Political Watch opinion

Zuma has still not arrived in the New South Africa

Pres. Zuma

 What has become known as the ‘SARS Wars’ have all the hallmarks of President Jacob Zuma stuck in the style of ANC inside-politics dating back to the pre-1994 days of the liberation struggle.

What is happening around the South African Revenue Service (SARS), the position of Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan and an investigation by the Police Special Investigative Unit (Hawks) has everything to do with President Zuma’s slipping position within the ANC and very little with his responsibilities as head of state.

In his battle to retain his hold on power within the ANC, which is increasingly taking on the character of a final stand, Mr Zuma is falling back on his historical role as boss man in the intelligence network of the ANC in exile – as he did in his rise to the pinnacle of ANC power by replacing Mr Thabo Mbeki as ANC president in 2007.

It is a battle that has been coming for some time as he got himself involved in scandal after scandal and controversy after controversy – dating back to his days as deputy president under President Mbeki.

It is important to remember that Mbeki, at the time, was trying to protect the integrity of the state by removing his deputy, who was facing corruption charges. Those corruption charges are also back in play with the Democratic Party’s court bid to have them reinstated.

Final battle

The scene for Mr Zuma’s final battle for control in the ANC, and smooth access to state resources, started in December 2015 with the surprise appointment of Mr Des van Rooyen as minister of finance and then his forced back-down four days later.

Little else illustrates better how Mr Zuma went back to his roots as liberation struggle ‘spook boss’ – if he has ever moved on from there – than the fact that Van Rooyen is one of his “comrades´ from those days and secretary of the MK Veterans’ Association – a strong lobby group within the ANC, although not part of formal structures.

Indicative of how strong a role loyalties of this brotherhood from those days play in the world of Jacob Zuma, is not only his recent reference to Van Rooyen as his “comrade” but also – amid the Hawks’ onslaught on Mr Gordhan – as the best-qualified minister of finance he has ever appointed.

Apart from Mr Zuma being forced, mainly from within the ANC, to back down on the Van Rooyen appointment, the strongest indication of his power inside the ANC slipping came from ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe.

While Mr Zuma called on Mr Gordhan to fully cooperate with the Hawks, Mantashe accused the Hawks of sabotage for sending 27 questions to Gordhan four days before his budget speech and questioned the leaking of the fact to the media. “Something is going on here that is gravely unsettling,” he said.

The ANC’s alliance partner, the South African Communist Party, also publically supported Gordhan.

Respected political columnist and commentator Max du Preez also last week noted how the SARS special investigative unit, target of the Hawks investigation, had investigated close business associates of Mr Zuma, and how state security minister, and Zuma loyalist, David Mahlobo, tried to cover up a dossier from the SARS investigative unit.

Du Preez also noted how, besides Mantashe’s overt and public support of Gordhan and his position, the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte, apparently sent a covert message for Mr Zuma. She invited, as her personal guests to Zuma’s state of the nation address “three old Zuma victims/foes: former Hawks head Anwa Dramat, former SARS deputy commissioner Ivan Pillay and former Independent Police Investigative Directorate head Robert McBride”.

Changed power base

Dennis Bloem of the opposition Congress of the People (Cope) in a statement last week also observed that Mr Zuma has shown no interest in acting against SARS commissioner Tom Moyane (appointed by Mr Zuma) “even though‚ in Gordhan’s words‚ Moyane was behaving in a ‘totally unacceptable’ manner by defying his orders to halt the overhaul of SARS management”.

The structures of the ANC, by electing their own leader/president, effectively also has, as governing party, the power to elect the president of the country.

However, the power base has totally shifted since 1994.

The power to lead the ANC, and for now the country, no longer just resides with its own membership lists and its internal democratic process, which determines who are delegates to its elective conferences.

The list that ultimately counts is the total national voter’s role. Without majority support from that list, its party leader will remain just that – a party leader.

This is the reality that Mantashe, and for that matter the next generation of ANC leaders, had to come to grips with. Mr Zuma is only the proxy of that reality.

All indications are that Mr Zuma has failed to come to grips with this new reality. A reality that, to wide expectations, will clearly manifest itself in the municipal elections later this year. It might be his final undoing.

Will Zuma survive?

Against this background the chances of Mr Zuma surviving in the office of president until the end of his present term of office have diminished considerably in the most recent weeks.

The how and when, however, are still unsure. Damage control will be one of the main concerns of Mantashe and the party’s collective leadership – or at least those who understand the powers locked up in the voters roll.

They just cannot continue with a leader who has not yet arrived in the ‘New South Africa’.

by Piet Coetzer

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