You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s criticism of ‘step-aside’ rule enforces it as ANC’s central issue — the party’s future depends on it

Daily Maverick logo Daily Maverick 2022/09/26 Stephen Grootes

With a series of public comments, ANC leadership contender and Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma sparked a new debate around the party’s ‘step-aside’ rule. While she has now publicly opposed the rule, it is not certain that this will find favour with the majority of the ANC, but it will add fuel to the burning fire inside the party, that’s for sure.

© Copyright (c) Daily Maverick , All Rights Reserved

While several leading figures in the ANC oppose the “step-aside” rule, there is a strong 2024 electoral case for the party to retain it. And it is clear from his comments that President Cyril Ramaphosa will argue strongly that the rule must be retained.

On Sunday, Cogta Minister Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma gave a lengthy live interview on the SABC news channel, during which she strongly criticised the rule. 

“The problem is that you step aside, you are charged, you step aside. Three years on, the trial hasn’t started. What is that? What kind of justice is that? Because justice should be, they investigate you, once they’ve charged you the trial must start within months. So it’s not justice when you can wait for three years before the trial starts. So what were you waiting for if three months or three years on, you still haven’t started the trial?”

Dlamini Zuma is of course correct that many cases have dragged on for years.

The Ace Magashule case

While she emphasised she was not referring to any particular example, just two days before her interview the case against suspended ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule was postponed until January next year, meaning he cannot be a part of the ANC’s electoral conference in December and is ineligible to contest for the top, or any, positions.

While Magashule was indeed first charged more than two years ago by the National Prosecuting Authority, he has brought several applications, including one now before the Supreme Court of Appeal, which has led to this taking so long.

The recent history of political cases suggests delays are common.

Of course, Dlamini Zuma is putting her finger on the weakness of the “step-aside” rule: that someone could suffer from simply being charged, even if they were cleared at a later date.

That said, her comments will surely cement the impression that she is now tacking towards the RET grouping within the ANC.

This is an interesting decision.

For a start, it will lead to more speculation about the mutually beneficial relationship between her and her ex-husband. Former president Jacob Zuma has reportedly asked his supporters in KZN to strongly back Dlamini Zuma.

Second, this may push Ramaphosa and his allies into counteraction.

Speaking during the opening of the ANC’s policy conference in June, Ramaphosa said that “South Africans will never forgive us” if the party gave up its efforts to fight corruption.

This was surely all about the “step-aside” rule, and about Ramaphosa defending it strongly. Dlamini Zuma’s statement sets her clearly against him.

At the end of the gathering in June, the ANC’s policy conference resolved to discuss the rule again in December, but gave it strong backing.

It appeared that only KZN wanted it scrapped entirely, while Limpopo wanted some changes and the other provinces wanted to retain it.

Backing for Mkhize

While Dlamini Zuma setting herself on a course against Ramaphosa may win her some support, there are limits to what she can achieve.

Already, the eThekwini region of the ANC, her own, has said it will back Dr Zweli Mkhize to lead the ANC. And KZN, her own province, is widely expected to back him when it makes a public announcement on Tuesday.

As University of Mpumalanga political analyst Khanya Vilakazi pointed out on Newzroom Afrika on Monday, it is interesting that Dlamini Zuma is giving an interview now. He says that she has remained silent on issues in the ANC during the past five years, and, “Only now does she show her true hand and by doing so is on the back foot because she has been quite silent.”

Visit Daily Maverick's home page for more news, analysis and investigations

This may well count against her. Taken together with Mkhize’s strength in KZN, it points to her campaign’s impact being severely limited.

Those who oppose the “step-aside” resolution are, for now, in an apparent minority in the ANC.

There is another major problem for this grouping, which is, as Ramaphosa pointed out, that the electorate is watching the ANC closely. One of the dominant themes of the 2024 elections is likely to be corruption. The ANC has to fight hard against its own track record there, and wavering on the issue will not help.

If it were to turn around and scrap the one resolution it has implemented on corruption, it will be punished by fed-up voters.

Nasrec resolution

While some claim that the “step-aside” rule is only a resolution of the National Executive Committee (NEC), the original resolution taken at the Nasrec conference in 2017 was far stronger.

It said that anyone accused of corruption should be removed, while the resolution of the NEC requires that someone be formally charged for the resolution to be invoked. 

Even if this resolution were overturned, there is still the ANC’s constitution, which, as former president Kgalema Motlanthe recently reminded the party, states that someone who is convicted of wrongdoing is no longer eligible for membership of the party. It has simply been ignored for many years.

Also, were the resolution to be overturned at the ANC’s December conference, it may well lead to another form of chaos, in that Magashule, who currently cannot challenge for office or even attend the conference, may argue that he should now be allowed to contest for a leadership position. And that if the conference were over, he would have been unfairly treated and so it should be held again.

One can well imagine the legal and political mess.

But, in essence, the real problem within the ANC remains the same: that, as others have noted, the delegates who voted for the resolution to remove those accused of corruption from their positions also voted in favour of Ace Magashule to be secretary-general.

Underneath this is another issue, which is that ANC conference delegates appear to consistently vote in favour of people against whom corruption accusations have been made. This mirrors the situation in the US where people voted for Donald Trump despite the long list of accusations against him.

Until the ANC is able to deal with this issue, it will not be able to resolve its corruption problem — which will continue to weaken it in the eyes of voters. DM

More From Daily Maverick

Daily Maverick
Daily Maverick
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon