South Africa, Politics

ANC Succession: If things seem quiet now, don’t panic. It won’t last long

By Stephen Grootes 8 June 2017

Most great political wars have ebbs and flows – as one candidate leads another falls behind. In our case, the main contest is between President Jacob Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma on the one side, and deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on the other. But it is also a battle over whether Zuma is a legitimate leader, and whether most people believe he is corrupt or not. The last few weeks have seen Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma appear politically becalmed amidst the storm raging around them. They seem, at the moment, unable to respond, or generate any forward movement. If this continues, they run the risk of allowing the other side to build momentum that becomes unstoppable. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

When dealing with dynamics and developments in the ANC, it is important to remember that those of us in the commentariat are only able to report and analyse events that we are aware of. The ANC is a big organisation, with hundreds of branches around the country. If it is difficult for a Gwede Mantashe to know what is happening in the party, it is impossible for a journalist, unless given limitless resources, to actually know. That said, it is important also to look at what is happening “above the line” in a bid  understand what is happening in the party. If this sounds like a health warning, it is: It’s very difficult to make predictions at the moment.

That said, the last six weeks has seen two major developments in the ANC’s leadership battle. The first is the almost “coming out” of Ramaphosa’s presidential campaign. Speaking publicly, Ramaphosa has been sharing more of what is on his mind and in doing so has given the impression that he has political space in which to move.

The other is, of course, the revelation-after-revelation that is the Gupta emails leak – a trove of communications between the Gupta family and their employees, that has been published by the Daily Maverick’s Scorpio and amaBhungane, #GuptaLeaks. For the emails to have a political impact, they have to be both genuine, and be seen to be genuine.

The reaction of the Guptas, government officials and other people involved shows that there can surely be no doubt as to their authenticity. What is startling about the reaction of those named in these emails is that there has been hardly any reaction at all. There are no denials. No angry statements. No hasty lawyers’ letters to media organisations warning of incredibly expensive legal action to follow which will result in the closure of said organisation unless it stops publishing this. In fact, noticeably absent from all of the responses – whether from Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, or Gupta attorney, Gert van der Merwe, or government itself – has been the word “defamatory”. Instead, the main reaction has been an incredibly weak response, generally centered around the idea that this Minister/lawyer/Gupta won’t respond to emails “whose authenticity has not been proven”.

The first of these emails were published ten days ago. That is a long time to cement perceptions in the public mind. If anyone were to try to claim now that these emails were not genuine, it would be too late. The perception has been cemented that they were true. And they would face questions about why they did not deny their authenticity earlier.

Communications Minister Ayanda Dlodlo has confirmed the contents of at least one series of emails. She has explained that she did go to Dubai and stay at the Oberei Hotel (like so many other stars of these mails) and that the bill was paid for by Fana Hlongwane. She may, as she has explained, have a long relationship with him that goes back decades, but surely anyone who knows anything about the arms deal knows that he is trouble. Just ask Mcebisi Jonas.

What all of this means, politically speaking, is that these emails will have to be dealt with as if they are true, if only because the perception has taken hold that they are.

This weakens the faction led by Zuma. It makes it much harder for someone like Gigaba to deny that they are captured, when so many details have emerged about the consequences of the appointments he has made to the boards of state owned enterprises.

The question then is: What impact will this have on Dlamini-Zuma? Her campaign started with a bang. There was a glorious welcome from the ANC Youth League upon her arrival at OR Tambo International Airport from the African Union, followed by several speeches. These speeches were spectacularly factional (one contained three easy to prove untruths, leading to commentary that in fact she is a wonderfully bad populist). Then there was the retreat to KwaZulu/Natal, and the anointing of her campaign by Zuma himself. Since then, there has been almost total silence, that is until she popped up on Wednesday to receive the “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Africa Energy Forum. Apparently, this is for her services to this industry. And it was given to her during the Forum which is currently underway in the well-known African capital of Copenhagen.

In the meantime, there are various proxy battles underway, that involve the dynamics that will propel either her (unless of course she is a ruse and Zuma has some other Ace up his sleeve) or Ramaphosa to the Union Buildings.

In the Eastern Cape the campaign to elect Jonas to the position of provincial leader received a boost this week with the backing of former Nelson Mandela Bay Metro mayor Nceba Faku. While victory is far from certain (he’s fighting against the incumbent, Premier Phumlo Masualle), if he were to win there, this would suggest that the Eastern Cape would back Ramaphosa. The province has the second biggest number of ANC branches after KZN itself, so it could be vital later down the track.

At the same time, there has been some possibly important developments in the Northern Cape. There, the party has gone through a conference that saw Zamani Saul becoming the new leader, to take over from John Block, who is facing a jail term. Saul was up against current Premier Sylvia Lucas who refused nomination at the last moment saying she she would go to the ANC’s national executive committee to argue that the process being followed wasn’t fair. The NEC has gathered, met, and refused to act. Which means Saul now has a free hand there. And yes, he supports Ramaphosa too.

Our politics, by South African standards, has been quiet this week but things are going to pick up again soon. The ANC’s policy conference will provide the best yardstick so far of how the leadership race is going. Almost immediately afterwards will come the SACP conference, which could actually be more momentous. If things seem quiet now, don’t worry, it won’t last long. DM

Photo: President Jacob Zuma with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa during the Presidency Budget Vote 1 in the National Assembly, Parliament, Cape Town on May 31, 2017. Photo: Elmond Jiyane, GCIS.


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