The Future of Zuma
Mail and Guardian
Sam Sole, Ferial Haffajee
Deputy President Jacob Zuma seems set to shrug off accusations that he profited from corruption in the government's multibillion-rand arms deal, and continue to occupy a senior post in the South African government.
He is likely to either retain a split deputy presidency or become the next premier of KwaZulu-Natal if the party's all-out effort to secure the province succeeds. With the election result a foregone conclusion, the major post-electoral debate is likely to be the future of Zuma.
High-level discussions to float the premiership option are under way in the presidency, but have not yet filtered through to the province where all African National Congress money is still on S'bu Ndebele, currently the provincial transport minister.
This option, billed an "exit strategy", would save the presidency and the national government from another round of damning allegations against Zuma, likely to surface when arms dealer and businessman Schabir Shaik goes to court later this year.
To make it succeed, the premiership is being presented as a "critical position", both for the government and the ANC, and not as a demotion.
KwaZulu-Natal, with its history of political instability and the threat of a similar future, offers the ANC the opportunity to bill Zuma as the saviour and peace-maker, a role he played in 1994 and 1999 when he was instrumental in bringing relations with the Inkatha Freedom Party back from the brink.
By flagging a proposal to introduce a multi-deputy president system, President Thabo Mbeki could also be making the high office less enticing by stripping it of its individual power.
The political strategy is matched with a plan to take the heat out of the battle between the Scorpions on the one hand and what is loosely called the "Zuma camp" on the other.
The Scorpions' KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson, Makhosini Nkosi, said "right now we are not investigating the deputy president for anything. The matter is off our radar screens." He also confirmed a meeting between Scorpions boss Bulelani Ngcuka and Mo Shaik "aimed at finding closure with regard to the public spat" — a reference to the Hefer commission.
An exhaustive investigation into the allegations against the deputy president had been executed and at the end of which a determination was made that the National Prosecuting Authority did not have a case that had a reasonable prospect of success. "That was the end of the matter," he insisted.
Nevertheless, the revised indictment, tabled last month, of Shaik — Zuma's financial adviser — tabled last month, shows no sign of attempting to write Zuma out of the picture in any way. His alleged role in promoting Shaik's business interests and receiving financial favours from Shaik remains prominent and has even been more clearly delineated.
The indictment notes: "The payments received by Zuma constituted benefits which were not legally due to Zuma." The allegation that the deputy president gave a coded confirmation of wanting a payment of R500 000 a year from the French defence company Thales is also reiterated. But presidency sources say that without the original fax the case against Zuma is thin. Instead an effort is being made to paint Shaik as a lone ranger and a buccaneer who acted without Zuma's express consent.
With unwavering popular support despite the allegations against him, Zuma is hedging his bets.
A KwaZulu-Natal associate told the Mail and Guardian Zuma appeared confident he would be re-appointed as deputy president; though another associate said he was also privy to the discussions on the premiership.
He said Zuma was, however, "very aware" of the looming Shaik trial, scheduled to begin later this year, but he was not giving up the fight for his political future.
ANC KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson Dumisani Makhaye firmly denied any knowledge of the possibility that the deputy president may be earmarked to become premier of the province.
Another source close to Zuma also said the deputy president expected to remain in his post, but did not rule out a move to KwaZulu-Natal: "We are all deployable. We serve at the pleasure of the president."
Zuma could become the province's premier without relinquishing the deputy presidency of the ANC, a foothold that would still keep his bid to succeed Mbeki alive even if he agreed to redeployment in the interests of stability in the province. "In politics, five years [when the next presidential election is due] is a long time and it's early days yet," said an ANC political strategist.
The ANC has chosen to go into the 2004 election without naming any of its provincial premier candidates — possibly a means to protecting Zuma should the party not win the knife-edge election.
Zuma is regarded as the ANC leader most likely to be able to broker a settlement acceptable to Inkatha, should the IFP lose control of KwaZulu-Natal. "The one person [in the ANC] that Inkatha can tolerate is Jacob Zuma," said political analyst Adam Habib of the Human Sciences Research Council. "He can also structure relationships and break the coalition between the IFP and the Democratic Alliance." What would be done with Ndebele? With Minister of Transport Dullah Omar unlikely to seek another term, he could become transport minister because he has done well with the provincial portfolio.
Should the ANC not win KwaZulu-Natal other elements of an ìexit strategyî for Zuma are also being mooted. One is to make him head of the new Pan-African Parliament, or, at worst, to offer him the home affairs portfolio.
Zuma's spokesperson, Lakela Kaunda, dismissed the speculation as pre-election noise.
With acknowledgements to Sam Sole, Ferial Haffajee and the Mail & Guardian.