09/11/2017 04:04 GMT | Updated 09/11/2017 05:47 GMT

What Will Happen To President Jacob Zuma After December?

The fate of the president hangs on the outcome of ANC's national conference in December. South Africans are watching its every move ahead of elections in 2019.

Gallo Images / Alet Pretorius
President Jacob Zuma during his visit the Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Centre to lay a wreath at the cell of liberation struggle hero Steve Bantu Biko on September 12, 2017 in Pretoria, South Africa.

President Jacob Zuma's political longevity after the ANC's national conference somewhat rides on which faction claims the throne -- but whichever way it goes, the party will have to strongly consider recalling Zuma as head of state if it wishes to continue governing after 2019.

The ANC suffered a rude awakening in 2016 when it lost four metros in the local government elections -- the party's support dwindling to a mere 54 percent. That means 281,000 ANC voters ended up voting for someone else and 3 million chose not to vote at all.

There's no data that prove Zuma is solely to blame -- there are other issues such as service delivery, lack of confidence, poverty, and the list goes on -- but it can be argued that that his decisions play a big part in deteriorating public confidence in the ANC.

Before the election, Nhlanhla Nene was axed as Finance boss, the Constitutional Court ruled he failed to uphold the supreme law of the land when the State spent R246-million to upgrade his Nkandla homestead and the first allegations of what is now known as "state capture" began to emerge.

In 2017, hundreds of thousands of South African citizens took to the streets demanding the president's removal, civil-society organisations are spearheading calls for his head to roll and the ANC's alliance members have turned their backs on Zuma.

READ: The Four Horsemen Of The Apocalypse Are Coming For The ANC

The ANC knows its support is at stake, with the party's former leaders Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, as well as other outspoken MPs such as Pravin Gordhan, warning that the party may be destined for failure come 2019 if nothing is done.

As the party embarks on a process of organisational renewal, self-reflection and unity, analysts have warned that the only way to restore voter confidence would be to get rid of Zuma at the first opportunity.

READ: Renewing And Redesigning The ANC: What To Expect

Politics professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Lubna Nadvi, said the ANC has lost so much credibility that whether it keeps Jacob Zuma deployed as head of state after December or not will make minimal, if any difference at all, to its prospects for 2019.

"It will certainly give the ANC an improved chance to do better at the polls in 2019 if Jacob Zuma is not president of the country as there might be some hope of people seeing this as a sign that the ruling party has actually heard the pleas of a large sector of the electorate," Nadvi said.

"There is of course the possibility that even if the ANC asks him to step down he may not, or that there is an emergence of conflict between the two centres of power if the person elected as the new ANC president is not in the Zuma camp."

Political specialist at the North-West University, Theo Venter, said if the Zuma faction is triumphant in December, he will probably remain president of the country until 2019 with very little pressure on him from his own faction.

"Even if the unity candidate wins, the same scenario may occur... But if Ramaphosa wins, there may be a radical change to things. There would, judging by the [ANC Polokwane national conference in 2007], be an emergence of a number of political chameleons, trying to save their bacon by claiming support for Ramaphosa," Venter said.

"A second group that will emerge is strong Ramaphosa supporters who want to see immediate action. In this case, by January we may see change with the state of the nation address and the budget speech coming shortly afterwards. Change will come sooner rather than later."

Venter said decisions taken regarding the ANC's constitution at the national conference will also have a major effect on Zuma's political survival.

"Within the first two days of the conference, the ANC will have to decide on their constitution. There have been proposals of increasing the top leadership, with a second deputy president and an addition deputy secretary-general. This will change the chemistry of the conference as it will open up room for more people on slates, like Lindiwe Sisulu or Zweli Mkhize," Venter said.

"If the National Executive Committee is made smaller, this will also bring more uncertainty. The NEC recalled Mbeki in 2006, not the top six structures."

Independent political analyst Molifi Tshabalala said Zuma has lost legitimacy, and if Ramaphosa opts not to remove him as head of state after December, Ramaphosa will suffer a similar fate in the eyes of South Africans.

"Ramaphosa's first moves should be to recall Zuma and hold all those implicated in state capture to account," Tshabalala said.

"Zuma will make this difficult as he has already done. Mbeki made it easy, he did not resist. Ramaphosa may strike a deal with Zuma but this won't bode well for him. Zuma and his faction won't go easily."

Zuma's legal team has been in and out of the courts in attempts to keep the president from facing former public protector Thuli Madonsela's State of Capture report or from facing 783 counts of fraud, corruption and racketeering. The president is dragging out his court battles until he is sure his survival, not just politically but criminally as well, is secured.

He has actively campaigned for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor. She is supported by the strongest Zuma backers in the ANC's Leagues and has the full might of the president behind her. He may step down if an "understanding" is reached with her, but it remains unlikely that she will recall him on her own terms -- not when her support base is built on Zuma's foundation.

Either way, the ANC will have to keep its eyes fixed on 2019, because South Africans have their eyes fixed on the party and the choices it makes until then.