Possibly the greatest lesson from the ANC’s 52nd conference in Polokwane was that if you find yourself in the losing faction, your political destiny is doomed. The ruling party is gearing for the most epic internal battle in its history with an all or nothing gamble at Mangaung. Well, that’s unless they strike a deal beforehand to offset the showdown. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Could Jacob Zuma be offered a deal which would see him exit the ANC presidential race in a “dignified” manner? Political analyst and author William Gumede thinks this could be the best way out for the ANC to circumvent another messy scrap at its national conference in December.
Such a deal would be complex. It could be a compromise scenario to split the ANC and state presidencies, would need to include immunity from prosecution for Zuma and protect his family and allies’ business interests, Gumede said.
Speaking at a business breakfast in Rosebank on Monday, he said an exit deal for Zuma would also have to entail incentives for his KwaZulu-Natal support base, which is determined to secure the president a second term.
While the country is fixated by the pre-Mangaung factional battles, the acclaimed author is projecting that if Zuma is re-elected as ANC president it could lead to a split in the party as the discord between various factions would worsen in the ideological and policy void.
“If Zuma is re-elected on the back of KZN, he could be ousted in the same way as (Thabo) Mbeki,” Gumede said.
A political deal may not be that far-fetched as early in his presidency, Zuma indicated that he only wished to serve a single term. He also initially seemed amenable to an arrangement which would see him retain the ANC presidency, while Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe became state president in 2014. However, pushed by his support base and cohorts who have benefitted from his presidency through political patronage, Zuma now appears determined to secure a second term.
But, Gumede said, the fact that Zuma’s camp has approached businessman and ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) Member Cyril Ramaphosa to stand on a joint ticket means his supporters are aware the president may not be able to win the election on his own and would need Ramaphosa to “balance out his weaknesses”.
The incentive being presented to Ramaphosa is that he would take over as state president in 2014 on condition that he gives Zuma a “Berlusconi-like” immunity from prosecution and protect his family’s business interests, Gumede said. He was referring to the legal protection given to former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to evade criminal prosecution.
The revival of the criminal case against Zuma, for which he was indicted several times before the National Prosecuting Authority withdrew charges, was a real fear for the president and was another reason he needed to retain the ANC presidency. Gumede said some people in the ANC were determined to “take Zuma down legally” and as long as he remained president, he could fight off such attempts.
He said Zuma’s main strategy now seems to be to prevent a fierce contest at Mangaung. However, the constituency which brought him to power had no ideological or policy commonality other than wanting Mbeki out.
“That constituency is now broken up and support for Zuma has been reconfigured. Zuma’s presidential style is to present himself as a leader with no specific policy to hold his constituency together,” Gumede said. This exposed “big weaknesses” in terms of governance.
An analysis of electoral patterns also shows that the ANC is losing support “in every constituency except KwaZulu-Natal”, said Gumede. The ruling party has drawn supporters from the IFP, which Gumede called “floating votes”, with support for “Zuma the personality” rather than the ANC.
The policy conference showed that Zuma had the full support of one province, KwaZulu-Natal, much of Mpumalanga and half of the Free State, said Gumede. All other provinces appeared to be opposed to him. Zuma’s presidency would be “in trouble” if he only had real backing in one province and did not have significant support in the NEC and cadres in the civil service.
Zuma also has divided support in the trade unions, and the decision by Cosatu not to support any individual in the succession battle “masks a bitter contest within”.
All these could build towards a split in the ANC if Zuma was re-elected, he said. Or it could mean that within two or three years, Zuma’s detractors in the party could push for him to be ousted from office.
Gumede said both Motlanthe and Ramaphosa are reluctant to contest the ANC presidency, preferring the position be delivered to them, either through the incumbent agreeing to step aside or through a compromise deal. Motlanthe was running his campaign within the ANC rules and wanted to secure his presidency on his own terms rather than those of the factions supporting him.
If Motlanthe decided he didn’t want “to be part of a dirty political game”, Tokyo Sexwale, the outside contender, would step forward to represent the “disappointed opponents to Zuma”, Gumede said.
“Tokyo seems prepared to fight tough, hard and dirty like Zuma, and he’s happy to stitch together his constituencies from people like the (ANC) Youth League and the unions,” he said.
All these leaders vying for the ANC presidency were “candidates of the centre”, who were on the middle ground of the party, Gumede said. While the radicals and populists were trying to influence the candidates, even issues such as nationalisation being advocated by the ANC Youth league were on the agenda for strategic compromises.
Speaking at the same breakfast, author and analyst Daniel Silke said there was a sense of “insecurity” in the ruling party as it was “fearful of electoral decline”. The ANC was also under threat by “changing dynamics of the black middle class with an urban Facebook young generation”. The party was trying to mutate and change to retain its support base and taking measures like bolstering the public sector to keep its supporters on the government payroll, Silke said.
As the ANC moves into a “volatile era” of incremental electoral decline, it would have to decide how to tackle this “at the polls or by gerrymandering with the Constitution”, Silke said. This would be a critical juncture for South Africa where the ruling party had never before been threatened at the polls.
If the analysts are on point, the ANC and South Africa are heading for stormy waters. Chartering this territory would require a leader with mettle, clear policy direction and minimum contestation in their core constituency—all of which the incumbent lacks.
Zuma could ignore the warning signs and go for broke, but he would run the risk of facing the same consequences his predecessor did. While Mbeki could still ride off into the sunset—or Sudan—and repair parts of his legacy, Zuma’s legal nightmares could return to haunt him. Or he could give in to a deal that would give him a gracious exit and pacify his constituency.
Time is fast running out for him to make that critical decision which will determine whether Mangaung will indeed be the ANC’s date with destiny. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma (Reuters)