Will Gigaba topple Zuma?

There has been an intense focus on the ever-shifting topography of the pro-Zuma vs anti-Zuma camps. Analysts and journalists have for months been counting heads, trying to figure out which side of the NEC is dominant, in the hope that the anti-Zuma camp will eventually be strong enough to oust the president.

As the recent NEC proved, focussing on the numbers is ever a reliable indicator of the outcome of any ANC process. The ANC simply does not take decisions by a show of hands or voting. The ANC continues to operate on the basis of consensus. If an agreement cannot be reached on this basis, the default position is to agree on a process which could lead to a consensus, or more likely by delaying the issue long enough to be forgotten or overtaken by a bigger problem.

So those who keep on hoping that enough people in the NEC will eventually jump ship to the anti-Zuma side or that enough ANC MPs will vote for his removal during a vote of no confidence against the NEC’s wishes, just don’t understand how the ANC works.

Does that mean that there is no other way of getting rid of No1? Are we stuck with President Zuma until the ANC Electoral Conference at end of the year or even, horror of all horrors, till the 2019 elections?

There have been some whispers amongst ANC cadres about the possibility of a group of senior Zuma-ites asking the president to step down. They emphasise that those involved won’t necessarily be jumping ship to the Ramaphosa camp, nor would they support Ramaphosa as the next president. The reason for such a radical move would be for their own political career advancement.

But who could be brave enough to lead such a group?

A few names have been thrown around, but if these rumours are correct, my money would be on Malusi Gigaba, our not-so-new finance minister. There is no doubt that Gigaba is ambitious and would like to be in the top job one day. He has worked hard for it and has the pedigree for it, having been, for example, ANC Youth League President for three terms (1996, 1998 and 2001). Despite Zuma’s insistence that he is promoting young people, Gigaba, who is 46 years old, is really the only younger person coming up through the ranks of the ANC with real momentum.

Despite tailoring his image to suit the position, he is still too young to take on the leadership race. He needs another five to ten years before he will be taken seriously enough in the ANC to be considered for the no 1 position. However, it is important for him to position himself correctly over the next decade or so, in order to be ready when the time comes for him to make the big move.

But this is where it gets tricky. Gigaba will know that he can easily be caught on the wrong side of history. Things are not looking good for him. Despite his best attempts to distance himself from the Guptas, his association with them follows him like the bad smell off a wet dog.

As finance minister he has tried to say the right things to everybody about everything, but his earnest delivery has not convinced many. As would have been the case for anyone who replaced Pravin Gordhan, Gigaba has found it impossible to dispel the suspicion that he is a Zupta puppet.

Being a shrewd politician, Gigaba will also know that the road from here could only lead to more media exposés, commissions of inquiry and possibly even court cases. And these do not enhance the CV of any president in waiting.


Well, unless he can do something that will catapult him to the right side of history -something that can make him an even bigger public, business and media darling than Pravin Gordhan. Nothing would do that more speedily and effectively than being the one who plays a pivotal role in ending the Zuma era.

Of course timing is everything. Gigaba will first need to know that he will succeed in his mission. He will have to be joined by other senior Zuma-ites willing to take a long term bet on their political futures. This group will also have to be convinced that they will not be met by a revolt from the pro-Zuma camp in the NEC, so they will have to be sure that the winds of change are blowing their way.

Of course the question remains how loyal Gigaba is to the president. Despite his insistence to the contrary, rumours persist in the ANC that he is still hurt by the apology he was reportedly instructed to make to King Goodwill Zwelethini in 2015 after criticising the king’s statements during the xenophobic attacks. Yet, I have seen how closely he and the president interact in Parliament. They look very fond of each other and clearly Gigaba would not have been given his current position if that was not the case.

Then again, as we all know: There are no friends or loyalties in politics – especially not when it comes to power.

The risks are many, not least of all political suicide, but Gigaba faces a dilemma. If he has the courage to ensure the end of the Zuma rule, the rewards will be huge and will ensure his place in the history books of this country. If not he will almost certainly be part of the collateral damage of the Zupta fiasco, for which he will be harshly judged in future.

– Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.