As the race to be the next ANC leader and possibly (but no longer necessarily presumably) the next President of the country enters the four-month sprint, the space in which candidates can make mistakes is growing smaller. Big mistakes made now will be harder to recover from, because there is less time to change the narrative. At the same time, many people are waiting for President Jacob Zuma to do something to upset the playing field, or change the narrative. In the middle of all of this, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has made a mistake. She went to Marikana and was told that she was not wanted there. This adds to the available evidence that her campaign is not going well. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Marikana is a difficult place for establishment politicians. The EFF’s Julius Malema has made inroads there, partly because of his anti-establishment stance, and his public image of siding with those excluded by the system. The UDM’s Bantu Holomisa has also established credibility, perhaps because his stronghold in the Eastern Cape allows him to mix with miners who were originally from that province. But the DA’s Mmusi Maimane has had trouble. And of course, it is almost a no-go area for the ANC as a whole. For many in the Marikana community, it is the ANC that is responsible for the shooting of their miners in 2012. And how could they forget that it was the board member of Lonmin, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected deputy leader of the ANC in December 2012, just months after the shooting.
By now almost everybody knows how carefully one should tread. For the community, the area where the miners were killed by police is hallowed ground; it matters to them in a way that may be difficult to explain with words. So, one has to ask, what were Dlamini-Zuma and her strategists thinking when they thought they could go there? It was not just Dlamini-Zuma in a dignified small group of people coming to pay their respects. It was 30 minibus taxis carrying members of the ANC Women’s League. Imagine how you would feel if such an obviously campaigning group of people arrived at a site where your loved ones were remembered.
There are several aspects to this that deserve interrogation. The first is why Dlamini-Zuma went there in the first place. There is no history of her talking about Marikana. She did not rush to the site after the killings. Malema and Holomisa did, which explains why they are welcome there now. The main reason she went was surely to make a point about Ramaphosa. It was to remind everyone about his possible culpability. In other words, it was a bit of a stunt.
It was so obviously a stunt, it could be asked if she and her people felt it needed to be done just to regain the political agenda? And anyone who has ever been to Marikana would tell you that you need to lay the groundwork first. No-go zones are bad for everyone, but Marikana is a specific place where ANC leaders know they should stay away, at least for the moment. So why did Dlamini-Zuma think it would be okay? And why take so many ANC Women’s League members with you, serving as ostentatious proof that you were campaigning? This move also gives the unfortunate impression that Dlamini-Zuma has almost outsourced her campaign to the Women’s League. And given that its leader, Bathabile Dlamini, has what could charitably be described as an image problem, this is not the best impression.
Unfortunately, this has happened to Dlamini-Zuma before. In February, she went to the Eastern Cape for a meeting with the AmaXhosa King Mpendulo Zwelonke Sicgawu. He gave her short shrift, saying that the country was not ready for a woman president. His incredible sexism aside, it was the kind of incident that already suggested incompetence on the part of Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. Compare it, for a moment, to what happened last week around Ramaphosa. At the first hint of a suggestion (from Dlamini, and then Malema) that he may have assaulted his first wife, she was available for an interview and able to bat them off. That was turned into a win for Ramaphosa. There is no way that Dlamini-Zuma can turn what happened this week, or in February, into a win.
One of the main problems Dlamini-Zuma faces is that we still don’t really know what she stands for. Take the main issues in the political environment. There are the #GuptaLeaks emails and the economy generally (and particularly poverty). On the emails, Dlamini-Zuma has been virtually silent, and on the economy she has spoken only of Radical Economic Transformation without spelling out what that means (although she has said that it is “pro-South Africa” and not anti-white). Meanwhile, Ramaphosa has been spelling out his vision of how the country needs to change, and what needs to be done on corruption.
The difference between the two could hardly be more stark.
But this leads to other questions, about how these leadership battles are won in the first place. It cannot be said too often that one doesn’t win these things through one’s public or media image, it’s about what happens in ANC structures and supposedly the branches. But the picture there is incredibly opaque, and very difficult to predict.
All of this goes back to another question: why is Dlamini-Zuma the face of this campaign in the first place? She is still, with just four months to go, an incredibly odd choice of candidate. Yes, she has her own track record in government, it is true that she is a “capable and tested leader” of the ANC. But it takes more than that to win a campaign. It takes a will to win, and the ability to symbolise something. Ten years ago, Zuma was the symbol of the anti-Mbeki campaign which, with his own gifts for campaigning and his own track record, were enough to get him to the top. Dlamini-Zuma appears to lack those political gifts. This could strengthen the impression that Zuma selected her simply because there was no one else available. This is surely not the position he would want to be in. If he could, it would be a person whom he could trust implicitly, but also a person who could stand on his or her own two feet without him, if just to strengthen the campaign.
This then suggests that Zuma is in this position because he had to choose Ramaphosa as his deputy in 2012. Five years ago he needed Ramaphosa’s urbanity to balance his ticket. In other words, Zuma is in the position he is in, relying on a candidate who is campaigning poorly, because he had to make a short-term decision five years ago.
It is still foolish to make any kind of prediction in this race. The narrative can be changed, Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma may resort to more desperate measures because they “have to” win, the Premier League may well regroup, some kind of compromise may even emerge. But it may now be possible to say that Dlamini-Zuma has been a poor choice of candidate and the people around her are not doing their homework.
Time is running out. Any more mistakes now, for either side, could be fatal. DM
Photo: ANC presidential hopeful Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma miscalculated last week when she tried to visit Marikana. Here she takes a photo of delegates at the start of the ANC’s National Policy Conference in June. Photo: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE