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Presidential allies reckon they have the numbers to fight off a rebellion before national conference
Within three days of the parliamentary advisory panel's report on the Phala Phala affair landing on 30 November and concluding there may be grounds for his impeachment, President Cyril Ramaphosa has moved from resignation to fight back mode.
On the legal front, Ramaphosa's lawyers are filing papers with the Constitutional Court today (5 December) calling for judicial review of the panel's conclusions. That could stall the move towards an impeachment vote but it could also mean a forensic examination of the entire affair and some of Ramaphosa's business dealings.
Should the Constitutional Court take up the case, that would work in Ramaphosa's favour. It would give Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, parliamentary speaker and Ramaphosa ally, an argument to delay the 6 December debate on his impeachment until after the Constitutional Court rules. That ruling is likely to be after the African National Congress's national conference from 16-20 December (AC Vol 63 No 24, A December surprise threatens Ramaphosa's second term).
That could keep Ramaphosa in the running in the leadership stakes in elections at the conference to secure another term as ANC President. It would also complicate the race for his main rivals ANC Treasurer General Paul Mashatile and former Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.
Much will hang on what happens at the party's National Executive Meeting today (5 December). The 80-member committee could decide to recall Ramaphosa while the legal processes play out, leaving Deputy President David 'DD' Mabuza as a stand-in until the national conference. That would have the virtue of consistency with the 'step-aside' rule to which the party agreed last year.
Many ANC supporters view that as the worst of all possible worlds and destabilising the leadership of the party further. Added to that, Mabuza isn't a very popular figure in the party as last month's branch nominations showed.
The longer Ramaphosa can drag out the process, the more he can use his incumbency to bolster his position within the party. ANC delegates will also consider electoral calculations – that Ramaphosa remains more popular than his party – and might serve their interests best if they keep him in place until the 2024 elections.
But that looks an age away. This week he will be fighting for his survival day by day.
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