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Zuma's Time Running Out as Ramaphosa Wields S. African Power

Bloomberg logoBloomberg 22/01/2018 Mike Cohen and Paul Vecchiatto

a close up of a man: Cyril Ramaphosa © Bloomberg Cyril Ramaphosa (Bloomberg) -- The clock is ticking on South African President Jacob Zuma’s scandal-ridden administration as his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, flexes his political muscles and shows he’s increasingly wielding state power to stamp out corruption and revive the economy.

While the ruling African National Congress’s top leadership has decided that Zuma, 75, must leave office -- to win back voters and stoke investor confidence in the stagnant economy -- without setting a deadline, newly elected party leader Ramaphosa and his supporters have moved decisively on two other fronts. 

His office and the Ministry of Public Enterprises announced sweeping changes to the board and management of struggling state-power utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. As well as deciding on Friday that Zuma must step down, the ANC National Executive Committee suspended the party’s pro-Zuma provincial executive committees in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Free State that the courts said weren’t properly elected.

“It is as if Cyril is confirming that he has taken over the reins,” said Susan Booysen, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand’s School of Governance. “I would say Zuma will be gone in anything between 10 and 30 days maximum.”

Zuma’s exit would catapult Ramaphosa, 65, into the presidency and allow him to begin to repair an economy that suffered its second recession in almost a decade in 2017 and has struggled to mount a strong recovery. He’s also vowed to fight the graft that has marred Zuma’s administration.

An open question remains whether Zuma will step aside before Feb. 8 so that Ramaphosa can deliver the annual state-of-the-nation address. Zuma’s diary, released by the Presidency on Monday, shows he is still scheduled to present the speech and respond to a debate a week later.

Zuma announced on Sunday that Water Minister Nomvula Mokonyane will represent him at the inauguration of Liberian President George Weah. Ramaphosa is leading South Africa’s delegation to the World Economic Forum gathering in Davos this week.

Rand Bounce

One of the wealthiest black South Africans, Ramaphosa is expected to adopt more business-friendly policies, even though he enjoys the support of the communist party and the biggest labor union federation. His election as ANC leader helped boost the rand more than 10 percent against the dollar last month and it reached the strongest level since May 2015 earlier on Monday in Johannesburg. It was 1.2 percent stronger at 12.0534 per dollar at 1:30 p.m. in Johannesburg.

At a meeting of the NEC on Friday, Ramaphosa cemented his control of the party, with his allies securing most of the seats on the 26-member National Working Committee that oversees the running of the ANC on a day-to-day basis.

South African President Jacob Zuma © Reuters South African President Jacob Zuma “We are definitely in a phase where Zuma’s power is waning and Ramaphosa’s is on the rise,” Judith February, a senior research associate at the Institute of Security Studies, said by phone from Cape Town. “The clearest example of this is the sudden new appointment of the Eskom board with the Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba and the Minister of Public Enterprises Lynn Brown reporting to Ramaphosa, while Zuma was not involved in the decision at all.”

Members of the Gupta family, who are Zuma’s friends and in business with his son Duduzane, have been implicated in alleged looting of billions of rand from the utility in reports by the nation’s graft ombudsman and a group of top academics. Zuma and the Guptas deny wrongdoing.

Asset Seizure

Prosecutors last week moved to seize assets of Trillian Capital Partners Pty Ltd., which was majority owned by a Gupta ally, because of alleged unlawful payments from Eskom. They have also frozen the personal bank account of Atul Gupta, Johannesburb-based broadcaster eNCA reported, citing court documents.

Eskom’s new board was told to immediately remove all executives facing allegations of serious corruption and other acts of impropriety.

“We are determined to address the damage that has been done to this institution and place it on a new path of efficiency and integrity,” Ramaphosa said in a statement.

For the ANC, the key is to remove Zuma, whose final term as president is due to end around mid-2019, before campaigning starts for next year’s general elections. Under his rule, the ANC suffered its worst-ever electoral performance in a municipal vote in August 2016 when it lost control of Johannesburg, the economic hub, and Pretoria, the capital.

Zuma’s fate is now in the hands of Ramaphosa and the five other top ANC leaders elected at the party’s conference last month.

“This has been a benchmark weekend,” Booysen said. “In the sense of Zuma having power, I think that era has ended. There is still huge correction and mop-up work remaining to be done.”

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