Because the pro-Zuma, radical economic transformation faction has lost power within the ANC, the battleground has moved outside the party


A general view of burning trucks during unrest in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: REUTERS/Rogan Ward

A general view of burning trucks during unrest in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal. Picture: REUTERS/Rogan Ward 

In the aftermath of the Beer Hall Putsch — the failed coup by the Nazi party in 1923 Germany — the trial against Adolf Hitler became a spectacular platform for his sinister, twisted views. The soapbox it afforded him catapulted his party, and himself, to national prominence.ADVERTISEMENTnull

As history shows, even a failed insurrection can have far-reaching and lasting effects.

It would seem former president Jacob Zuma has long been sowing the seeds of insurrection. Hindsight suggests that ahead of his exit from office there were many warning signs: state capture, the creation of a parallel intelligence division reporting directly to the president, the controversial Principal Agents Network, Bell Pottinger and a formidable propaganda machine, from ANN7 to Independent Newspapers.

That the orchestrated unrest last week failed does not mean it wasn’t an assault on the authority of the courts and SA’s constitutional order.

Who better than the man who was at the helm of the state for nearly a decade to understand the tinderbox of a country beset by inequality, unemployment and grinding poverty — a situation partly of his making?

Though the views differ in President Cyril Ramaphosa’s cabinet over whether to define the events as an insurrection, it’s clear there was an attempt to overturn a decision by the highest court in the land by holding the country hostage with violence and chaos. And this came from Zuma’s supporters — those inside and outside the ANC — and his family.

SA didn’t need Ramaphosa to define this much, at least: it was clear for all to see.

So what political machinations gave rise to this? To answer that, it’s necessary to take a step back.

The socioeconomic conditions in SA, coupled with seeds sown during the state-capture years, form the base of the events that unfolded last week.

The state-capture project was derailed by Zuma’s removal from the presidency — but it had already embedded itself in the machinery of state, as evidence before the Zondo commission suggests.

After the loss of Zuma’s preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, at the Nasrec conference, the attempt by his faction to recapture the state and the party kicked off once more before the 2019 national elections.

Before those polls — the first with Ramaphosa at the helm of the ANC — Zuma held meetings with the radical Black First Land First movement and smaller political formations outside his traditional political home.

A number of his allies went on to form and join new political parties. His current spokesperson Mzwanele Manyi, for example, founded the African Transformation Movement, while Zuma loyalist Hlaudi Motsoeneng launched the African Content Movement.

A senior ANC source says the idea was to weaken the party and force it into a coalition arrangement, giving smaller parties a say in picking the presidential candidate.

The attempt was ultimately doomed: the ANC received a large enough parliamentary majority to comfortably elect a president on its own.

But the fight wasn’t done. It simply shifted terrain, moving within the party itself. (The ANC even launched an investigation into the origins of the plethora of new political parties, but that fell flat due to the divisions in the national executive committee [NEC].)

The turning point came when ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule — Zuma’s trump card inside the party — was charged with corruption last November. This paved the way for his suspension from the ANC in May. The final nail in his political coffin may well be his court loss last week, when he sought to have his suspension overturned. He’s also set to face disciplinary action.

This has effectively loosened the grip of Zuma and the radical economic transformation (RET) brigade on the levers of power in the party.

With a large number of party structures due to hold elective gatherings in the near term, Magashule’s absence is a blow to the RET grouping. It will struggle to wield any influence over those elections.

In effect, the Zuma/RET faction has lost the battle for the ANC within the ANC — and so the fight had to move outside the party.

A senior provincial leader tells the FM Zuma’s networks aren’t limited to the ANC — his reach extends outwards like a “spaghetti network”.

“You guys have no idea, he has support everywhere. In the ANC, it’s RET and the MKMVA [Umkhonto we Sizwe Military Veterans Association], in the ‘underworld’ [there are] dodgy businessmen that we know of, tenderpreneurs, the Guptas … outside the country. That support doesn’t just disappear,” the source says.

“These are forces beyond Carl Niehaus, Ace [Magashule] and Mojo [Motau, retired army general]. Zuma allowed many people to feed off the living carcass of a sleeping state. [Ramaphosa] is a policeman, he is waking up the state and those who were feeding on it won’t just disappear quietly.”

Another NEC source says state capture neutralised the state’s ability to respond and intervene in society.

“It basically undermined the capacity of the state to be effective to society, which is why we see the poor response from the police and the security cluster,” the source says.

With even senior ANC leaders agreeing that the security cluster failed to properly handle the recent violence, there are now calls from within the party for a cabinet reshuffle — a long-overdue move.

Gauteng premier and ANC Gauteng chair David Makhura on Tuesday told the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation that his administration had information, well in advance, on the organised attacks that took place in the province — details about meetings and the planning of shutdowns. And though this intelligence was shared with the police, nothing was done.

Mapisa- Nqakula says insurrection needs a face. But it has one — it is Jacob Zuma

So where to now? Is this the end of the road for Zuma and his allies?

Not by a long shot.

Former intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils tells the FM a grouping of “this kind” will continue to pursue its scorched-earth strategy because it has nothing to lose.

As a result, “government must be wary and vigilant”, he says.

Kasrils believes the unrest had its roots in political mobilisation by those “who are in love with the grotesque monstrosity that is Jacob Zuma”. But once it had begun, it morphed into criminality and looting due to the “ticking time bomb” of unemployment and inequality. This was exploited by Zuma’s family members, who made provocative statements that could be interpreted as a call to rise up.

The ANC, Kasrils adds, has to begin, as a matter of urgency, to address unemployment and growing the economy to benefit all South Africans. But, he says, factionalism in the state also needs to be addressed.

Ramaphosa’s security cluster heads — police minister Bheki Cele, intelligence minister Ayanda Dlodlo and defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula — were effectively asleep at the wheel when the unrest exploded.

Ebrahim Ebrahim, who shared a jail cell with Zuma during apartheid and who was a close confidante and comrade, calls the events unfolding in SA a “blow to our democratic order”.

He agrees with Kasrils that there is a political hand involved, but he believes the unrest was hijacked and snowballed into criminality due to the incapacity of the state.

The problem with the ANC, says Ebrahim, is that it’s a broad church that works when conditions are “normal”. In an environment of limited economic opportunity, poverty, unemployment and inequality, that façade begins to crack.

“The ANC is undergoing a serious crisis. It cannot sit on the fence anymore in the name of unity. It has to take strong decisions and a strong stance against those responsible for this, even if they are in the NEC and in the [party] structures,” he says.

“In the short term it will be painful, but in the long run it will save the ANC and the country. There is no alternative now, the centre has to hold for the sake of the country.”

Turning to Ramaphosa, Ebrahim says the president needs to take control of the state. He must also reduce the size of his cabinet and begin forcing it to work more efficiently.

“He can’t lose any time. He has to act against ministers who are ill-disciplined, tighten the screws on corruption even further, and move bad officials out. He will be criticised, but it has to be done, again, for the ANC and for the country,” he says.

This week the presidency distanced itself from Mapisa-Nqakula’s contention — in direct contradiction with Ramaphosa’s — that the unrest was not a failed insurrection but a criminal “counter-revolution”.


The Zuma faction is clearly weak. But it is also clear that the state’s capacity to respond is paltry

An ANC NEC member tells the FM Mapisa-Nqakula must be “confused”, or could be acting on instructions from “elsewhere”.

“She says insurrection needs a face,” the source says. “But it has one — it is Jacob Zuma.”

ANC Veterans League president Snuki Zikalala says Mapisa-Nqakula’s comments are indefensible.

“It is unacceptable for a minister to contradict a president publicly like that,” he says. “She should have raised this in cabinet or in the security council convened to advise the president.”

Despite the attempted insurrection, Zikalala says the state-capture commission will continue its work to uncover the extent of the damage done during the Zuma years.

“Of course we know that the beneficiaries of state capture will resist being brought to book. The president must be resolute … there must be no compromises,” he says.

The faction supporting Zuma may have failed this time, and it’s clear it is weak. But it’s also clear that the state’s capacity to respond is paltry: it was unable to halt unrest in which 215 died and billions of rands were lost through damage to property and theft.

In 2002, the Boeremag claimed responsibility for a series of bombings that killed a woman in Soweto. Eleven years later, SA held its first post-apartheid treason trial, and three of those Boeremag members were convicted.

What remains to be seen is whether Zuma and his allies push their agenda far enough for SA to hold its second post-apartheid treason trial — this time, one in which the enemy comes from within the ruling party.