Political Watch

Zuma’s succession awkward for ANC, good for country

Zuma countdown has started
Jacob Zuma.jpg

No one should have been surprised that the race to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president has started. It would have been bad for democracy if it hadn’t.

It is natural and to be expected in a democracy where the constitution places a cap on the number of consecutive terms a head of state is allowed to serve in office that leadership successor races should start before the end of a serving head of state’s term.

The normal or general pattern is that such races start around halfway through a serving head of state’s final term in office. It is also the practice if the aspiring head of state is the leader of his or her political party too.

The fact that the battle for the leadership of the ANC in the run-up to the elective conference of 2017 has started in earnest, should put to bed the possibility of President Zuma making a play for a third term as head of state – something that would require an amendment of the constitution.

What does make for an unusual situation is that it will (a) mean that Mr Zuma’s stint as leader of the ANC will end well before his last term in office ends with 2019’s general election and b) it will again create two centres of power between government and party – as it did in the transition between the Mbeki and Zuma administrations.

Awkward for ANC

As far back as February 2014 Dr Jan du Plessis, editor and publisher of Intersearch, wrote an article about a “major shift in the political culture of the South African society”.

In September this year we reported that “as popular protests soar amid unmet expectations in South Africa, the historical partnership between the country’s powerful labour movement and the governing ANC has begun to fall apart”.

In the meantime not only has this tension surrounding organised labour’s major federation (COSATU) as key member of the ANC-led governing alliance escalated, other tensions in what is effectively a political coalition since 1994 have surfaced as well.

The third member of the alliance, the South African Communist Party, and formations of the ANC, notably the ANC Youth League (ANCYL), have especially been at each other’s throats lately.

As we reported in May this year, the chances of a new, more formal coalition government are improving all the time – “as opposed to the ‘alliance’ version since 1994, and as is to be expected under South Africa’s proportional representative dispensation in terms of its constitution”.

In mid-October this year our guess was that after next year’s local government elections, coalition governments will take control in quite a number of municipalities, especially in larger urban areas.  

This notion seems to be confirmed by a detailed analysis published this week by Businesstech of last year’s general election and the latest Afrobarometer survey indicating an all-time low in support for President Zuma.

Against this background the early start of the leadership race comes at an awkward time for the ANC as the party battles to come to grips with the new political realities of politics in South Africa. It is a reality of politics being driven by issues often reflecting conflicts of interest, which remain imbedded in the way the alliance is organised.

In the process, with ‘liberation’ fading as a central driving force, the dominant factor has become what Justice Malala in his new book, We Have Now Begun Our Descent – How To Stop South Africa Losing Its Way, describes as a “personality cult” around Zuma.

Emerging new reality

The fracturing reality inside the ANC alliance is increasingly coming to the fore, not only in the increasing public spats between some of its constituent organisations, but also in the way they are organising themselves in so-called election slates around individual candidates.  

This is even happening within the individual organisations. Last week, for example, some trade unions inside COSATU already attempted to persuade the federation to pledge its support now for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

At this stage, the only other clearly identified candidate is current chairperson of the African Union, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, strongly punted by the ANC Women’s League (ANCWL).

But with the leadership election probably two years away – and it could be forced earlier with the clouds of upcoming court cases over President Zuma’s head – it is  early days. Not only can and probably will more candidates still emerge, but the results in next year’s municipal elections could bring new momentum to the realignments taking place in the broader political environment.

At this stage, however, there is no potential candidate for ANC leadership in sight that could keep the alliance together on the “personality cult” basis like Zuma did. The scene is being set for true coalition politics to develop.

It is making for uncertain and stormy times in the coming months and years leading up to the 2019 general elections. In the longer run we, however, believe it will deepen South Africa’s democracy and render the party political dispensation more representative of our immensely diverse population.

We agree with Malala’s assessment “that we (South Africans) have the ingredients to turn things around: our lauded Constitution, our wealth of talent, our history of activism and a democratic trajectory that can be used to stop the rot from setting in”.


by The Intelligence Bulletin team

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