While South African President Jacob Zuma is doing all in his power to ensure his pick — his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — is the next leader of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), and quite possibly of the country, the outcome of who will govern both is far from certain.
Despite Zuma’s efforts to ensure ‘more of the same’ under his ex-wife’s leadership, others are determined to end the scandal-rich corruption and patronage system imposed by the president and which has severely hampered SA’s ability to grow new jobs, enhance living standards for the poor and deliver on basic services.
As the ANC readies itself for a year-end elective conference at which the issue of its — and quite possibly South Africa’s — next leader will be decided, several figures have been touted as potential successors to Zuma.
Among these, the leading candidate, despite Zuma’s efforts, is the ANC’s wily deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Until recently, local pundits had it that Ramaphosa’s bid to be elected as the ANC leader — and the likely next South African president — were more or less dead in the water.
Commentary was that he seemed to have no co-ordinated strategy after ‘throwing his hat’ into the elective ring late last year and had had no discernible on-the-ground campaign to speak of.
On the other hand, the former African Union chairperson Dlamini-Zuma, having returned from an unremarkable stint at the AU, has hit the campaign trail running, showing up at all sorts of events as the main speaker and luminary despite currently holding no formal position in government.
Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign team looked organised and determined while Ramaphosa was characterised as ‘dithering’.
But he was not — he was biding his time.
There has long been a culture in the ruling party that it is ‘unseemly’ to be seen to be running for elected office in the party before the 11th hour, when an elective conference actually gets under way — and Zuma himself has been calling for that.
But that was just another Zuma ploy, it turns out, to have his hand-picked successor take the top job.
What Zuma wanted was for his ex-wife to get a huge head start and leave others, primarily Ramaphosa, in the dust.
But Ramaphosa has been ‘around the block’, as the saying goes, and has been quietly working back channels, even as loyalist Zuma lapdogs, specifically the ANC Women’s League and its once-feisty Youth League, have been touting Dlamini-Zuma as the heir-apparent.
What Ramaphosa has all in hand was made clear in a recent speech (April 24) in Port Elizabeth, where he openly and fiercely challenged Zuma on his running of both the party and the country.
Since then, Ramaphosa’s quiet work in the background has become apparent and his campaign is flying along.
Dlamini-Zuma’s public appearances, though numerous and heavily covered by pro-Zuma media, have, however, been lacklustre and thoroughly uninspiring — to the degree that, at a recent event, as the would-be next SA leader paused for applause, there was none forthcoming until the embarrassing silence was broken by her largely ineffective “cheering section”.
Indeed, Dlamini-Zuma has failed to ignite even mediocre spontaneous enthusiasm at the carefully selected events where she has spoken.
And she may have triggered another round of “State capture scandals” in the process, something which could easily end her bid to lead South Africa with a continuation of the same failed policies that Zuma’s baleful presidency has provided — but that is an as-yet-untold story for another day.
For his part, Ramaphosa has been naming names and calling Zuma out in an unprecedented fashion.
Sources close to the ‘top six’, the committee that runs the day-to-day affairs of the ANC, say that, away from the cameras, relations between Zuma and Ramaphosa would have to warm up considerably to be described as merely frosty.
Zuma’s high-handed attitude, which has seen him cited by the Constitutional Court — the highest in the land — as having failed in his constitutionally prescribed duties over multimillion-dollar upgrades to his family homestead in the country’s most populous province of KwaZulu-Natal, has been repeated with his recent midnight Cabinet reshuffle, in which loyalist but incompetent ministers were retained while some opposed to his desire to get his hands into the public coffers were ousted.
Just prior to her completion of her stint, the former Public Protector, whose job is to keep an eye on government officers up to and including the president, released a report on what is known here as “State capture”.
This refers to efforts, allegedly undertaken by a wealthy and powerful Indian immigrant family, the Guptas, to have Zuma and various other key government and parastatal senior executives doing their bidding, ostensibly to favour them in major deals.
Among these is a vastly expensive fleet of nuclear power plants, which even the government now admits South Africa does not need for at least the next 20 years.
The public outcry over State capture is at such a fever pitch that it has already weakened Dlamini-Zuma’s hopes to succeed her ex-husband at the helm — even his endorsement is a problem for her, by association.
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
Zuma has been painted as not merely incompetent but an outright mendacious character of low ethical standards who is prepared to harm his country’s economy severely in order to keep his pals’ noses in the public money feeding trough.
Harsh as such characterisations have been, they are increasingly difficult to refute convincingly.
And Ramaphosa has used his recent public platform outings to drive that point home in no uncertain terms.
He has called for a judicial commission of inquiry into allegations of State capture, essentially putting Zuma on notice that, should he become president, he will have him investigated.
NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS
This is on top of several hundred corruption charges lingering in semi-abeyance several years after a one-time friend and ‘associate’ was found guilty of corruption for his dubious dealings with Zuma and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Zuma is obviously determined to not only avoid jail time but also keep his and his family’s oar in the public funds waters for as long as possible.
For instance, the proposed nuclear deals with, among others, Russia and the US, would see his son’s company receive billions of dollars of public money for playing a peripheral role in seeing several unwanted and unnecessary nuclear power production plants into existence.
The Constitutional Court recently ruled that the deals, although signed by government officers, were invalid.
But this has not put off the Zuma administration, which now says it will simply go ahead, this time carry out the necessary public consultations and environmental impact studies that were not done before.
Zuma also wants former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s State of Capture report, which calls for a judicial inquiry, reviewed by the High Court.
Last week, a date for later in the year, probably October, was set for that review, even though it is understood that Zuma has been privately warned by legal experts that his prospects of success are low and the probability of such a review leading to formal inquiry high.
Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has in the past few weeks been popping up at events around the country and going into meetings with key ANC mid-level and provincial leaders in what is obviously a carefully devised strategy to do to Zuma what the latter did to former SA President Thabo Mbeki — an ambush at the elective conference of the party, due in December.
He has reportedly vowed to visit all nine provinces before the ANC’s June policy conference, a key precursor to the December conference and at which the battle lines will not only be clearly drawn but also crucial alliances and voting blocs will be formed or cemented.
While Zuma, and by extension Dlamini-Zuma, still hold the high ground as Zuma loyalists bend over backwards to create opportunities for Dlamini-Zuma to appear ‘presidential’ in public, Ramaphosa has stuck with his behind-the-scenes approach while also relying on growing anti-Zuma sentiment, which saw massive countrywide public marches and protests at Zuma’s State of the Nation address in February and then again several times since.
Recently, Ramaphosa received a boost from the ANC leadership in the country’s smallest region by population, the Northern Cape.
Contributing just five per cent of voting delegates at the year-end elective conference, this province is nonetheless important because it was the first to back him publicly, at its provincial congress.
Newly elected provincial leaders were quoted as saying that, while small in number, they had always backed the elective conference winner.
Ramaphosa is also expected to pick up delegates in other smaller provinces, and from the many but still silent ANC delegates who are doubtful that they may even have a job in government should anyone but Ramaphosa succeed Zuma.
Dlamini-Zuma, for her part, has received some support from at least four of the provinces that have vowed to remain loyal to Zuma.
But the days of getting a provincial vote en bloc may be over for Zuma as Ramaphosa is garnering a growing and increasingly vocal support group from regional leaders unhappy with those ANC leaders in the larger provinces who are expecting blind loyalty come December.
Even in Zuma’s seemingly impregnable home turf of KwaZulu-Natal, Ramaphosa has been campaigning ahead of key by-elections, with every indication that his lobbyists have been busy ‘in Zuma’s backyard’.
Sources have claimed that something like a third or more of the KwaZulu-Natal delegates — the largest voting bloc of all — will back Ramaphosa at the ANC conference.
Zuma loyalists have been combing through party lists from the regions, leaving the impression among those who don’t know any better that Ramaphosa has little support in most regions — but it is only an impression since most of his supporters are keeping their silence to ensure that they are not removed from the party’s regional delegate lists.
Because of all the behind-the-scenes machinations under way, it is literally impossible for anyone to have a real grip on who is making progress among likely voting delegates.
But the public anti-Zuma sentiment is now so strong that even having the word ‘Zuma’ as part of her surname is likely to cost Dlamini-Zuma in the party elections — and even more so in the 2019 national elections.
DEATH OF MINERS
Also weighing heavily on senior ANC leadership, even down to local government level, is the poor showing of the ruling party in last August’s municipal elections, where it garnered a mere 52 per cent of the total vote (14 per cent less than the last national government elections) and lost three major metropolitan areas, including the industrial and commercial hub Johannesburg and Pretoria, the administrative seat of power.
It is now being openly acknowledged that, without some major change and if things continue as they have, the ANC may no longer be the absolute winner in the 2019 national elections — and if its support drops below about 47 per cent it won’t even be able to team up with smaller parties to form a minority ‘government of national unity’, the latter having already been touted by some analysts as a possibility.
Ramaphosa’s single biggest hindrance is the idea in the popular mind that he was at least partly responsible for the deaths of dozens of mineworkers at Marikana, near Pretoria, in late 2012, when police opened fire on protesting workers.
He has let it be known, having already apologised in public for that event, that he plans to personally apologise to the widows of the mine workers who were killed.
That may help to fix his problem in this front.
Dlamini-Zuma’s main thrust, beside the backing of Zuma, is along the lines of ‘it’s time for a woman to lead’, which is a softer version of ‘it’s time for Zuma to go’, the chant among the hundreds of thousands who have a turned out to numerous anti-Zuma protests in the past few months.
Once, the ANC could paper over divisions within and between its members and its main partners, the SA Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu), with calls to ‘unity above all else’.
That no longer holds true; such are the divisions within the ANC with both leading Cosatu and SACP figures calling for him to step down.
When the jostling is over and the votes are counted, there seems under current conditions hardly any other candidate likely still to be standing with a hope of beating Ramaphosa, who has spent more than 20 years awaiting his time at the helm.