Melanie Verwoerd: Let's pray... How Zuma could use the churches to bring down Ramaphosa

For most of 2017 I predicted that the race for the ANC presidency between Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be extremely close and if Ramaphosa didn't obtain an overwhelming majority in the party's national executive committee (NEC) it would make it very dangerous and difficult for him to implement his reforms.

Since Nasrec I have also consistently warned that the Zuma faction is not dead and will continue to fight back.

This has become increasingly obvious over the last few weeks – in particular at Zuma's court appearance on Friday when he brought his A-team with him. The ever-faithful Carl Niehaus was there, as were Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Supra Mahumapelo, Des van Rooyen and Faith Muthambi.

We also saw the collapse of the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) provincial conference on Saturday after Zuma supporters prevented the chairperson of the ANC from speaking.

The newspapers have been filled with speculation of a possible breakaway or split in the ANC, which have been denied by the Zuma supporters.

I don't believe much of what the Zuma supporters say, but I do believe that they won't break away from the governing party. These guys want power and they know that no new party can at this stage overtake the ANC.

However, there is no doubt that the Zuma faction wants to get rid of Ramaphosa. They want to "take the ANC back", to quote secretary general Ace Magashule. They want revenge for the loss at Nasrec andthey want to ensure that money keeps flowing to them. Most importantly, they want to be safe from prosecution – something they can not be assured of under Ramaphosa's presidency.

There are only two (legal) ways to get rid of the current president before the next ANC national electoral conference in 2023.

Firstly, it can be done at a national general council (NGC) of the ANC. That is not an easy route to take. To get the NEC to agree to it would be difficult. I understand someone tried to raise an early NGC at the latest NEC meeting, but was shouted down.

They would then have to convince branches to support a motion to remove Ramaphosa as ANC president. This might also prove difficult, even if supported by the premier league provinces and KZN. These provinces are increasingly divided and Ramaphosa has enormous popularity among ordinary ANC members.

The only other way Ramaphosa's detractors could get rid of him is through the parliamentary processes. This is where it gets interesting.

From what I understand there has been a move by the Zuma camp to quietly support the formation of a political party by some of the indigenous churches – a kind of ACDP on steroids – especially in KZN and Gauteng. Rumours have it that the Zuma faction is supporting it with some money stashed away from the Gupta years.

This does not mean that any of the prominent Zuma-ites would join such a party. They only want to ensure that this party gets between 8-10% of the national vote at the national election. This would reduce the ANC majority, but it would remain the biggest party.

After the election, rumour has it, that the Zuma-iteswould then try to get rid of Ramaphosa at the election of the president in the National Assembly by forming an alliance with the EFF and this new party.

It is important to remember that the president is elected by the National Assembly through a secret ballot. Unlike with a vote of no confidence, where a majority of the house (201 votes) are required for the motion to pass, whoever gets the most votes becomes president.

So, let's assume the ANC gets 54% of the vote (less than in the 2014 national election, but the same as in the 2016 local government elections). This means the ANC will get 216 seats in the National Assembly. In the (unlikely) event of the DA retaining the same amount of support as in 2014 they will get 89 seats. If the EFF increases their vote to about 10% they will get 40 seats and if the new church party gets 8% they will get 32 seats.

Now, if the Zuma-ites constitute about 30% (70 seats) of the ANC MPs and if the EFF and the new church party join forces with the Zuma-ites they can form a voting block of 142 votes, leaving the ANC with 146 votes. This is tooclose for comfort for Ramaphosa, because with a few extra votes you can possibly have deputy president David Mabuza or another Zuma-ite becoming president and Julius Malema deputy president, for example.

In order to counter this, Ramaphosa will have to convince the DA to vote for him and not put up their own candidate – which might make for some really interesting horse trading. 

Of course, if the DA does not agree, it still leaves another 23 votes between the smaller parties, but if the Zuma-ites can convince the IFP to go with them (as is rumoured already), then it could possibly leave less than 10 opposition votes for Ramaphosa to play with.

I'm fully aware that this scenario is built on a lot of "ifs" and might seem very far-fetched – a feeling I shared when I first heard it. However, it is clear that Zuma and his supporters are growing in confidence. One also has to ask why Zuma has suddenly become so close to certain churches in KZN (a priest was even the MC at the event after his court appearance) and when you then start doing the math it does not seem impossible.

Clearly Zuma and his supporters are going nowhere and what happens in the next few months in KZN could be a deciding factor for Ramaphosa and the country's future.

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