Southern Africa Watch

Democracy on trial at upcoming political conferences

Zuma and Mugabe.jpg

Two crucial party political conferences are set to change Southern Africa’s the political landscape significantly. While 2017 might be winding down but politically the region is on the boil.

December promises political fireworks. Zimbabwe’s the ruling Zanu-PF party conference takes place from 12-17 December and the ANC’s national elective conference is scheduled for 16-20 December. Both are crucial and the outcomes will be far reaching for both countries and the region.

Different outcomes

The outcome of the Zanu-PF conference is the more predictable one, with 93 year old president Robert Mugabe already anointed as presidential candidate for next year’s general election. All eyes will, however, be on Grace Mugabe and her expected appointed to replace Vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, dramatically sacked by President Mugabe last Monday  

The conference should also provide a clearer picture of Zanu-PF’s internal dynamics and therefore a window into Zimbabwe’s future, which once again is heading for stormy waters as President Mugabe’s health, deteriorates.

Zimbabwean media quoted a leaked security report revealing that Mugabe's doctors had recently informed Grace Mugabe that the president was "unlikely to live for too long." This motivated her to demand Mnangagwa's sacking to remove the main obstacle in her bid to succeed her husband.

True to any political party, there are various factions with own agendas at work within Zanu-PF, but with the powerful Mnangagwa faction now all but eliminated, Mugabe has yet again proved his shrewdness and confirmed his unchallenged control over the party, despite many observers claiming it was slipping. Any anti-Mugabe factions, if there are any left, will keep a low profile during the conference.

At the ANC conference it will be a different story. If the conference, if it takes place at the scheduled date, promises to deliver even more high drama than the 2007 in Polokwane when Zuma defeated Thabo Mbeki to become ANC president.

However, this time Zuma will watch anxiously so see if his preferred successor and former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will defeat Cyril Ramaphosa.  

For Jacob Zuma it will not be as plain sailing as it is for Robert Mugabe. Not only is the ANC beset by factional infighting, with a break-up of the party, particularly the tri-partite alliance, a real possibility.

Zuma has lost much of the control and influence he once had over the party, and despite arrogance and bravado, a lame duck president. All the controversy following him lately and the damning revelations in Jacques Pauw’s bestselling book ‘The President’s Keepers’ took its toll.

But, he has repeatedly shown that he is most dangerous when he seems to be politically out on his feet, with the canning ability to recover and bounce back with a vengeance.

As the conference approaches Zuma is again fighting for survival. It is imperative for him that his former wife is elected as next ANC president. Her victory is his “do not go to jail” ticket and vital in his endeavors to stay out of court to answer the 738 criminal charges against him.

South Africans and observers will follow the conference with keen interest, not only because choices made are crucial for the country’s immediate future, but also to see if the ANC will commit hara-kiri by continued failing to deal with the kleptocracy that has taken hold of the party under Zuma leadership.

It will take a lot more than all the talk and promises by senior party members and “ANC veterans” to turn the party’s fortunes around and save it from defeat in the 2019 general elections.

Zuma has a lot less control over developments than Mugabe and developments are a lot less predictable, as one would expect it to be in a vibrant democracy, while Zimbabwe hardly still qualify for such a label.

The events and outcomes at the ANC conference in a month’s time would determine in which direction South Africa is heading.

No statesmen

Both Zuma and Mugabe hardly qualifies to be called statesmen. They have proven to be exceptionally crafty and cunning political strategists with a calculated, cold blooded, mean streak, willing to use and abuse others, including former comrades, like Mugabe did with Mnangagwa.  

The general view was that Mnangawa’s march to replace Mugabe as president was unassailable, untouchable because of his closeness to Mugabe – a relationship he described as “one between a father and a son” – and his standing in the security establishment.

The unceremonious way in which Mugabe dumped Mnangagwa proved how wrong this perception was and the control and cunning Mugabe still exercises.

Mnangagwa, if reports are true, had to flee Zimbabwe like a thief in the night and his current whereabouts is highly speculative. According to some media reports he fled by road to Beira in Mozambique and from there to Johannesburg to meet up with supporters and to contemplate his next move. Another report had it that he has flown to China where he once served as ambassador. 

To date nothing has come from the many claims that Mnangagwa has the support of the security establishment and that they might intervene, even carry out a coup, if Mugabe should act against him.  Such a turn of events look very unlikely at this stage.  

It would be very difficult for Mnangagwa to make a comeback, politically he is probably history.  Not only has he been dumped as vice-president but is also expelled from Zanu-PF. Mugabe outfoxed him and everyone that predicted his demise. 

Speculations are rife that defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi is now the new heir to the throne and rumour has it that he will be appointed at the Zanu-PF conference as third vice president with Grace Mugabe and Phelekezela Mphoko, occupying the other two vice president spots.

This is bad news for Sekeramayi. History has shown that to be named Mugabe’s successor is a poisoned chalice while Grace Mugabe hovers in the background and having the ear of the president. He only has to look at what happened to Joice Mujuru and Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Zuma and his faction in the ANC would find it extremely difficult to establish Mugabe-like control in South Africa – at least in the near future. However, come 2018 and the political landscape in both South Africa and in Zimbabwe are going to look at lot different.

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by Garth Cilliers

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