South Africa

Analysis: Zuma’s 2019 options

By Stephen Grootes 29 May 2017

On Thursday 25 May a group of academics published a piece of work detailing how they believe President Jacob Zuma has managed to capture South Africa. They went into great detail, looking at the important appointments, examining how this network was set up, and investigating the roles of people like Malusi Gigaba and others. On Sunday, both the Sunday Times and the City Press splashed with what are now known as the #GuptaEmails, which appear to show exactly how it was done. And then, on Sunday night, the ANC’s national executive committee decided to keep Zuma at the Union Buildings. For this reporter, one question is looming large: what is being planned by this faction for the 2019 elections? By STEPHEN GROOTES.

To go through the academics’ report on state capture is to realise that the people involved in actually making money from the state are properly organised. Great planning and thought went into it – it is well known that Zuma is a master of strategy and tactics. But it seems obvious, at least to those of us who consume independent media and live in the urban bubble that is the middle class, that Zuma is costing the ANC dearly. And that’s not just a statement based on Twitter traffic and calls to talk radio. The evidence of last year’s local elections shows that many people, across the inequality, race and class boards, have had enough of Zuma. And, just to add to the fun, last week’s by-election humiliation in Nquthu, for which Zuma campaigned personally, shows that the ANC can no longer take anything for granted.

It is rather striking that it is possible for Zuma’s faction to win the ANC’s December election. It’s impossible to predict now, but let’s just say for argument’s sake that he has the resources and the organisation to do it. But, the question that keeps many a responsible South African awake at night then is this: what is the founding president of the Robben Island Chess Club planning to do in 2019? If you accept that he needs to keep the ANC in power, and himself and Duduzane out of jail, how does he go about it?

Of course, it’s impossible to put yourself in someone else’s head. Zuma has outsmarted many people in the past, and it’s possible he could do so again. But how?

Different people I’ve spoken to have different views on this.

The political analyst Professor Steven Friedman makes two points. The first is that, even if it loses the national election, the ANC is still likely to win up to seven provinces in 2019 (it’s already lost the Western Cape and it’s almost certainly going to lose Gauteng, especially should Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma become its main symbol). That means there will still be plenty of patronage available for those who play by those sorts of rules. But, the scope for proper corruption would be limited, if, by losing control of national government, Zuma would lose control of the National Prosecuting Authority, and other arms of the security cluster as well. To put it another way, it would be much harder to get away with that kind of thing in the provinces if you no longer control the Hawks.

Friedman’s second point is that it is really almost impossible to steal an election in this country. He points to the involvement of party agents at every step of the process as the spine of the system. And thus he says that to do it you would have to bribe a large number of opposition party agents. That of course would be hugely expensive, but more important, massively risky. It would only take one agent to record the deal on their phone, and the whole sorry mess would unravel.

Ralph Mathekga (the ever optimistic author of When Zuma Goes) has a slightly different take. He thinks Zuma could do two things. The first is that he, and the ANC, will still try to rely on the core voters of the party. These are the people who have always backed the ANC, and will turn out to cast their ballots. Obviously this is more likely in rural areas than it is in urban ones, and after the local elections, it may not be possible at all in urban ones.

His other thought is that Zuma, or Dlamini-Zuma, may decide to slightly scramble her slate. In other words, while she would still be the candidate for party leader, the mix of people on her slate with her would be a compromise. You can imagine how this can be done many different ways. There would be someone from Gauteng, for example, and someone to bring in the Eastern Cape vote, and perhaps even a person who currently appears to support Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

All of these scenarios are worth considering, and it is entirely possible that Zuma actually opts for a mixture of them. Something else that is certainly conceivable is that he actually has someone else up his sleeve, or some surprise that is currently impossible to predict. It wouldn’t be the first time.

One of the big questions that has hung around the ANC from 1994 onwards is where he gets its funding from. Luthuli House as a building is an expensive thing to run, the organisation to keep branches and regions functioning must cost much more than the annual membership fees and the state funding. When it comes to funding, that line between the ANC and the state must surely be growing wider and wider by the day. Considering that the ANC’s investment vehicle Chancellor House already has more than question marks around it, and that the party’s elections head Nomvula Mokonyane has claimed they spent a figure of R1-billion on last year’s polls, it would be fair to say the party has access to cash. Bucketloads of it. And so perhaps Zuma plans to simply campaign his way out of this problem.

That said, in a situation where Dlamini-Zuma is the ANC’s leader, the DA will have its own bucketloads. Many people, and many companies, will believe the election is their last chance to save the country. And so you could have a ghastly spending match between government money for the ANC and corporate money for the DA.

There are other factors to consider as well. It seems that Zuma is entirely used to being surrounded by two groups of people. The one group wears smart suits and try their best to keep people away from him. The other is usually an adoring, smiling and sometimes ululating crowd. This could suggest it’s possible that the bubble he lives in is very far removed from the bubbles which accommodate other South Africans. When someone like Zuma claims that the marches protesting against his reshuffle show that “racism is still alive”, and is met with the front page of The Sun tabloid with pictures of black protesters the next day, it could be claimed they’ve lost their touch.

Certainly Zuma seems to inhabit a very different South Africa to the rest of us. And it’s possible that he has underestimated the anger of many people towards him. In many ways, his strength has never actually been as a campaigner for the ANC (outside of KwaZulu-Natal), but his control of the ANC. That could mean it is possible he has misread the political situation in the country generally.

There are two things that I cling to in those long and sleepless nights. The first, and it’s worth repeating, is that it’s very hard to steal elections in this country. The second is that Zuma, and the people around him, have made serious mistakes before (Des van Rooyen… for example).

It is possible that he, and they, have misjudged South Africa, badly. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma addressing the Indigenous and Traditional Leaders Indaba held at Birchwood Hotel in Boksburg under the theme ‘Unity in Diversity – Together moving South Africa forward for an inclusive prosperous future’. 29/05/2017 Kopano Tlape GCIS