Election Watch

Municipal elections to become plebiscite about Zuma

Zuma must go.jpg

There are increasing signs that the ANC is planning to have the August municipal elections – if they indeed happen – double up as a popular plebiscite about the future of President Jacob Zuma.

Taken with the many reports reflecting divisions within the ANC about Mr Zuma’s continued leadership and widespread civil society protests against him, two other reports this last Friday strongly suggest such an option.

On Friday the Mail and Guardian (M&G) reported ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe as saying the party was looking at a middle ground position between calls for Zuma to step down now and for him to not go at all.

Virtually confirming the divisions within the party and that what some describe as a Zuma exit plan is being worked on, he said: “If you say he must not go at all, you are showing society the middle finger. And if you say he must go now, you are destroying the ANC. We have a middle-ground solution.”  

Later that very same day Mr Zuma addressing the party’s Gauteng Provincial General Council, which in April called on him to “do the right thing”, said about the upcoming municipal elections: “We have to go back to basics. Go back to our people and ask them to renew the mandate of ANC to lead our people ... In simple words, vote for us again. Take us back.”

Read between the lines

In these times of high uncertainty and high stakes for various stakeholders in positions of power and amid the power struggles that go with it, straight answers to straight questions are usually a rarity. One has to read between the lines, more often than not.

From experience in political reporting during the days of the so-called ‘verlig-verkramp’ battle (between those regarded as enlightened, as opposed to narrow-minded) in the National Party of the 1980s, I know that for journalists it is a time of ‘for the record’ and ‘not for attribution’ kind of interviews.

In the M&G report of its interview with Mantashe there is also a part in which they quote an “unnamed” ANC official who said: “I love President Zuma but I can’t be part of those who want to destroy the ANC. It can’t be that the organisation must disintegrate because of one man.

“This country requires a unique intervention.”

My guess is that this quote comes from the “not for attribution” part of the Mantashe interview, as does the part that suggests that the top ANC leadership will reveal their plan within the next two weeks – probably because they are waiting for the judgement of the Constitutional Court on the IEC’s request of clarity on the question of voters’ addresses on the voters roll.

Be that as it may, reports have been around since mid-April when the ANC launched its election manifesto before a disappointingly small crowd, that senior ANC leaders‚ including some based at the ANC HQ‚ are among the authors of the “Zuma exit plan”.

Time for speculation

During such a time of a curious mix in the flow of information between official statements, interviews (both ‘on’ and ‘off the record’) and ‘kite-flying’, offensive and defensive rumours between opposing factions, speculations are also the order of the day.

So is the spinning out of different scenarios and possibilities making for a very confusing news scene. The present political scene in South Africa is no exception – from Zuma succession battles, with the names of various possible contenders and their prospects being bandied around, to a totally different political dispensation and transition to full-blooded coalition government(s) emerging after the August election.

The one constant in this all is that one man, President Jacob Zuma, has thrown South Africa’s political scene into deep uncertainty, with profound implications for social stability and the country’s economy.

A final possibility

What, just possibly, could happen is that from all of this a situation will emerge in which the voters of South Africa not only go to the ballot box to elect municipal representatives but also to cast their vote in a referendum, in one way or another, linked to the future of Mr Zuma.

If that happens, it would be a huge breakthrough for a true peoples’ democracy in South Africa.

by Piet Coetzer

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