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18 February 2018 23:41 (South Africa)
South Africa

ANC succession: Negotiated solution or Zumocracy 3.0?

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
    ranjeni munusami BW
    Ranjeni Munusamy

    Ranjeni Munusamy is a survivor of the Salem witch trials and has the scars to show it. She has a substantial collection of tattered t-shirts from having “been there and done it” – from government, the Zuma trials, spin-doctoring and upsetting the applecart in South African newsrooms. Following a rather unexciting exorcism ceremony, she traded her femme-fatale gear for a Macbook and a packet of Liquorice Allsorts. Her graduation Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks means she knows a thing or two about telling the South African story.

  • South Africa
Ranjeni-Third-term-plan.jpg

What does President Jacob Zuma want? Would he like to set off for Nkandla when his term ends in 2019 to muse about his colourful life 'till the end of his days? Would he want to remain active in public life, perhaps taking on international duties like other former heads of state? Or would he want to continue to run the ANC, the organisation he says is more important than the country? This is the missing element in the debate about whether Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma should be the next president. A divisive leadership battle could be avoided through a negotiated compromise but the matter might boil down to what Zuma wants. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

You will be hard pressed to find a statement from President Jacob Zuma in the run up to the ANC’s 2007 national conference in Polokwane saying that he wanted to be president. Neither would you find any statements saying he wanted to remain president before the 2012 ANC conference in Mangaung. What you will find is the often-abused party line that the ANC will decide where to deploy its leaders.

But in order to outmanoeuvre former president Thabo Mbeki for the ANC presidency, Zuma obviously wanted the position badly. It is unlikely that at the time Zuma thought about what his presidency would be like and the enormous power he would wield. In fact, in an interview in July 2008, Zuma said he wanted decentralise presidential powers, saying too much power in the presidency was a “dangerous thing”.

“Once you allow that tendency (of centralising power) you are in danger that the people will not be able to defend their democracy (or) defend their power. And I’ve been warning we should be wary of this, it is a dangerous thing,” Zuma told the Sunday Independent. It was an obvious dig at Mbeki’s leadership style and quite ironic now considering the assaults on the rule of law and constitutionality that occurred under the Zuma administration.

In the 2008 interview, Zuma also said he would “prefer to leave after one term”. “Even if it is not one term, I think in the second term I should be able to begin the process of winding down. I would allow open debate, not make people guess what is going to happen in terms of succession.

“This would allow the organisation to indicate what it wants. But if it was me deciding, if the ANC had made me president of the country (I would prefer one term).”

We now know that Zuma either changed his mind or was not serious on both the matter of serving one term and decentralising power in the presidency.

Mbeki was an extremely powerful president, masterful and Machiavellian, feared by many, taken seriously by world powers, intolerant of criticism and ruthless against his enemies. But Mbeki was weak in dealing with dissent in the ANC and the alliance, which is what allowed a faction to assemble around Zuma and engineer his downfall.

Zuma’s presidency is different. The first thing he did was consolidate his power base inside the party and set people up to crush dissenters. Contributing to Mbeki's downfall were securocrats with loyalty to the ANC rather than the president. Those controlling the state security apparatus now are loyal to Zuma alone. While Zuma gives the impression that he defers to the ANC, he has weakened the organisation to make it beholden to him.

Thus, despite Zuma’s appalling leadership of the ANC and the country, there is no visible opposition to his leadership in the party. He has never been challenged by the ANC on any of the controversies and the scandals that have plagued his presidency, on the poor performance of the state under his control or the damage to the ANC because of his actions or inaction. So despite Zuma claiming to be submissive to the will of the ANC, it is actually the ANC that is subservient to him.

This is why Zuma is so central to the succession debate and who will control the ANC after the party’s 2017 national elective conference.

An article run by the Rand Daily Mail, written under a pseudonym, claims there is a “secret plan” to have Zuma elected for a third term as ANC leader, while Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be deployed at president of the republic in 2019. The author claims that based on the support Zuma has now in the provinces, he is already secured of over 40% of the vote in 2017.

The author makes a valid argument that Zuma is popular and influential in ANC structures and could therefore manoeuvre a successful third-term bid. This is despite the fact that he said in a doorstop interview that he would “never ever” stand for a third term as ANC president. “Even if they beg me I won’t stand,” Zuma told the Mail & Guardian in October, on the sidelines of the ANC national general council.

But two weeks later, Zuma told Bloomberg that he would be guided by the ANC on whether he will stay on as ANC leader. Asked about his comments to the Mail & Guardian, Zuma said: “If there was any remark of that nature, it was a remark made, but not within how the ANC does things”. He went on to say: “Even the president has no right to take his own decision. We don’t act as individuals, the ANC guides us. When the time comes the ANC will direct us.”

Or, Zuma will direct the ANC.

While some Cosatu unions argued at their national congress last week that the ANC should be influenced to follow the tradition that the deputy president becomes president, the ANC Women’s League and provinces aligned with the formerly known “premier league” are driving a campaign for a women president. The ANC Youth League has said they wanted Zuma to stay on as ANC president. This means there are now three horses in the race and another intense leadership battle is brewing.

There is, of course, an obvious solution to the succession debate – through a negotiated settlement with the parties to prevent another crippling leadership battle and the destructive practice of slate politics. In 2017, Ramaphosa would be elected president and Dlamini-Zuma his deputy, with the proviso that Ramaphosa serves one term after which Dlamini-Zuma takes over. For it to work, the settlement will have to contain a requirement that neither Ramaphosa nor Dlamini-Zuma would allow Zuma to be prosecuted for corruption.

The formula would allow a smooth transition from Zuma to Ramaphosa and would guarantee the advocates for a woman president that Dlamini-Zuma would take the hot seat as ANC leader in 2022 and state president in 2024 – presuming the ANC remains in power.

But this all presumes that the factions are genuine about their respective desires for ANC tradition to prevail and for a woman president. Clearly there is more at play and these campaigns have more to do with vested interest and conquering opposition factions. It is also doubtful that Zuma would trust his successors to prevent him being prosecuted. Both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma could say they respected the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority (as should be the case) and could not interfere with its decision-making.

The only way Zuma can be assured that prosecution would be held off is if he remained ANC president and could exercise power over his successors. The power networks that have thrived and amassed wealth under the Zuma administration would then remain in the pound seats, able to enrich themselves through the state. Dlamini-Zuma would obviously have to agree to be a politically impotent president as power would be exercised by Zuma from Luthuli House. It is unlikely that Ramaphosa would participate in such an arrangement.

So Zuma, far from being the magnanimous leader he thought he would be in 2008, is nowhere near “winding down” his presidency to pass on the baton. Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaigns remain stillborn until Zuma gives clear indication of what he wants to do. Based on past experience, that is unlikely to happen anytime soon and the wave of uncertainty is likely to continue for at least another year, to the detriment of the economy, the national mood and the stability of the country.

For as long as Zuma’s power remains unchallenged in the ANC, the prospect of a third term as the party president remains a possibility. A challenge needs a challenger and so far, none exists – certainly nobody who can topple Zuma’s power base. As things stand, Zuma will either be integrally involved in the election of his successor or humbly accept deployment by the ANC for a third term as the party president. DM

  • Ranjeni Munusamy
    ranjeni munusami BW
    Ranjeni Munusamy

    Ranjeni Munusamy is a survivor of the Salem witch trials and has the scars to show it. She has a substantial collection of tattered t-shirts from having “been there and done it” – from government, the Zuma trials, spin-doctoring and upsetting the applecart in South African newsrooms. Following a rather unexciting exorcism ceremony, she traded her femme-fatale gear for a Macbook and a packet of Liquorice Allsorts. Her graduation Cum Laude from the School of Hard Knocks means she knows a thing or two about telling the South African story.

  • South Africa

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