History has a funny way of repeating itself, or does it, asks Mayibongwe Maqhina.
Will President Zuma officiate at another government imbizo before his term at the Union Buildings comes to an end?
This is a million dollar question, to which there is no answer at present, considering the speed at which political events have unfolded in recent days.
During his visit to Melmoth for an imbizo on Sunday, days after the Constitutional Court made its Nkandla finding against him, Zuma displayed an arrogance that was not very different from the way former president Thabo Mbeki conducted himself when he had a judgment inplicating him and his political future was at stake.
Zuma sent out a message to the people that he was still in charge and that he would continue his leadership for a while yet.
Buoyed, perhaps, by the support from his home pro-vince, the president told the crowds he would not govern for a long time because of his age. He then went on to talk about land claims and the need for black people to use their votes wisely.
“This time I am given to look after the nation… for now I have a task to lead you.”
His remarks were ambiguous in that he neither gave a clear indication that he would step down soon, nor did it appear that he felt threatened.
This, in spite of the fact that Judge Mogoeng Mogoeng had, just days earlier, delivered a unanimous judgment that he had failed in his constitutional obligation to comply with the public protector’s report.
Zuma’s remarks at the Melmoth imbizo can be likened to those made by Mbeki at his last government imbizo at Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape.
One weekend in September 2008, residents from the rural Transkei town and surrounding areas had arrived in droves to support him. Eastern Cape premier, Mbulelo Sogoni, captured the mood of the people when he suggested that Mbeki bid farewell.
“Maybe this imbizo today is the last of imbizos in Eastern Cape under president Mbeki. We want you to say goodbye,” Sogoni said.
“We thank you for your leadership. We like you president,” he said as though he knew a decision had already been taken by the NEC that Mbeki should go.
But Mbeki brushed off the idea of him bidding farewell in his home province just days before the NEC decided on the expiry of his mandate.
“Premier Mbulelo Sogoni said if this was the last time that I come here you must say goodbye”. I don’t know where he got that. We should not say bye bye,” Mbeki said at the time.
Whether his refusal to bid farewell as Sogoni suggested was an act, putting on a brave face, or whether he had not considered that his comrades might recall him, can only be the subject of speculation.
Soon after the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC) held a meeting to decide his fate after Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Chris Nicholson’s judgment implicated Mbeki in a conspiracy against Zuma. Mbeki resigned days after the ANC asked him to do so.
Fast forward from that sequence to last weekend when Zuma was in Melmoth for the government imbizo that had been preceded by a Constitutional Court judgment.
Zuma had apologised to the country in the wake of the adverse finding against him.
Ironically, his Melmoth visit was marred by glitches.
He had to fly back to Durban because of heavy cloud. When he eventually arrived, nearly three hours after his scheduled time, a CD recording of the national anthem got stuck for nearly a minute. When he took the podium to address the thousands at the imbizo, the microphone also did not function properly.
But these hiccups did not dampen the spirits of his enthusiastic supporters.
Water and Sanitation Deputy Minister, Pam Tshwete, became the spokeswoman for those in attendance – as Sogoni had been in Mount Ayliff in 2008.
“We love you president,” Tshwete said to applause.
But unlike Mbeki, who was booted out of office less than a week after his imbizo, Zuma is still standing.
This is hardly surprising, considering the very different judgements and conditions surrounding the two imbizos.
In Mbeki’s case, he was no longer in control. Perhaps he did not see the need to fight back to the detriment of the party.
Instead, he played along, heeding the party’s call to resign. But that did not stop a breakaway movement by those who had issues with Zuma and felt Mbeki had been hard done by.
This time around, however, there are more loyalists in positions of leadership within the government – far more with a lot to lose. The possibility that Zuma would be recalled was, perhaps, the least of his worries which would explain why he said in Melmoth that he would govern for a while yet.
He may have thought being ousted by his detractors was out of the question because he had numbers on his side. The impeachment attempt earlier this week in Parliament was a good example of that.
But anger is growing in the ranks of the ANC and the likelihood of open revolt in some quarters makes things interesting and changeable.
This week, some stalwarts and other prominent people threatened to mobilise for Zuma’s removal, while one branch in Gauteng has called for him to be disciplined by the party.
Threats to mobilise civil society, and resulting harm to the ANC, cannot be ruled out.
Harold Wilson’s wisdom of a week being a long time in politics is particularly true in South Africa right now.