South Africa

Election poster shock: It’s Zuma!

By Stephen Grootes 9 July 2013

As the public image of President Jacob Zuma, at least in urban areas, appears to be sinking to new lows, there seems to be more and more discussion in the commentariat around whether the ANC really has the gumption to make him the face of its 2014 election campaign. Get over it. It's going to happen. There are very strong reasons why Zuma can look the NEC in the face and say "I'm the best candidate". And he'd be right. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

It’s easy to mock Zuma. If you’re an urban-based, paid-up member of the Twitterati, then there’s plenty of fodder. To you…or to be more honest, us, as writers, the name Zuma tends to be followed by the phrase “Number One”, and then Nkandla, or Waterkloof. If you have several academic qualifications, then perhaps your focus is more on the Constitution, or the way in which Zuma has appeared to bend it.

And if you’re really an anti-Zuma-ite, then perhaps you start to mention those corruption charges, and the way that they were dropped against him back in 2009. You know, where the rot with the National Prosecuting Authority started.

When it comes to looking at the possible impact of Zuma on the ANC’s election poster, we then need to start factoring some of the hard electoral maths. Firstly, it’s the “born-free” election, the first time people born after Apartheid are voting. And of course there’s  more of a focus on the urban black vote than ever before.

We can also probably get away with presuming that Zuma is not going to attract many minority votes this time around as well. 2009 was the first time Indian and coloured voters looked at other parties outside the Western Cape, and in 2011 that trend gained momentum. Which is slightly odd, because Zuma is a far less racial president than Thabo Mbeki ever was. But that’s a discussion for another day.

However, we need to stop here, and start to consider if Zuma is really that much of a liability, electorally speaking. In other words, is he really likely to be rejected by that much of South Africa?

Firstly, the young vote can be almost entirely discounted. In South Africa, as in just about anywhere else in the world, the younger you are, the less likely you are to vote. And if you look at the registration figures in the last few elections, the graph demonstrates this very clearly. It’s really in your late thirties that you start taking an interest in public affairs.

There are exceptions to this, usually around a particular set of circumstances, or a particular candidate. Barak Obama certainly brought out the young vote in 2008, and the particular set of incidents in Tunisa and other countries that went through the Arab Spring (and Turkey) all involved young people.

But in boring, stable democracies like ours, that’s unlikely to be the case. One simply doesn’t get that Tahrir Square feeling.

However, the black urban vote is probably where opinions around Zuma have changed the most. In 2009 he was still able to cloak himself in a cloud of hurt around his charges, an anti-Mbeki campaign, and the general intrigue of political conspiracy. This time around, that’s not going to work. Instead, he’s more likely to be judged on his record in office, and how he’s fought corruption.

Oops.

It is this group of voters that needs to be won over by the ANC. Step forward, Cyril Ramaphosa.

Isn’t it interesting how quiet Ramphosa has been since being elected deputy leader of the ANC back in December? He’s pitched up in public fewer times than I have fingers on my right hand. And when he has spoken, it’s almost always been to support Zuma. At the State of the Nation or something like that.

It’s clear there is a political strategy at play here. For the moment, Luthuli House must have taken a decision to deliberately keep him off the public political stage. And this is where it starts to get interesting. What is the motive for this?

Is it because he is a threat to Zuma? That if Ramaphosa starts speaking, sensibly, and to the camera, there might be some kind of tsunami in his favour? That people in the provinces will ask why he can’t lead the party into its campaign…and then into the Union Buildings? And if that is the case, what is the definition of “Luthuli House” here? Is it just another way of saying “Number One”?

Or could it have been a joint decision, by, quite literally, all the leaders together? Could Ramaphosa have been persuaded that should he speak in public, it’s just going to lead to bloody agents like me writing pieces like this about whether Ramaphosa is really about to take over the ANC?

Possibly.

However, if the ANC is to have any chance at all of winning the urban vote, particularly in Gauteng, it will have to deploy Ramaphosa. And not to business this time, but to the hustings. And once he’s talking in public, that will lead to this kind of speculation anyway, no matter how many times he tries to stop it. It’s a process Gwede Mantashe is going to have to manage carefully.

In the final electoral analysis, though, even if there were a move to unseat Zuma before the elections, it would probably backfire quite badly. Because what Zuma delivers better than anyone else possibly could is Kwa-Zulu/Natal. And while it’s not the most populous province in the country anymore (Gauteng is) it still rocks the ANC vote. And that may well not happen if Zuma had somehow been deposed in another smoke-filled room. Zuma, being one of the best strategists South Africa has ever produced, will know this, and will be more than able to use it as his ace in the hole, should he need it.

On balance, the best bet for the ANC at the moment is in fact the Zuma/Ramaphosa combination. Zuma has to be Number One, because he needs to tell Umlazi that he’s in charge, and will represent them, not just policy wise, but actually them. If people need a reason to go out and vote, Zuma will supply it.

Ramaphosa has to stay Number Two, because he’ll play more of a reassuring role, explaining patiently again and again how the economy will improve, because of the ANC’s policies. He may not spend too much time on the National Development Plan.

When you look at it like this, you have to think those in the ANC are in a pretty good position. They’re able to manage several constituencies quite well, all at once. In American terms, one would talk about the balance of the ticket, in other words, how this ticket of leaders is attractive to broad groups of people.

But Zuma knew that a long time ago. Back when the KZN ANC put Ramaphosa on its election list two weeks before Mangaung. As he’d asked them to. DM

Photo by Reuters

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