains the movement’s central decision-making body. It was noteworthy that Zuma fumed at the end of his ordeal last weekend that the body must never question his presidency again. More noteworthy was Mantashe’s rebuttal. He made it clear that a further NEC debate about Zuma’s future could not be precluded.
For strategists in Ramaphosa’s campaign, the precipitate removal of the president is risky. After all, Ramaphosa does not command anything like the majority of support he would need to seize control. And, once Zuma goes, the succession battle will be transformed. His demise would bring Dlamini-Zuma’s lamentable campaign to a complete halt.
Ramaphosa would be obliged to confront a far more formidable opponent — perhaps treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, who can draw support from the reformist camp and from the most powerful province, KwaZulu-Natal. Such a challenger would be free from the encumbrance of the Zuma name and legacy.
Ramaphosa’s supporters may have recognised that the longer Zuma is kept in play — tortured by the relentless leaking of e-mails — the better are their candidate’s chances of winning in December 2017.
• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town.