South Africa, Politics

Zuma’s road to Mangaung: New day, new village

By Sipho Hlongwane 26 April 2012

Now that the president has ensured a palace coup is extremely unlikely, he may feel entitled to rest in the knowledge that Mangaung has been won. But it hasn’t. He needs to find that pre-Polokwane “people’s president” buried deep within. He needs to hit the campaign trail. It’s time to win the branches over. Here’s some advice from our shadow campaign manager, SIPHO HLONGWANE.

President Jacob Zuma has made impressive strides in suppressing any and all mutinies within the ANC’s top rank. He’s eliminated the threat of the ANC Youth League faction at the forefront of efforts to remove him from power and replace his secretary-general, Gwede Mantashe, with Fikile Mbalula at Mangaung. He has also dealt, rather efficiently, with pretenders Mathews Phosa and Kgalema Motlanthe.

Think about where Zuma was at the beginning of 2010. He seemed unable to make any decision. He was, by most indications, the caretaker, one-term president he once promised he would be. He was the sort of man we were talking about because he’d knocked up a friend’s daughter and fluffed his lines during the State of the Nation address.

That is all behind him now. This is the sleeves-rolled-up Zuma. This is the most powerful person in the party right now.

When the ANCYL’s leaders complained before the national disciplinary committee that the charges brought against them were politically motivated, they weren’t technically wrong. It certainly says something that the charges brought at the end of last year were by the ANC national officials. That would be Zuma and Mantashe’s doing. The reasons for getting rid of Malema were political, even if the technicalities were all pseudo-legalistic and above board.

At any rate, Zuma has Malema exactly where he needs him to be: outside the tent ahead of Mangaung. And if there is one thing that is worse than being the guy who loses, it is being outside the system. Malema and Co are about to discover just how inhospitable that life can be.

With Malema’s political death go the ambitions of Fikile Mbalula. The campaigns by Phosa and Motlanthe were brought to a shuddering halt by the national officials calling a joint press conference in which they denied that there were divisions. The masterstroke was to make Motlanthe and Phosa say they were “united” with Zuma and Mantashe, which was basically saying that the people campaigning for them on the lam had to stop.

So, can Zuma now relax and coast to an easy win at Mangaung? No. His job is only half done. Taking care of any potential troublemakers for him at Luthuli House doesn’t solve that other big problem: ensuring he has the numbers among the delegates. That means courting branches, which is a lot of really hard work.

But on that count, Zuma has two things counting in his favour: the power of incumbency (all the king’s horses and all the king’s men) and the fact that he really knows how to work crowds in his favour. Zuma is really good at being a man of the people. It is how he won Polokwane.

Let’s talk about the power of incumbency first, because it’s the most straightforward advantage. Right now, Zuma. along with Mantashe, is the face of the ANC. They get to sign off on the decisions of the national executive committee and get to sit at the top of the table at big parties. There’s a certain advantage that comes with that. People know them. They basically know what they’ve got.

At worst, it’s a situation of the devil you know. And there’s another sinister element too – being in power in the ANC means being able to bring state power to bear as well. At its least innocuous level, this sort of power means slotting in many government positions with friends. Think of all the Zuma allies who now occupy top positions – people like Mo Shaik, Mac Maharaj, Pravin Gordhan, Jeff Radebe, Nathi Mthethwa and others. These people all have a certain interest in ensuring that Zuma wins the Mangaung contest.

Then there’s Zuma’s raw, populist power. It was the major deciding factor between him and Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane. Zuma was able to galvanise the masses to his cause, while Mbeki couldn’t really be bothered to.

Of late, Zuma has not been a populist. Not in the pre-Polokwane way anyway. But that is exactly what he needs to do now. Forget about big rallies and speeches in a suit. He needs to organise an election campaign team and form a mobile presidency unit. He needs to spend almost every waking hour out on the road, talking directly to people. He needs to answer a very simple question: how has the Zuma presidency changed the lives of ordinary ANC people.

The Zuma campaign needs sex appeal as well. Lots of it. Malema has had two things going for him: he has been seen all over the place, talking to people who feel like they have no hope for tomorrow and for whom nobody cares. He has made them feel that he cared, and they saw their hope in him.

Secondly, Zuma needs a slogan. The “Economic freedom in our lifetime” motto is one that people can coalesce around. Zuma needs such an easy, believable slogan, one that just rolls out of the lungs. He can’t be The Disciplinarian, which is who he is now.

He needs a positive, sunny message that makes people feel like they owe some or other improvement in their lives to Zuma. He needs to sing. He needs to dance. He needs to express his energy, passion and, yes, virility. People love that.

This needn’t be very difficult for him. He’s probably the best at this sort of thing (he’s got experience over Malema) and he’s got money backing him, which Malema will struggle to secure access to, now that he’s out of the power centre.

On Wednesday, the provincial branches of the ANCYL inadvertently handed Zuma something he can use out on the campaign trail. In response to the national disciplinary committee of appeals’ decision to uphold the expulsion of Malema, several provinces responded to say they still considered Malema their president.

“We have taken a decision, amongst other resolutions, to support our president until 2014. So we will rally behind the president until 2014,” said Che Selane, spokesman for the league in Limpopo.

The Eastern Cape ANCYL sounded a more cautionary note, but one which did not expressly speak of Malema in the past tense. Mpumalanga’s ANCYL also declared that Malema is still their leader.

The ANC seems to have a completely new problem on its hands – the breakdown of organisational cohesion. According to the ANC’s constitution, the decisions of the appeals committee are final and may be reviewed by the NEC only at that body’s discretion. What the ANCYL is doing now is tantamount to a direct “up yours” to the ANC’s constitution.

Zuma can use this insubordination to his own advantage. One of his campaign points should be that he is the man who is fighting to save the ANC from the extremists in its own ranks. He can either be seen to be eliminating these rogue elements in the party and then style himself as a sort of Indiana Jones who saved the 100-year old organisation, or he can turn branches and regions against the ANCYL and let them do the fighting for him.

The worst thing that Zuma can now do is sit back. It’s not over, not by a long shot. But he’s been a man of action before, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be so again. The people on the ground will love it. As long as he’s sleeping in a new village every night, he’ll be able to count on the majority of delegates at Mangaung to vote his way. DM

Photo: Jacob Zuma needs to hit the campaign trail. REUTERS.


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