Baleka looks set to fill presidency

Speaker Baleka Mbete.

President Jacob Zuma apparently faces a deadline from the new ANC leadership to resign as president of the nation. Various media have said the deadline is Tuesday the 9th of January while others say it will be the next day, Wednesday, when the national executive committee meets. The Cape Messenger believes that Zuma will NOT go voluntarily – all the public action and the recent rallying of the troops at Nkandla on Friday indicate as such. The stage appears to have been set for the Speaker to shift to the presidency for 18 months

President Jacob Zuma won’t go anywhere easily. And the ANC leadership know it. That is why the ANC leadership were in KwaZulu Natal at the weekend, assessing just how to manage the transition to a leadership of Cyril Ramaphosa – a Venda, leading a top-six which is no longer dominated by Zulu leaders.

Significantly IOL –  Independent Online, part of an ANC-supporting media group –  reported that Zuma addressed hundreds of amaButho, wielding traditional weapons. It was organised on the lines of Umbimbi Lwamabutho – a coalition of regiments. They marched to demand that the land be returned to the indigenous people and to fight against the removal of Zuma. So President Zuma is in fight-back mode.

It is clear that party leaders know that Zuma will not quietly resign, as Thabo Mbeki did in September 2008 – after he had lost the party presidency at the Polokwane conference at the end of 2007. It allowed Kgalema Motlanthe, who had been sworn as an MP, to take over as president of South Africa for about eight months, while Zuma readied himself for a two-term presidency.

According to a reliable ANC source, this model will be discussed at the NEC this Wednesday – Vytjie Mentor, a former ANC MP, has described this as “National Happiness Day”. If the same model is accepted – and it is believed it will – the Speaker of the National Assembly will assume the presidency for the next 18 months. (Mentor believes that the recall will be requested on Tuesday, but this appears not to be the case).

This is an acceptance that Zuma won’t go voluntarily. So there will have to be a vote of no-confidence or an impeachment by the national assembly. An impeachment will require two-thirds of the national assembly, so it will be more difficult to achieve. A vote of no-confidence – which was narrowly defeated last November – would be easier to achieve if the ANC caucus gives it backing, alongside the opposition parties. If the impeachment route is taken Zuma will lose all benefits associated with the office of president.

So a vote of no confidence, requiring just a majority vote of the national assembly, is the most likely scenario. The Speaker, Baleka Mbete, will stand in as president. She is constitutionally mandated to do so if there is a vote of no-confidence in the president. She will appoint a team of ministers to the liking of the new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa, of course, is deputy president of the country and would sit in the cabinet chaired by Mbete for the next 18 months.

If Ramaphosa takes up the presidency right away – after a vote of no confidence in Zuma – it could reduce his chances of enjoying 10 years in power. South Africa has a constitutional limit of two terms for the presidency. While the constitution says the period between an election and the next election fo a president is not regarded as a term, by delaying his swearing in, Ramaphosa would have time to campaign for the 2019 elections as leader of the party. The responsibility of running the country temporarily in the hands of Mbete.

Mbete, rather significantly, at the 11th hour backed the Ramaphosa campaign for president at the ANC elective conference in December. It could well have been a very telling decision on her part. She had been closely allied to the Zuma/Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma camp for most of the last 10 years. In the run-up to the conference Mbete was a candidate for the ANC presidency. She, however, received little support from the ANC branches.

Mbete has held the post of deputy president before. She held the post under Motlanthe when he was provisional president in 2008 and 2009, until Zuma finally took up the post of president in mid-2009. Mbete returned to her old post as Speaker in 2014.

A national election must be held by June 2019, 18 months time. This would give Mbete – who is no longer in the top six of the party – the political cherry at the end of her political career. Ramaphosa could then step up to the plate for two terms starting from 2019 and ending in 2029.


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