President Jacob Zuma is a winner.
He roundly defeated his opponents at a meeting of the African National Congress' national executive committee over the weekend, threatening those challenging him "not to push me too far", according to News24. This in spite of the umpteenth revelations on Sunday of just exactly how deep he is nestled in the feathered pockets of his friends, the Guptas of Saxonwold, or more accurately, the Guptas of the Union Buildings.
Zuma's opponents in the NEC, which consists of 92 elected members and 21 ex officio members, couldn't muster 20 voices to back a motion of no-confidence, while almost 60 members stood up in support of Zuma. Even though there was talk earlier in the weekend of a committee that would look into calls for the president to resign, a decision was taken not to do so and that any issue with his leadership is deferred to December, when the elective conference will be held.
The meeting did however resolve two other things: it has opened the succession process and that nominations for all office bearers will be accepted from September "but that comrades must not tarnish the name of the ANC in the process".
The second decision is more telling. The ANC has instructed public enterprises minister Lynne Brown to settle the Brian Molefe matter out of court before the issue is to be heard. But, the governing party "appreciates Brian's capacity and does not want to lose his capacity even after this", according to information obtained by HuffPost South Africa.
It constitutes a stunning victory for the embattled president.
After an assault on his leadership in December last year, when struggle veteran and then-cabinet minister Derek Hanekom tabled a similar motion of no-confidence at a NEC meeting, Zuma has battened down the hatches, firing those that are disloyal to him from Cabinet and putting his plans for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's succession into overdrive.
This weekend's motion was tabled by Joel Netshithenzhe, a respected party greybeard, intellectual and former policy-chief in the presidency under Thabo Mbeki. It came on the back of last week's connect-the-dots report into state capture by a group of academics and researchers, another letter from party veterans and stalwarts to the NEC imploring them to "do the right thing" and of course, the explosive revelations in the Sunday newspapers.
A motion to remove Zuma was always going to be a long shot, even though some of the president's detractors were buoyant going into the weekend. The NEC – the only decision-making body with the authority to remove an elected leader from their deployment to government – is still very much aligned with the status quo, packed with loyal ministers, sycophantic provincial leaders and dependent bureaucrats.
When Mbeki was removed in September 2008, he was no longer in control of the party, had lost the support of the NEC and wasn't even an elected official. The exact opposite is true for Zuma today.
This we now know:
- The ANC will support Jacob Zuma until the elective conference in December, when they will give him a grand send-off, lauding him for services rendered.
- Zuma has a lock on the party's decision-making structures. He has won the ground war and is able to muster broad support when under pressure.
- Dlamini-Zuma, thanks to her support from Zuma, therefore has the most organised and strongest campaign going into December.
- The anti-Zuma faction in the ANC is too small, has no executive power and is outside of official leadership structures.
- Zuma's opponents, even though optimistic, did not expect to bundle Zuma out over the weekend. They did however want to keep up the pressure.
- It is about the long-game. December is seven months away and all factions are smoking out their opponents. Battle-lines are clear.
- No scandal – not impregnating a friend's daughter (Irvin Khoza), nor breaking his oath of office (Nkandla) or kneecapping the ANC (the municipal elections) – is big enough to topple Zuma.
The ANC has shown itself incapable of reining in its destructive leader. Zuma has ridden roughshod over the rule of law, constitutional institutions and demands for clean governance. He has repurposed the state to suit factional ends, creating a system of patronage that facilitates corruption and cronyism and brought into our body politic a network of people devouring state resources to feed themselves.
In that, the ANC, its current leaders and those that want to replace them are complicit.
It is however not the first time the governing party have shown themselves incapable – or unwilling – to act.
After the shock of Nhlanhla Nene's firing in December 2015 nothing happened. The same after the Constitutional Court's scathing Nkandla judgment, the disastrous municipal election and the Public Protector's investigation into state capture. And when Zuma fired his respected minister of finance a mere eight weeks ago – almost to the day – nothing happened.
Gwede Mantashe, the ANC's secretry-general will address a media conference at 14:00 on Monday. Like the countless times before, he will defend the indefensible, swatting away questions about Zuma's fitness for office and belittling queries about process and discussions.
Zuma remains a sure bet for his supporters.