A bold plan is being crafted behind the scenes to remove President Jacob Zuma from Luthuli House and the Union Buildings immediately after the local government elections, the Sunday Times can reveal.
Senior ANC leaders, including some based at Luthuli House, are among the authors of the “Zuma exit plan”.
It has already been discussed and explained in detail at a number of gatherings, including to members who attended a funeral in the Eastern Cape two weeks ago.
The senior officials, whose names are known to the Sunday Times, have secretly been selling the plan to branches, regions and provinces opposed to Zuma’s continued leadership.
A senior leader at Luthuli House told the Sunday Times in Port Elizabeth, where the party launched its election manifesto yesterday, that the plan included instructing structures of the ANC to ease off on public calls for Zuma to resign until after the August poll.
These leaders – although they, too, want Zuma to go – worry that removing him now could cost the party votes in those areas where the president remains popular.
The official said structures, including regions and branches, would be encouraged soon after the poll to intensify their calls for Zuma to step down.
We need to buy time and act only after the elections. We are giving [Zuma] a long rope to hang himself
This will be followed by structures petitioning the office of secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to convene an early elective congress.
According to the ANC constitution, at least five provinces must request a special conference before the party’s national executive committee can convene one. Only an elective conference can choose a new ANC president.
“We are saying to comrades, let us focus on elections now. We have a big task at hand. Let us finish that first,” said a senior leader who wants Zuma removed as president.
“We need to buy time and act only after the elections. We are giving [Zuma] a long rope to hang himself,” he said.
The plan, which is being put into action across all provinces, comes as the ANC yesterday failed to fill the 46, 000-seat Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium where Zuma presented its election manifesto. It was the second time in four months that Zuma failed to draw capacity crowds to a venue in Port Elizabeth. On December 16 last year, only a handful showed up for a Reconciliation Day event.
While party insiders say the low turn-out was part of an internal revolt against Zuma, spokesman Zizi Kodwa claimed thousands of party faithful could not make it to the stadium because of logistical problems.
“Payment was not made in time to the service providers. Eighty percent was supposed to come from Port Elizabeth. But the ANC is not having sleepless nights. This is not an indication that voters are rejecting the ANC,” he said.
Eastern Cape premier Phumulo Masualle, however, said there had been “miscommunication” between transport providers and organisers around “pick-up time and pick-up spots”.
As a result about 160 buses and 3000 taxis organised to transport party supporters did not make it to the stadium.
While senior leaders who are behind the plan asked to remain anonymous, Zuma’s staunch backer, KwaZulu-Natal chairman Sihle Zikalala, told the Sunday Times the pro-Zuma group within the party was aware of the plan to call for an early conference to remove Zuma.
Zikalala said they would fight back. He described the plan as an “empty threat” to intimidate Zuma’s supporters.
The Sunday Times has learnt that Zuma’s backers also have their own plan, which includes an attempt to discredit the judiciary by distributing an “intelligence report” that links judges to a plot to overthrow the government.
This would aim to counter the argument for Zuma to resign and present the president as a victim of a broader conspiracy involving judges and the opposition.
But a senior party leader, who asked not to be named, said calls for an early conference to get rid of Zuma were getting louder.
A strong argument, the leader said, was being made to bring forward the ANC 2017 elective conference in a bid to “renew the organisation” after the elections.
The senior leader said that, according to the ANC’s analysis, removing Zuma now may result in the party losing significant voter support.
Zikalala said he had told the anti-Zuma faction that his province was ready for an early conference “even tomorrow”.
Zikalala leads the ANC’s biggest province in terms of membership.
“We told these comrades, if you want an early conference let us have it. We will finish local government elections, then we will have inauguration of councils, then in October we can have BGMs [branch general meetings] and by December we would be ready for conference,” he said.
Zikalala said that politically, Zuma ought to see out his term as ANC president until December 2017.
“But those who are using an early conference, we are saying let us have it. We have our machinery ready. We are not scared of anything,” he said.
This week, the ANC in Gauteng called on Zuma “to do the right thing” and step down.
ANC leaders in the Eastern Cape felt the wrath of angry leaders of lower structures who called for the president’s head for violating South Africa’s constitution.
Gauteng chairman Paul Mashatile said his province was not aware of any calls for an early conference.
He said branches had been asked to “go and discuss [the Constitutional Court judgment]. I want to give that process a chance.
“I haven’t heard of those views for an early conference .”
Senior party leaders who attended report-back meetings after the Constitutional Court’sjudgment said several regions in the Eastern Cape told them Zuma must go.
“They said he is a liability. The ANC doesn’t need him.”
Zuma’s backers are expected to counter this argument by pointing fingers at the courts, especially the High Court in Cape Town and Pretoria and the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein.
A senior ANC leader and cabinet minister said judges were acting in the interests of the opposition.
Even though the ANC said it respected the judgment, there seems to be an effort to undermine it.
Mantashe has publicly warned Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng about trying to “play politics”, referring to a series of lectures Mogoeng has delivered recently.
Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane, the ANC’ s national head of campaigns, said it was wrong for party structures to discuss their views on the judgment publicly.
“I think that any view that constitutional structures of the ANC hold, it is best that is it attended to through the structures of the ANC than to make it a public issue when the matter is still under discussion in the organisation,” said Mokonyane.