The decision by the ruling ANC to uphold support for South African President Jacob Zuma has raised questions about whether this is in the best interest of party and country.
President Jacob Zuma survived a motion of no confidence at an extended meeting of the National Executive Council of the African National Congress (ANC) outside Pretoria on Monday night. Officials from the ruling party expressed the view that Zuma should remain, despite serious efforts by a number of cabinet ministers and other senior officials to remove him from the presidency. Since taking office in 2009, Zuma, 74, has survived several corruption scandals with the backing of senior ANC officials.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe said officials of the ANC's National Executive Committee who called for Zuma to resign would not be punished. At a press conference on Tuesday he said that after a candid and admittedly "difficult discussion, the ANC did not support the call for the president to stand down." He added that the party had other priorities: "The ANC resolved that it was more urgent to direct our energies to working towards the unity of the movement."
But the unity of the party seems to be at risk, according to independent observers. They feel the ANC has been forced to adopt a perilous balancing act. Political analyst Bheki Mngomezulu told DW that the party had no other alternative but to hold on to Zuma until the ANC's electoral conference in December next year, which will nominate a new leader.
While some ANC members and alliance partners have already said that they would prefer Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to take over, there are others who are backing Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the current chairperson of the African Union and former wife of Zuma, for the top position. "Basically it's a balancing game whereby first of all they had to look at the interests of the party, and then of course the interests of the country," not to mention their own personal interests, Mngomezulu told DW.
The lesser evil
This expert is of the view that the ANC wants to avoid further internal divisions. He recalled that several such situations arose in the past, when former President Thabo Mbeki was ousted in 2008; and when former ANC youth league leader Julius Malema was expelled from the party just before general elections in 2014.
This is why "the ANC will have to look at all the factors and then decide which one will be a better option," the analyst said. However, no solution will be free of problems. "They will have to wait and see which one has the potential to assist the ANC in terms of preparing itself for the elective conference and then for the 2019 elections," Mngomezulu told DW.
Zuma the miracle-maker
Another political analyst, Karima Brown, describes Jacob Zuma's survival as yet another miracle performed by the wily politician. She believes the ANC is deeply divided and this showed during the discussions on Monday between anti-Zuma and pro-Zuma factions. "We are stuck with an incredibly divided African National Congress leadership. And of course that is going to translate into the state. It is really going to be interesting to see how President Zuma is going to hold on to what little power he has left," Brown said.
The latest efforts against Zuma follow recent calls by ANC veterans, the Save SA and other social and community organizations for the president to step down. But as things stand now and owing to his prescience in placing friends in strategic positions in the state, Zuma looks set to stay in power until his term expires in 2019.