To defeat former President Thabo Mbeki, the coalition that supported the then deputy president of the African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma, did two things. Firstly, they decided to step outside the disciplinary framework of the ANC and created structures outside the ruling party in support of Zuma. Secondly, they realised that it was not enough to remove Mbeki as president of the ANC since, as head of State, he still had access to the levers of State power. It was for this reason that he had to be removed as President of the country.
In other words, the Zuma coalition reconfigured the balance of forces to its advantage by removing Mbeki as head of State in September 2008.
Similarly, the battle between Zuma and former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan came down to an exercise in realigning the balance of forces. While it is true that the relationship between the President and Gordhan had broken down irreparably, it is also true that Zuma faced the challenge of dealing with an adversary who had access to the levers of the National Treasury and, therefore, access to the levers of an important part of the State. So, the President’s decision to axe Gordhan as Finance Minister is about denying him political oxygen.
Therefore, the option available to Gordhan and his supporters is to create a movement against Zuma outside the ANC with the aim of building momentum against the President through a broad-based coalition of civil society organisations, opposition parties and Zuma’s opponents inside the ANC.
But we must not forget the fact that, prior to the axing of Gordhan as Finance Minister, there was already a broad-based coalition campaigning for the removal of Zuma as head of State under the banner of entities such as Save South Africa, the anti-Zuma campaign in November and in the lead-up to the dropping of criminal charges against Gordhan. At the time of the death of ANC stalwart Ahmed Kathrada, the anti-Zuma campaign seemed to be losing momentum. The Cabinet reshuffle, particularly the removal of Gordhan as Finance Minister, added some impetus to the campaign and, in my view, resuscitated the campaign to remove Zuma as head of State.
Since the aim of the campaign is to remove Zuma as President of the country before the 2019 general election, what are the prospects of success?
Let me start with matters of strategy and tactics: there were what I thought were, on balance, successful marches in protest against Zuma early this month. The marchers came from all walks of South African life in terms of race, class and political affiliation. The marchers and the organisers called on Zuma to resign. I think this is a tactical mistake. They must call on the ANC to evict and eject him from the Union Buildings. In other words, it must depend on the ANC whether the President will complete his second Presidential term.
At the moment, Zuma’s interests and the interests of the leadership of the ruling party are properly aligned, that is, they are aligned to the mutual benefit of the President and the leadership of the ANC. The challenge facing those who want Zuma to go is to realign the balance of forces outside the ANC, that is, in society as a whole, to Zuma’s disadvantage or to the disadvantage of the leadership of the ANC. Put differently, the leadership of the ANC will continue defending the President until it is no longer in their interests do so. The day the President becomes a threat to the individual interests of ANC leaders, we will see a decoupling of their interests from those of the President. That is why it is more strategic to call on ANC leaders to pressure Zuma to go.
Another thing that may be achieved by calling on the ANC to remove Zuma instead of asking him to resign is a possible realignment of internal dynamics in the ANC, resulting in a split between the leadership and the membership. In an attempt to obviate the possibility of realignment inside and outside the ANC to the detriment of individual leaders, some of the candidates for the leadership of the ANC in December may want to position themselves as the candidates of the people by breaking ranks publicly in the hope that voters will reward them in 2019 by voting ANC, thus catapulting them to the position of head of State after the general election.
Given the fact that broad-based alliances and coalitions that seek to achieve a short-term objective tend to consist of a multiplicity of agendas, interests and motives, despite the fact that they exist to pursue a common objective, such alliances may collapse if they fail to manage and harmonise internal contradictions.