President Jacob Zuma has taken the wind from the sails of ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa on the eve of a much anticipated national executive committee (NEC) sitting, which was expected to determine Zuma’s fate.
The presidency issued a statement on Tuesday evening in which Zuma outlined his plans to establish the much anticipated commission of inquiry into state capture.
The commission is part of the remedial action in former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report which also made damning findings against the president and high ranking cabinet ministers and placed them at the centre of a corruption ring which allegedly sought to sell the country to the controversial Gupta family.
Calls for a commission of inquiry had also come from the ANC’s alliance partner, the SA Communist Party.
Zuma’s concession on the inquiry comes on the eve of Ramaphosa’s maiden NEC sitting as ANC president, after his election last month.
Zuma had, until now, been reluctant to appoint the commission on the basis that he wanted the courts to clarity certain aspects of Madonsela’s ruling he was not happy with.
But he has now changed tack, saying although he would still appeal, he did not want to further delay the commission.
The ANC conference in December had also instructed him to appoint it without further delays.
The announcement also comes a day after Ramaphosa launched a veiled attack on his predecessor, saying that in order for the ANC to regain the confidence of voters, it had to rid itself of the perception of corruption in the party and deal with “thieves”.
The all powerful NEC are expected be locked in a tug of war with battle lines drawn between those who support the Zuma recall and those opposing it.
It’s understood that there have been attempts to negotiate a dignified exit for Zuma, which opposition parties have vehemently opposed saying that suggestions of amnesty to this end would be illegal.
Parliament is set to begin with a process to finalise an impeachment process following the Constitutional Court’s ruling last month which berated the National Assembly for failing to hold Zuma to account.
City Press reported on Sunday that Ramaphosa was eager to take up the position of state president immediately, cutting short Zuma’s term in government ending in 2019.
This is the same year of a crucial general election where opposition parties believe they can usurp power from the ANC through a national coalition.
ANC insiders say this ace played by Zuma could weaken any attempts to oust him at Wednesday’s NEC sitting, where it is rumoured that he will make an appearance.
No longer an elected NEC member, he can attend in his capacity as former ANC president.
The public protector’s remedial action called for the commission to be headed by a judge appointed by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, a matter which Zuma took issue with, saying only he as president was empowered to perform that task as mandated by the Constitution of the country.
In his statement Zuma has relinquished the power to Mogoeng who he says has selected Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo, who was appointed in June last year following the retirement of Dikgang Moseneke.
“I would like to emphasise that I have faith in all the judges and their ability to execute their tasks with the requisite levels of fairness, impartiality and independence,” he said.
Zuma’s year-long reluctance to establish the commission has deeply divided the ANC NEC.
Zuma has survived three motions of no confidence in those NEC sittings, as well as calls from ANC veterans to step down as president of the country and then of the ANC.
In December, the South Gauteng High Court ruled in favour of opposition parties who went to court to have Zuma compelled to establish the commission, despite his appeals which they viewed as delaying tactics.
Zuma urged everyone to comply with the inquiry.
“I trust that we will all respect the process and place no impediments to prevent the commission from doing its work,” he said.
Despite having launched an appeal into last month’s court judgment, Zuma stated that he is in talks with his legal team regarding the directive for him to be personally liable for the cost as well as the powers given to the Chief Justice.
“I have considered this matter very carefully, including the unprecedented legal implications of the order directing the Chief Justice to select a single judge to head the commission of inquiry. I have expressed my reservations about the legality of this directive, which may be the subject of the appeal.”