Could it be Gerrie Nel vs Jacob Zuma?

Cyril Ramaphosa and his team should hope that the court will very soon, well before the December electoral conference of the ANC, order that the charges of corruption and money laundering against President Jacob Zuma be reinstated.

Ramaphosa, at the moment the strongest candidate in the anti-Zuma camp, needs lots of ammunition because he is fighting with his hands tied behind his back.

As the leader of the ANC faction that campaigns against corruption and state capture he can’t make use of the dubious strategies and dirty trick used by his opponents.

He also can’t rely on cheap populism, because his team’s selling point is exactly that they are reliable and responsible and will make sure the economy grows again to create new jobs and prosperity.

The generally accepted theory is that Zuma prefers his ex-wife and mother of four of his children, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as successor because she would supposedly protect him from going to jail.

Legal minds agree that the court is likely to order Zuma to stand trial. The only way he could avoid being back in the dock on the 783 charges that were controversially withdrawn, would be a refusal by the National Prosecuting Authtority (NPA) to charge him.

This plan has one weakness, and its name is Gerrie Nel, the bulldog prosecutor now focusing on private prosecutions.

If the NPA finds a reason why it could not haul Zuma before court, Nel could ask it for a certificate declaring this and then he will be able to launch a private prosecution.

If the NPA refuses to issue this nolle prosequi certificate, Nel can get the courts to force it to do it.

It will probably not be hard to prove the case against Zuma. The gist of the evidence against him was accepted by the court in the Schabir Shaik trial and confirmed on appeal.

Nel’s former colleagues at the NPA, particularly Billy Downer, had prepared what they called a water tight case against Zuma. Surely Nel must have had access to that.

In fact, Nel could try and make additional charges stick. According to the Sunday Times, the Pretoria attorney Ajay Sooklal stated in an affidavit that Zuma had asked him in August 2012 not to give testimony to the Seriti Commission into the arms scandal and not to divulge the fact that Zuma had received money and favours from a French arms dealer.

These allegations, if true, amount to bribery and defeating the ends of justice.

If the court decides in the next few months that the charges be reinstated, Zuma will likely employ his old tricks of playing for time. This has been successful for years, but it has reached a point where all these appeals and postponements have to come to an end.

A court decision going against Zuma could cause the Zuma supporters and ANC members on ground and branch level to ask themselves whether it still makes sense to support someone who is likely to end up in jail.

This would be a huge blow for the Zuma brand, a blow that would be felt by the Hyphenated Zuma in her quest to become the new ANC president in December.

Many members of the ANC’s national executive committee and provincial structures are in fact waiting to see which faction is the strongest.

If it appears that Zuma is going to end spending many months in court and then gets sentenced to jail time, they will conclude that the Ramaphosa camp is in the lead and they will jump ship.

For most of them it is not a matter of principle or ideology, but rather one of job and financial security.