The governing ANC party is seeking a negotiated settlement to replace the country’s president. According to Dr Robert Besseling of EXX Africa Business Risk Intelligence, the ongoing crunch talks are focussed on control over the national prosecuting authority and distressed state-owned enterprises.
“The ongoing negotiations between the leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC) Cyril Ramaphosa and President Jacob Zuma on a political transition are reaching crunch time. The ANC mandated Ramaphosa and its other leaders last month to seek terms for President Zuma’s resignation before his term ends in 2019,” he adds.
The talks follow several days in which it seemed an impasse would trigger a constitutional crisis over the two rival centres of political power in South Africa.
Ramaphosa initially called a meeting of the ANC’s national executive committee to recall Zuma as national president, which was then cancelled. Meanwhile, the State of Nation address to the country’s parliament, which was due today on 8 February, has been postponed.
“The delays have provided the parties some breathing space to conclude the negotiations,” Besseling adds.
“The next key dates will be Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba’s budget speech on 21 February, which the ANC does not want to postpone, and a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the president scheduled by the opposition on 22 February.”
In the unlikely scenario that the negotiations fail, the political impasse would become “a drawn out stalemate in which the ANC refuses to accept President Zuma’s terms of resignation”.
Yet, says Besseling, it seems more likely that the negotiations will conclude over the next few days, which would allow Ramaphosa to replace Zuma as national president and deliver the State of the Nation address before the key budget date.
“President Zuma is seeking immunity from prosecution for himself and several of his family members and associates. Only the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) can offer immunity from prosecution, usually in return for a plea bargain or incriminating testimony. Zuma faces multiple corruption charges, which also implicate other senior public officials and many large companies in South Africa. If prosecutors fail to meet Zuma’s immunity terms, a protracted legal, political, and constitutional crisis would become more likely.”
However, EXX Africa has consistently forecast for several years that Zuma would be replaced as national president in the first quarter of 2018 on the basis of a negotiated settlement with his successor, i.e. Ramaphosa.
“We still believe this is the most likely scenario and that a protracted impasse can still be averted in the next few days.”
Besseling adds that once, he secures the national presidency, Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to announce a wide-ranging and high-profile anti-corruption campaign in order to weaken his political rivals and consolidate his authority over the ANC and the government.
“The NPA has already issued orders for the seizure of assets belonging to the politically-connected Gupta family.”
The first political contest of the transition is playing out at the NPA to replace its discredited director. “The NPA holds the key to the negotiated settlement Zuma seeks and is crucial for Ramaphosa’s proposed corruption crackdown to shore up his own political authority. Ramaphosa will also need NPA backing for the recent appointments he has made to state-owned entities like Eskom.”
Control over the NPA and state-owned enterprises will be crucially important over the next few days as the ANC seeks the negotiated resignation of President Zuma, Besseling says.