Jacob Zuma. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHN MACDOUGALL
Jacob Zuma. Picture: AFP PHOTO/JOHN MACDOUGALL

IN 2006, I decided to suspend my capacity for belief and disbelief and go where my analysis took me. The alternative was to allow my views and analysis to be coloured by the wishes and sentiments of protagonists and their disciples in the battle between the Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki camps.

The rewards came swiftly. Representatives of both sides in the battle for Polokwane bestowed upon me the dubious status of enemy of their high priests, Zuma and Mbeki. Every day at about 8am, a South African Broadcasting Corporation journalist would phone me to convey threats of things dire and painful on behalf of one of the camps. Basically, they wanted me to stop analysing the succession battle in the African National Congress (ANC) unless it was from their perspective.

Then, an operative from the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), a comrade I knew well, reminded me that my children were still very small, and then asked me to "pick a side" to avoid the dangers that are usually visited upon those who choose to be objective or balanced in their analyses.

He told me one of the sides, or both, would "crush" me if I didn’t pick a side.

Later that year, I was invited to address members of the political section of the NIA. At first I was sceptical, but finally agreed because it dawned on me that, unlike the intelligence services of the murderous apartheid state, the NIA’s primary task was defending our democracy. During the discussion, I insisted that our intelligence operatives were professionals and, as professionals, were not supposed to pick sides between Zuma and Mbeki.

This argument incensed some of them who, in response, argued that they were revolutionaries whose primary task was to defend the National Democratic Revolution (NDR). I pointed out that all sides in the Zuma-Mbeki factional dynamic had sworn their allegiance to the NDR. I argued that it was inconceivable that all of them were telling the truth.

I hope that, as I go along, the reasons for starting this column on a self-indulgent note will become obvious.

Ten years later, a new battle, very complex in nature and content, is brewing. Every side in this battle claims to be acting in defence of either the national interest, economic stability, the people or the ANC.

Again, as was the case 10 years ago, some of us in the media and other areas of political commentary are beginning to take sides. Again, we are beginning to talk and write as if the battle between the president and his finance minister is a battle between good and evil, when in fact it may be a battle between bad and bad or, as I like saying, a battle between angels with horns and demons with halos.

It is for these reasons that I have again decided to suspend my sense of belief and disbelief, since I am not ruling out the possibility that the national interest may have become the refuge of scoundrels.

So, what is really going on between Zuma and Pravin Gordhan? For starters, it would be naive to assume this is a straightforward battle between the two. I suspect what we are dealing with here is more complex. Furthermore, I have decided not to pay too much attention to the South African Revenue Service commissioner Tom Moyane in this column, because I think he is the meat in the sandwich. And what we must remember is that the course of history may be changed by a single event that falls outside the realm of regular expectations.

In June 2005, Mbeki fired Zuma as the deputy president of the country, and it is for this reason he now writes a weekly column. On December 9 last year, Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister, and it is for this reason he is not as powerful as he was the day before he made that decision.

In both cases, the decision makers seem not to have understood the limits of their power. In effect, like Jesus to Lazarus, Zuma has breathed new life into Gordhan. More important, by firing Nene, Zuma unleashed forces, inside and outside the ANC, that are beyond his control. The forces that are important are those that want the same thing — Zuma’s removal as president.

First among these are elements that are part of elite global and domestic business and economic networks. The irony is that these elements were opposed to Zuma going on trial on corruption charges prior to the 2009 elections because, in their view, such a trial would destabilise the country, something that would have been bad for their accumulation of wealth.

Now, if my sources are anything to go by, they are prepared to offer the president millions upon millions if, as part of some amnesty arrangement that offers him immunity from prosecution, he agrees to hand the keys of the Union Buildings to them. This, I’m told but am not convinced, would open the floodgates of foreign direct investment to our shores.

The second force is that of disgruntled disciples who feel betrayed by their high priest’s decision to throw them under the fast-moving Nkandla bus. The third consists of those who believe he has become a liability to the country and the ANC, and has sold the country to corrupt leaders on the continent, corrupt business networks, as well as Russia and China.

The fourth comprises those whose interests have been affected negatively by what they believe is a Zuma administration that is taking SA outside the Western sphere of influence. And then, of course, there is the battle for the souls of the state and the state within the state, also known as the Treasury. If Gordhan’s words are anything to go by, he is, ostensibly, acting in defence of his integrity, the country, our economy, the integrity of the Treasury and our democracy.

But we must not be fooled into thinking the common interest of removing Zuma as head of state means all these forces want the same thing beyond Zuma’s demise. We need to appreciate that the rubbish that is part of our national life at the moment will continue to occupy the space beyond Zuma’s demise — assuming, of course, he falls on the many swords lying in wait.

Zuma’s demise will, on its own, not help much. What SA needs are greater levels of alignment between conviction and courage which, in turn, will produce a moment of serious realignment in values inside and outside the ANC. For now, I am suspending my belief in heroes and villains.

• Matshiqi is an independent political analyst