South Africa on the verge of a new era
Against the backdrop of post-liberation politics in Africa, which in many cases witness change within the first 20-30 years, South Africa may be ripe for its place in history, especially if the President Jacob Zuma-led ruling African National Congress (ANC) fails to reinvent itself, shed the toga of loyalty to individual and impotency in the face of erring party members. Twenty-two years after liberation and close to its fifth round of local government elections, the country may be catching the cold.
It has been said in many circles that the ruling ANC, including its affiliates –– the National Executive Council (NEC), the entire Cabinet, the parliamentary caucuses of both houses, the Women’s League and Youth League –– seem intent on maintaining a policy of “ANC first” and then “South Africa second.” The recent half-hearted response of the party to President Zuma’s financial misconduct, as ruled by the Constitutional Court, has sent the warning signals to many. “It’s a product of our electoral system. A list-based PR system allows the people who determine the lists, to pack their party structures with people who then owe them their jobs,” Mr. Grant Masterson of Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy (EISA) told The Guardian.
Noting that though the ANC denies this, Masterson stated that there are clearly competing factions within the party’s ranks who are positioning themselves for life inside the ANC after Zuma. “Those in his inner circle may have hoped that life after Zuma would start in 2019, but the scandals and judgments against him are making it more and more difficult to defend him.
Meanwhile, others within the ANC believe his presidency is critically damaging the ANC collective. This type of positioning is normal ahead of elective conferences within the party, but the possibility that Zuma is removed before the next elective conference is causing all sorts of internal disagreements. The top leadership want to promote party unity above all else,” he said.
In 2009 President Zuma allegedly marshalled into positions of influence those loyal to him, while spending the next five years going after those who oppose his style. Former General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), Mr. Zwelinzima Vavi, and former President of the ANC Youth League, Mr. Julius Malema, soon ran into troubled waters with the President, having originally supported his candidacy wholeheartedly.
In 2014 President Zuma was able to place his own loyalists, not only within the ANC lists, but also by selecting cabinet ministers loyal to him, in particular in the vital security clusters, as well as placing the party’s chairperson, Baleka Mbete, as Speaker of the parliament. Zuma may have covered all his bases tightly.
Also to the President’s advantage, he is Zulu, and KwaZulu-Natal is both South Africa’s largest province, as well as, the largest branch of the ANC. According to Steven Gruzd of the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA), “What we are seeing is patronage. Too many depend on the President for power and wealth. The ANC has overwhelming majority in the parliament. However, Zuma’s hold is slowly eroding.”
The ANC seems to have a culture of unity before all else. So, having to discipline their own President brings back painful memories of former President Thabo Mbeki’s recall that split the party and saw a breakaway to form the Congress of the People (CP).
“It seems that as this is an election year they fear such a split, given their tenuous hold over some key urban areas, which they may lose; especially Nelson Mandela Metropolis and Johannesburg and Pretoria. The next sore point, since Zuma has survived the court’s ruling and vote to remove him in the parliament, is the local government elections.
“The ANC is a house divided and even die-hard supporters are losing faith in the party. So, if the ANC suffers higher than expected losses in those elections, it may bring us to a new contest around Zuma’s leadership. Campaigning has been forced to adapt into a defense of Zuma as President and that can’t be good for the ANC come election time as local government elections have lower turnout than national elections and are mostly about service delivery more than personalities.”
The South African economy is heavily concentrated in nine major urban areas and those metro councils are likely to be up for grabs this year. “It is possible that the national ANC government will have to coexist with opposition councils in major economic hubs, which would make our political landscape more complex, increase tensions around debates on decentralisation and indicate weakness ahead of the elective conference the ANC holds in 2017,” Masterson said.
While many dismiss Zuma as not too well educated, few would doubt his political shrewdness and survivor instinct in the face of adversity.
Gradually however, South Africans appear to have resigned to fate, as focus is beginning to shift to Zuma’s successor. For now, at least up till 2019, the ANC domination of the political landscape is not under serious threat. Seen as having the outsider’s chance, Zuma’s former wife, Ms. Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma, is believed to be interested in the top job.
Pointer to this came into light when she failed to pick interest for a second stint in her current job as the chairperson of the African Union Commission (AUC).
While Dlamini-Zuma seem set for a high position within the ANC, possibly even as president of the party, deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa might prove to be the likeliest successor to Zuma.
Since 1994, the deputy President of the ANC has had the incumbent advantage in winning succession races within the ANC and although Dlamini-Zuma deserves respect for her track record and experience, many South Africans often underrated her due to a perceived lack of charisma.
On the other hand, the country might still be thrown into a political dilemma if President Zuma decides to run for a third term as ANC president. Although, South Africa’s Constitution limits the President to a maximum of two terms, the ANC’s constitution has no term limits for its president. There was talk in 2007 when Mbeki was seeking a third term as ANC president, to limit the terms to two, and thus synchronise it with that of government. However, the ANC’s constitution was not changed, nor was any resolution passed, which disallowed more than two terms for an ANC President.
Though in power because of the party, the ANC may have largely lost its way under Zuma.
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