The Year That Was

Zuma delivered as expected, but not in full

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President Jacob Zuma delivered in 2016 as we predicted, but not in full in terms of what many had hoped, and some crucial questions remain unanswered.

In our first edition of the year on 12 January we wrote: “Just about the only sure prediction that can be made about the South African domestic news scene in 2016 is that it will be largely dominated by the Zuma factor, like it did at the end of 2015.”

The 2015 year’s end was dominated by the by now infamous round of ‘musical chairs’ President Zuma played with the position of minister of finance – three incumbents in four days.

In that first edition of the year we also carried an article from the academic website The Conversation in which the head of the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Economic & Business Sciences, Jannie Rossouw, wrote: “The cost to South Africa of the mistake in appointing David van Rooyen as finance minister is completely overshadowed by the benefit of the knowledge that President Jacob Zuma’s grip on power is slipping.”

Events, especially on the political front, in the final quarter of 2016 proved Rossouw’s assessment at the time was also correct. His conclusion, however, that the “tumultuous events” may have a “silver lining” and should “instil South Africans with new hope: there is a future after the Zuma era”, a year later remains nothing but a silver lining.

In fact, at this stage the indications are that many more tumultuous months are ahead before the sun will rise over a post-Zuma era – at least six until the ANC’s policy and/or consultative conference in June 2017 or 12 until the party’s elective conference in December 2017 and possibly the national elections in 2019.

In our own article of January we identified a number of questions that arose from the events surrounding the finance ministry last December. On the first two – will Mr Zuma survive as ANC leader; and if replaced, how soon, by which mechanism? – answers are still outstanding and subject to a wide set of speculations.

On our third question, on how the controversies and uncertainties surrounding him will impact on the municipal elections – both in terms of voter turnout and ANC support – the answers are in. And on both counts they are overwhelmingly negative for the party.

The same goes for the question: “Will what has happened intensify divisions within the ANC and its governing alliance, as illustrated by the pronouncements of ANC leaders like former president Kgalema Motlanthe, former finance minister Trevor Manuel and the ANC’s head of economic transformation, Enoch Godongwana, who challenged senior party leaders to produce evidence that business manipulated global markets to undermine President Zuma?”

On that front the divisions and internal turmoil are still intensifying as 2016 is ending. On the final question, whether the events would “see the succession battle for the leadership of the ANC, which has already started, intensify and how they would influence the chances of various aspirants?”, some clarity is finally also starting to emerge.

A clear sign that the succession has started in earnest came when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, in a marked deviation from his characteristic very careful avoidance of controversy in public, last week told an audience, “we must make a concerted effort to correct some of the bad and deviant tendencies that have infiltrated our movement (ANC Alliance)”.    

He was the keynote speaker at the Nelson Mandela Memorial Dialogue of the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg and told guests that the country risked being diverted from the path it has chosen.

Ramaphosa focused extensively on the constitution, which Mandela signed into existence 20 years ago, and with which Mr Zuma was seen to be in conflict for some time now.

He highlighted the achievements of the past 20 years, but said ”we must acknowledge to a sense of unease about developments in the political sphere”.

Making a strong call for unity of purpose and action, he also said: “It is only through united action that we can collectively counter the effects of patronage, corruption and the unrestrained scramble for positions and resources.”

The battle for the soul and the leadership of the ANC is truly on. Judged by the events that dominated the political news scene in 2016, it is bound to remain tumultuous for the foreseeable future.

by Piet Coetzer

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