South Africa

Threat of pro-Zuma breakaway emerges as reality bites ANC at manifesto launch

By Ranjeni Munusamy 18 April 2016

It will be written off as a logistics cock-up. Transport hitches, miscommunication, bad service providers – there have been all sorts of excuses from the ANC for the poor showing in Nelson Mandela Bay. The bad turnout at the ANC’s manifesto rally provided a strong dose of reality, showing the level of discontent in the party. Still, the ANC cannot purge itself of its biggest liability. While it has been reported that a secret mission is under way to dislodge President Jacob Zuma, there are also alleged threats of a mass breakaway should the ANC attempt to get rid of its leader. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

If the ANC had to make a list of pros and cons for removing President Jacob Zuma from office, they would probably find more reasons not to do so, among them removing two consecutively elected presidents in a row and succumbing to the pressure of the opposition.

Of course, if the rest of society had to do the same, there would be no cons. There would just be the big plus of ridding South Africa of the worst leader it could possibly have – someone who breached the Constitution and who plunged the country into economic peril by firing a finance minister who was trying to protect the integrity of the state.

But the ANC has other considerations. The ANC’s biggest fear is losing power and dominance. It believes it can keep its majority control of the country by closing ranks and keeping all its factions and interest groups under its umbrella, even if they are at war with each other over power and resources. If the ANC loses its dominance, its power is diminished and its sphere of influence is reduced. That will mean far fewer people in its ranks will get to serve in high-flying positions in the state and Parliament, and it will also lose absolute control of the levers of state.

It is the understanding of this fear that has apparently motivated some of Zuma’s most ardent supporters to threaten that if the president is dislodged from his position before his term of office ends, they would lead a breakaway from the ANC. On the face of it this prospect sounds illogical. Why would the people in the pound seats surrender the ANC brand to their opponents in the party and go the way of the Congress of the People and the Economic Freedom Fighters to form a new breakaway party?

It all sounded like an unrealistic prospect until it became apparent that such a party would be backed financially by the Gupta family. Suddenly it is not so improbable. If the president were to be removed from his position, and the taps at national level closed off, the new party would then fight for control of the provinces where Zuma’s allies hold sway and control resources.

It is one thing to risk losing votes because of he reputational damage Zuma has caused to the ANC; it is a whole other matter to have the ANC split, lose its majority at national level and lose control of several provinces. Although the strength of the “premier league” faction in the ANC is untested, they are currently in control of the Free State, KwaZulu-Natal, North West and Mpumalanga. Combined with the ANC Youth League and ANC Women’s League, this faction could do serious damage to the ANC if the party decided to bite the bullet and remove Zuma.

So while there might be informal discussions about an exit plan for Zuma after the August local government elections, as reported in the Sunday Times, there are inherent dangers if these talks continue. The ANC cannot have these discussions openly as Zuma and his allies sit on every national structure in the party. Should those in the party advocating for a post-election exit want to eventually broach the subject, they risk being shunned and marginalised.

But even if this plan gains traction, the Zuma-Gupta-premier league network will never simply surrender. They will fight the plan and continue their mission to have a candidate of their choice appointed as Zuma’s successor. But if Zuma is kicked out prematurely and someone else is appointed to serve out the rest of the term, the faction backing Zuma will be disorientated and could lose their grip of sections of the state. The only way for them to fight back for control of the state might be from outside the ANC.

Zuma might give the impression that he would be willing to do what’s best for the ANC and that he will remain devoted to the organisation even if he is removed as its leader or recalled as state president. But behind the scenes, there would be a retaliation plan being hatched should such a prospect arise.

The Gupta family has no loyalty to the ANC even though some members of the family hold membership cards. It has been disclosed previously that they provided funding to the Democratic Alliance. Their loyalty and friendship seems woven to Zuma, his family and his allies, and they will continue to fund whoever serves them politically.

For now it seems the ANC is stuck with the decisions it has made. There will be no further discussion about Zuma’s future and his “apology” for the Nkandla confusion should be accepted and explained to ANC structures. Focus must remain on the local government election campaign for which the ANC must project a united front and parade its leaders on the ground the way it always does.

The ANC thought that was a workable plan – until it got to Nelson Mandela Bay.

The standard formula of deploying the national executive committee and top six officials to build momentum and excitement ahead of a big rally did not work so well. People appear to be fed up with the bad leadership and corruption that have plagued the region and were not interested in more empty promises from a compromised national leadership. Some leaders, like ANC Women’s League president and Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, experienced people’s anger first hand – and it seemed a bitter pill to swallow.

The normal pulse that defines big ANC events seemed to be absent in the stadium. ANC rallies are normally a show of force and a demonstration of the love and loyalty people have for the party. The abundance of empty seats emerged as the biggest talking point from the event. Many people who did make the journey to the stadium decided it was not worth their while to be there and left while Zuma was delivering his address.

The ANC top six officials, sitting on the main stage, looked distraught for most of the programme. There was no way for them to escape the consequences of their bad leadership and bad decisions as it was on display for the world to see.

In time to come, there will be many more indicators of the ANC’s failures and penalties for wanting to exist in splendid isolation from reality. When it comes to hard decisions, the threat of a pro-Zuma breakaway will seem more daunting than ridding the party and the country of its biggest liability. It will take a lot more than emptying stadiums for the ANC to confront its own folly. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma addresses supporters of his ruling African National Congress (ANC), at a rally to launch the ANC’s local government election manifesto in Port Elizabeth, April 16, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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