The results of the action will come down to two showdowns today when the ANC top six meet at the party’s Luthuli House headquarters for their regular weekly meeting. That will be followed by a special national working committee meeting in the afternoon.
Three of the top six — treasurer – general Zweli Mkhize, deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and secretary-general Gwede Mantashe — have openly spoken out against Zuma’s decision to axe former finance minister Pravin Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas. The two were axed in last week’s cabinet reshuffle.
Their firing was based — according to Zuma’s critics — on a dubious intelligence report which said the two were, while on an investor road show to the US and UK, to secretly meet backers to discuss support to overthrow the government. Gordhan and Jonas have rubbished the claims. Mantashe said the reshuffle did not come from the ANC, since Zuma had simply presented it to them, with Ramaphosa describing the process as “unacceptable”.
ANC chairman and Speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete cut short her trip to Bangladesh yesterday to deal with the fallout amid calls for a vote of no confidence in Zuma. Her return is seen as part of an attempt to present a united front to bolster Zuma’s standing with his supporters. It follows demands for Zuma’s removal by civil society, the South African Communist Party and trade unions.
A website — “Black Monday” — urged South Africans to wear black today in opposition to Zuma. The website’s anonymous creators say: “We can no longer be passive. Let us start the change we wish to see in our beloved country.” Civil society group Save SA, which will demonstrate outside the Treasury in Pretoria today, has asked people to “hoot for Zuma to go” for 15 minutes between 1pm and 2pm. “Wherever you are, stand on a street corner with placards or take a petition to your nearest government office.
We cannot stop now. We need to intensify our struggle,” it said. The DA plans to march on Luthuli House on Friday. Mbete, on her return yesterday, suggested that Gordhan’s and Jo n a s ’s firing was based on more than the intelligence report. She said Zuma presented historical background on the situation with Gordhan during a meeting he held with the ANC’s top brass and members of the tripartite alliance.
“It was part of a package of issues that the president touched on as a background. We did not discuss the intelligence report. There was no question of agreeing or not agreeing on it. We did not see [the report].” Pressed for comment on what she felt about those who spoke out against Zuma, Mbete was critical. “We have a way we do things. We have a culture. We have meetings. There are things we don’t do but we will discuss those things in the meeting.”
Mbete said she expected the meeting would lead to a more “united voice”. She said Zuma’s decision to reshuffle the cabinet was not a common one, stating that “in previous circumstances he did” seek their input. “There is no ANC process that requires the president to consult about reshuffling but he always comes to the officials. [But] it is not like there is a rule that he should come and have a big discussion.”
She said she had received a call from Zuma, informing her that he was about to make an important announcement. Mbete said the differences on the views should not come as a surprise. She admitted, however, that this time things were different as top officials were airing their disapproval in the media instead of behind closed doors. On the vote of no confidence debate, Mbete said MPs were due to return to the National Assembly in May. Opposition MPs are calling on proceedings to resume sooner. Mbete said she would start consultations tomorrow to establish if there were grounds for this.
Responding to questions about a possible secret ballot, Mbete said: “A secret ballot is not part of what we do. We simply just don’t do the secret ballot until there is enough pressure from the MPs themselves that the rules be changed.” ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa said the party was “united” and he was confident ANC MPs would oppose moves to remove Zuma. On Ramaphosa, Mantashe and Mkhize speaking out, he said “people have the right to express their own views”.
He said the pending motion of no confidence was frivolous. Kodwa also dismissed the SACP’s calls for Zuma to resign. “We don’t have MPs of the SACP, we have MPs of the ANC. Nobody is in parliament as SACP.” (At least 17 of the ANC’s 249 MPs are SACP members.)
Solly Mapaila, SACP’s second deputy general-secretary, hit back: “We have an extended politburo tomorrow [today] in Johannesburg. The politburo took the decision for Zuma to resign. The main issue is the planned mass action, how to mobilise the masses.”
Democratic Alliance MP John Steenhuisen said yesterday that while the party appreciated Mbete had to consult, “we cannot allow her office to dawdle”. He added: “It is disappointing that she is set to visit Luthuli House [today] and parliament only on Tuesday. Mbete has rarely hesitated to undermine the institution of parliament to shield [Zuma].”