South Africa

Reporter’s Notebook: Magashule’s Q&Ace – lack of answers a ‘monumental waste of time’

Three rounds of questions. Three rounds of answers. The room full of journalists at the briefing at Luthuli House grew increasingly frustrated as ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule did not detail what the ANC would do if President Jacob Zuma refuses to resign. GREG NICOLSON was there.

Besides getting official confirmation of a decision to recall President Jacob Zuma, the ANC offered more questions than answers at a highly anticipated media briefing on Tuesday.

ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule looked down at his statement when he finally made the announcement. He had entered the room along with his deputy, Jessie Duarte, spokesperson Pule Mabe and a handful of ANC officials who jostled for space as the leaders took to the stage, where an SABC reporter was about to do a live crossing.

At least 30 video cameras focused on the podium as journalists, editors, analysts and Luthuli House employees lined the walls and sat on the floor waiting for Magashule to reveal what had already been leaked to the media: the fate of President Jacob Zuma.

Magashule took the podium shortly after two o’clock – Cyril Ramaphosa’s ANC is all about punctuality (okay, postponements and punctuality) – and the room fell silent as he spoke into a bouquet of microphones fit for the political funeral of the man who has dominated South African politics for more than a decade.

The NEC therefore decided as follows: To recall its deployee, Comrade Jacob Zuma, in accordance with Rule of the ANC Constitution, which accords the NEC the authority to ‘recall any public representative’,” said Magashule.

There have been talks of Zuma’s recall since Ramaphosa was elected ANC president in December and party leaders have been in discussions with Zuma for weeks as he has refused to step down and tried to delay his departure. The announcement was just the next step and those of us standing were more concerned about toppling over in the crowd as photographers crammed through to get another angle.

Magashule, in a blue shirt and black, yellow and green tie, was measured as he continued to read the NEC statement. Duarte sat on stage wearing black. If the secretary-general was tired, he didn’t show it. On Monday evening he had sat through a 13-hour NEC meeting, darting off for an hour with Ramaphosa to tell Zuma the bad news, and he delivered the official recall notice to Zuma on Tuesday morning.

The most important information at press conferences comes out during the question and answer sessions and more than a dozen hands shot up when Mabe turned to the media.

Is he going to resign?”

What exactly is the reason for deciding to recall President Zuma?”

Is it not short-sighted of the ANC not to give President Zuma a deadline to resign?”

Will the ANC participate in a no-confidence vote if President Zuma does not resign?”

Was President Zuma awake when you visited him last night? Was he in his pyjamas?”

Three rounds of questions. Three rounds of answers. The room grew increasingly frustrated as Magashule did not detail what the ANC would do if Zuma refused to resign. Either the party does not know – although it has a number of complicated options – or, and most likely, Magashule was being cagey because the ball is still in Zuma’s court.

The president was awake when the secretary-general and Ramaphosa visited him on Monday night. They expect him to resign and haven’t discussed a motion of no confidence vote, said Magashule.

I’m sure tomorrow the president will respond. Tomorrow the president will respond,” he said, chuckling when a journalist said we know Zuma’s track record with sticking to deadlines.

If Zuma was watching the press conference, he might have smiled when Magashule said he wasn’t being recalled because of his wrongdoings but because the ANC wanted to appoint Ramaphosa due to society’s “uncertainty and anxiety” over its leadership and to create greater political and economic stability. A few journalists gasped.

President Zuma has not been found guilty at any court of law,” said Magashule, calling for his former ally to be respected and claiming that Zuma had not made any demands in the transition talks such as immunity from prosecution or that the state pays his ongoing legal bills.

Outside Luthuli House, as local journalists started their live crossings and the foreign press grabbed passersby for comment, one reporter said, “Well, that was a monumental waste of time.”

Zuma is on his way out, but now we have to wait for him to act as the ANC brokers the country’s future in closed negotiations and marathon meetings, as it has always done. DM

Photo: ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule dodges a barrage of questions at Luthuli House on Tuesday, 13 February, 2018. Photo: Greg Nicolson