South Africa Watch

Post Zuma era: The who, what, where, when and how?


The confusing political noise of rumour upon rumour, revelation upon revelation, and speculation upon speculation, leadership aspirants posturing posturing and much more, is but the overture of the post Zuma era taking centre stage in South Africa.

For reporters, commentators, expert observers, and even lead players, it is presently extremely difficult to hear the melody, telling them what to expect in the drama about to unfold.

Every aspirant journalist in training is taught – or should be – that every decent report should answer five basic questions accurately, summarised in the four “w’s” and one “h” in our headline.

At this stage it is only on the “h” that there are some elements, and just elements, of certainty. It will start off pretty chaotic and extremely challenging for whoever becomes the “who,” (as in the new leader of government), and for the country as a whole, not only because of all the persistent uncertainties about all five questions, but also some certainties there are about the “what.”


At least one of the contenders for the “who-position,” Deputy-president Cyril Ramaphosa, last week identified some of those certainties at different public appearances. These include:

  • South Africa is no longer a rainbow nation but a country that’s been captured by certain interests, turning it into the “corruption capital of the world,” and those interests are highly unlikely to just ‘let-go’ because there is a new “who” in place;
  • The bitter factional divides that developed during the 2007 ANC leadership battle, not only morphed into a culture of personality politics but spread to provincial and organisational structures of the ruling party, putting its transition from liberation movement to a full-fledged political party on hold, now threatening its very existence;
  • A prolonged process of musical-chairs in the executive – 126 changes in just 8 years – and constant replacement of heads of departments and top management of state owned enterprises (SOEs) and other state institutions and ANC cadre deployment to key positions in state administration that followed, robbed the state of expertise and irreplaceable institutional memory;
  • Manipulation of the administration of justice has seen institutions like the Special Investigation Unit (Hawks) and National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) going into paralysis in the pursuit of the perpetrators of corruption and state capture, bringing powerful institutions from other countries, like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) into play. Future international arrest warrants, even for a former “number one,” is not impossible; and
  • On many fronts the South African economy is with its back to the wall from the financial position of several SOEs, neglected infrastructure, a skills deficit, and policy uncertainty impacting on it credit worthiness. 

The when and where

When the ”when and where” of the post-Zuma era will end is at present the subject of much uncertainty and speculation and dependent on a number of possible permutations.

Top of the list is the increasing possibility that the planned/scheduled mid-December ANC elective conference might not actually materialise. Internal battles, some leading to court cases, others threatening an escalation of violence in some areas, might trip up the conference before it happens.

The when could happen at the conference, if Zuma voluntarily or under pressure steps down as head of state immediately or soon after his successor as party leader has been elected. It could, however also happens before the conference, should the NPA in November decide to reinstate corruption and fraud charges against him.

The latest it can come is at the general election scheduled for 2019. Depending on what happens at and after the elective conference within in the ANC, a number of possibilities could come on the table, like if and when there is a break-a-way from the ANC, another attempt in a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Zuma, the criminal charges against him and developments in the FBI and FSO-investigations.

If the Zuma-era lasts until he 2019 general election, the “when”(election date) become fixed. As does the “where” – being the general ballot box, where the ‘next-who’ will largely be determined.

New uncertainty

We say largely determined because a number of new uncertainties enter the fray if it gets to that point, depending what happens within the ANC, between opposition parties during the run-up and during the election, new opposition parties possibly entering the race and what happens between parties once the votes are counted.

For one, at this point it is not certain if the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the labour federation, Cosatu, will still be part of the ANC-alliance, if the SACP will contest the election under its own banner, and what its impact will be.

If the ANC should get less than 50% of the vote in 2019, will there be enough cohesion amongst opposition parties to form a coalition government or will one of the smaller parties be in a position to be a so-called king-maker? Maybe the Economic Freedom Fighters, or even the SACP, or an ANC-breakaway party.

At this point the possibilities are almost limitless.

Two certainties and the ‘how’

At this stage there are only two ‘certainties’ on the South African political stage, with one somewhat stronger than the other.

The strongest ‘certainty,’ is that uncertainty will remain with us at least until the 2019 election and for at least a few months after the results have been announced.

The other, almost as strong a certainty, is that whoever becomes the new number-one, will need at least his/her first term in office, and probably a second term, to clean-up the mess left behind by the Zuma-administration.

He or she will also not succeed unless he or she is able to harness substantial forces of goodwill from the business community, and civil society, to create a new unifying dream for the country and all its communities.

by Piet Coetzer

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