Over the last three weeks or so it has become apparent that the race to succeed President Jacob Zuma as leader of the ANC now has three serious contenders, instead of just two. ANC Treasurer Zweli Mkhize has since become a serious contender, joining Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. This has led to speculation, so far without any hard evidence, that Mkhize has been President Jacob Zuma’s preferred candidate all along. This raises the question then of how this race would look if Dlamini Zuma were to pull out. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
If there is one thing that President Jacob Zuma has shown he is a master at, it is the art of the long game, the placing of pieces in particular positions for use when necessary. He is also excellent at the short game, his apparent manipulation of the process that saw the IFP nominating Advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane to the position of public protector – and her actions in making decisions that seem to weaken his opponents is testament to that. When Mkhize first became seen as a real candidate in this race, there was immediate whispering that Zuma was behind this all along. But that whisper has since started to grow louder. On Monday UDM leader Bantu Holomisa made the claim in public, and the always prescient and observant Professor Anthony Butler has also suggested that this has been the plan all along.
In many ways, this must be hugely insulting to Mkhize. He may feel that he is running on his own two feet, and that to be tied to Zuma in any way is potentially damaging for his campaign. He has in large measure succeeded in giving an impression of being a “Mr Clean”. In fact, should he win the ANC leadership in December, the reaction of the markets is likely to be almost as positive as if Ramaphosa were to emerge victorious. Some analysts watching all of this from foreign capitals even appear to believe that Mkhize would be more able to carry through reforms to the economy than Ramaphosa. This may be because he would appear to have broader support, but also because of his role in pushing Zuma to remove Des van Rooyen as Finance Minister during those dark days of December 2015 and appoint Pravin Gordhan to the position instead.
And it is this incident that must test the claims that he is “Zuma’s man”. What happened then was surely Mkhize pushing hard against Zuma. While he may have been speaking for the upper leadership of the ANC (which is hard to know, Jessie Duarte certainly didn’t seem to have a problem with changes to the Treasury), he would surely have had to twist Zuma’s arm hard to rescind Van Rooyen’s appointment. And we do know that Zuma really wanted to make that move permanent, based on the number of visits Van Rooyen paid to the Guptas’ Saxonwold fortress.
Mkhize also appeared to be highly critical of Zuma’s behaviour during the incident that led to him being charged with rape. In a recent statement reacting to a claim about the events in 2006, Mkhize said this, “Inasmuch as I personally still had fundamental difficulty with what appeared to be relationship between the President and Fezeka, given our history as three families, I had to respect the fact that Fezeka was now an adult who was entitled to make her own life choices.” That surely suggests he was condemnatory of Zuma’s actions in this incident. And for him to make this public now suggests that this may have changed the relationship between them.
It is important to repeat that in some ways, this question really doesn’t matter. Even if Mkhize has the backing of Zuma in this, and some deal were struck (and it’s hard to imagine an explicit deal was agreed to as long as five years ago), there are plenty of examples of people turning on their former champions when they gain real political power. There is no reason to think that Mkhize would not turn on Zuma, or at least just ignore him, were he to ascend to the Union Buildings.
Then there is the question of why Zuma would go to these lengths – why would he pull a move like this; where he puts his ex-wife through the indignity of running a campaign that was destined to fail from square one. Especially when she may well have been able to get a second term as Chair of the African Union Commission. That’s quite a sacrifice to make. It would surely indicate that Zuma has been desperate, and aware that there was no way he could actually prevail in any other way. It would suggest that he knows he is deeply unpopular in many parts of the party, and the country, and thus has to play an incredibly dirty game just to have any chance. Zuma has not indicated this level of self-knowledge in the past. It may be a mistake to assume that he “gets” how he is viewed now.
It would also suggest that Zuma really is petrified of a Ramaphosa victory. That he is going to great lengths to keep the man he made Deputy President out of the top job. The question then would be why? Are things so bad between them that Zuma believes Ramaphosa would immediately move to reinstate the corruption charges against him? Could it be a straight patronage fight where he wants to protect the ill-gotten gains of his family (and another…)? What then happened between Ramaphosa and Zuma in the years since 2012, when he became deputy leader of the ANC?
This entire turn of events, should it happen that way, would also reveal, again, that Zuma has no political ideology. He clearly would not care what happens to the country from a policy point of view. In other words, there would be no ideological direction that he would want South Africa to continue to move in. It would confirm Zuma’s apparent lack of interest in actual governance, and his obsession with power.
For those who want to cling to this theory, and who want to believe that Zuma is still pulling every string going, they may find some succour in the behaviour of Mpumalanga ANC leader (and Premier) David Mabuza. Many people have been at a loss to explain his sudden move to push for a unity candidate at this late stage, particularly when Mabuza has always appeared to back Zuma, and their interests still appear to be aligned. Considering that Mkhize is the person to gain from this move, Mabuza’s move could be offered as the explanation.
However, it is also obvious that should Dlamini Zuma withdraw from the race at any stage between now and actual voting day, she was the stalking horse all along. That would surely give the game away, people would know that this would be to the benefit of Mkhize (unless of course Ramaphosa were to withdraw at the same time, as part of a deal between them all). And that would be interpreted as Zuma trying to still control the ANC from the political grave.
That then leads to what a straight race between Mkhize and Ramaphosa would look like. It would be a contest of a “constitutionalist reformer” and an “economic reformer”. Ideologically, this would be a much tighter race than Ramaphosa/Dlamini Zuma. Neither of the main candidates would spend their time talking about “Radical Economic Transformation” or land expropriation without compensation. Mzwanele Manyi would be a loser long before the first ballot was cast. This would surely mean that chances of ANC policy remaining as they are would be much greater. Paradoxically, it could also mean economic policy changing for the better after December, in that whoever won could claim to have a mandate to use more orthodox policy to make the economy great again. With an election due in 2019 and unemployment rising, this would be the best way to win that poll.
Were Dlamini Zuma to pull out, Mkhize may be able to get almost all of KwaZulu-Natal behind him. That, with presumably much of the Free State, all of Mpumalanga, and probably North West as well (along with support from other places) would probably put in a strong position. Strangely, the person with the most to lose if she withdraws could be Ramaphosa.
All of that said, it seems unlikely that we will ever get a straight definitive answer to this. It seems unlikely that Mkhize would be Zuma’s chosen one all along. Even for Zuma, it could be just too conspiratorial. What these scenarios really reveal, is just how fundamentally weak is the Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign. DM
Photo: Zweli Mkhize and President Jacob Zuma at the final session of the ANC’s National Policy Conference, held at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg. 5 July 2017. Picture: IHSAAN HAFFEJEE