The ANC is a powerful party force in the body politic and is the key to national power. Jacob Zuma may only step down as state president in 2019, but as he enters the final year of his term as ANC president, will he become lame duck president, who enjoys less and less authority to make decisions?
Ferial Haffajee asked three leading political analysts.
Mondli Makhanya, Editor-in-Chief, City Press
Makhanya says the president has been a lame duck since he fired finance minister Nhlanhla Nene and replaced him with the little known Des van Rooyen in December 2015.
Days later, he was forced to reverse his decision and appoint Pravin Gordhan as head of the Treasury. "One of the big powers of a leader is to appoint and shuffle your Cabinet," says Makhanya, who adds that Zuma has lost that power.
Throughout 2015, there were informed leaks of forthcoming reshuffles, but he was unable to make any changes because the governing ANC exercised a countervailing and decisive force.
"Another milestone was the Constitutional Court judgement of March 2016. The president was forced to do something he had said he would not do: to pay back the money [for renovations to his personal estate at Nkandla]."
For Makhanya, the final proof that the lame duck had quacked was when Zuma disappeared from public life after the ANC's dismal showing after the local government elections in August last year. The party lost three large and significant cities as its supporters stayed away from the polls or voted for opposition parties.
In December, three members of Zuma's Cabinet led and supported a motion of no confidence in his leadership in the ANC national executive committee (NEC) meeting. "Think about it," says Makhanya. "Your own Cabinet members stand up to say that you are not fit to govern ... The President is less and less able to influence the direction of policy and of South Africa."
Susan Booysen, professor at the Wits School of Governance, author of Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma
Booysen says the Zuma administration exhibits elements of a lame duck order. "His wings have been clipped by the ANC (NEC). He would, for example, have loved to fire [Finance Minister] Pravin Gordhan."
Zuma spent a lot of November responding to the growing chorus of opposition to state capture, a heightened form of corruption, by stating that the real problem was that the ANC did not have economic power, which he said resides with corporate monopolies.
Yet, his statement at the January 8 birthday celebration of the ANC made 13 references to fighting corruption, says Booysen.
"But Zuma is not a lame duck when it comes to the spread of the influence of his cronies in the state," says Booysen.
The president has governed by placing confidantes and cronies across the state to do two things: to cut him or his family into lucrative state deals or to protect him from prosecution, she says.
"These networks are self-generating and almost impossible to dislodge." This means the president will exercise influence well beyond his term.
Mcebisi Ndletyana, professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg
"Yes, President Zuma is a lame duck, but that does not mean he lacks authority," says Ndletyana, who believes that by being president, Zuma enjoys incumbent power. This is significant in South Africa, which vests tremendous decision-making power in its president.
But his authority is waning because it is now clear that ministers readily oppose him. This was evident at the November NEC meeting where tourism minister Derek Hanekom tabled a motion of no confidence in the president. Reports say he was supported by the health minister Aaron Motsaeledi and public enterprises minister Thulas Nxesi.
While the NEC has always been a centre of power for President Zuma, the numbers of those who oppose him versus his support base now appear to be roughly equally balanced. "The President no longer has the power to hire and fire," says Ndletyana.
He believes the president will toe the line to stay in office, which offers protections that he would not have in the political wilderness.