Duduzane Zuma has no track record in the ANC, no constituency, and for many, no reputation.
There is also no evidence that he can offer solutions, a plan or even a vision for South Africa’s future.
He is also vastly different from his father in ways that could count against him.
That said, he does appear to have money, bucketloads of it. Sometimes, in politics, that is all you need.
Zuma’s promise to Rapport newspaper (and published in English in City Press) appears to be that he is now his “own man”, while also seeking to continue some of his father’s policies, specifically the RET red meat of nationalising the SA Reserve Bank, implementing free higher education, and land expropriation without compensation.
Still, he has a real struggle in front of him in order to build any constituency within the ANC.
For a start, he has never held any official position outside of being an ordinary branch member, and the president’s son. He has never contested for any position, never been elected and never undertaken any work on behalf of the ANC.
This means Duduzane Zuma has not built any natural constituency within the ANC. There appear to be no alliances, no groups of friends, no provincial organisation that will back him no matter what.
Contrast that to his father, who spent his entire adult life in the ANC before contesting for national power. By the time Jacob Zuma was elected ANC leader at Polokwane in 2007, he had been on the National Executive Committee for 30 years. He had been the national chair of the ANC, the party’s deputy secretary-general, its deputy president, and occupied senior roles in the KwaZulu-Natal and national governments.
For his son to now assume the top position in the party in one move seems unlikely.
Duduzane Zuma maintains that he is his “own man”. However, his own personal history, in terms of what is publicly available, does not provide much evidence of this.
At the age of 22 he started working for the Gupta family as a “trainee” at Sahara Computers.
Just six short years later, by the age of 28, he was a major part of the Gupta family’s bid to take over an incredibly valuable prospecting right, in a row involving ArcelorMittal and Imperial Crown Trading. This was a complicated issue, but essentially it involved Duduzane Zuma and the Guptas arranging a situation in which they would benefit, to the tune of R9-billion, by ensuring that their permit application for a mining right was accepted ahead of a company that had a stronger right.
The outcry was so intense that Duduzane Zuma eventually had to say in public that he would give up the R1-billion he would have earned from the deal.
The fallout from this issue led to the National Prosecuting Authority attempting to discipline its then prosecutor Glynnis Breytenbach, and possibly it forced her into politics.
By 2015, Bloomberg reported that Duduzane Zuma was on the board of at least 11 companies with members of the Gupta family.
It had been clear for years that their business interests were completely intertwined. Within a few years, “his own man” went from a “trainee” to being a major player in the Guptas’ empire, living in their complex in Saxonwold.
What did he bring to the enterprise, what skills or experience made him so valuable?
Despite denying, several times, that it was just his family name, no explanation has ever been given for his unique rise to economic power.
If it was the case that he had an unparalleled set of financial or business gifts, it would seem likely that other companies would have been interested in doing business with him. Instead, again based on what is publicly available, he has conducted business only with and through the Guptas.
He is not alone in this. The son of Ace Magashule, Tshepiso Magashule also lived with the Guptas for a time. The Mail & Guardian has reported that he had to be forcibly evicted from one of their buildings in Saxonwold.
What kind of campaign could Duduzane Zuma be able to mount to ensure he gains relevance of his own?
Perhaps the biggest strength that underpinned Jacob Zuma’s ascension to the presidency was the strong support he had in KwaZulu-Natal. During his time as ANC leader the party itself received much stronger support there than it had in the past.
There is no evidence that Duduzane Zuma has this type of support.
There have been no public statements of support, no regional or provincial leaders (or anyone, really) speaking up for him. And he does not have the roots in rural areas that allowed his father to connect with voters in such a direct and powerful way. He had a very different upbringing to the one his father had.
In urban areas the picture is even worse – it may by now be baked in history’s walls that when you mention his name, “Guptas” and “Saxonwold” also come up.
And then there are his years of GPS wrongdoing: Duduzane Zuma has been living in Dubai for some years now, perhaps even as long ago as September 2017 (while his father was still president and before the Nasrec conference, he was interviewed in Dubai by the BBC).
It seems unusual for someone with designs on becoming president of a country to live in another country, though he has now suggested he will return here soon.
He also has given no clues, no new thoughts on the unprecedented problems facing the nation he wants to lead.
One of the major difficulties we have is dealing with issues around race. He has not given any indication of whether he agrees with his father on these issues, although his statements about the Reserve Bank, higher education and land are similar to those of the ANC’s “RET faction”.
But if he does become critical of white people or white privilege his opponents may use a part of his private life against him.
In the absence of proof that he has ever been his “own man”, and without other evidence, could there be other agendas at stake?
A cynic might examine his past, dominated as it is by the Gupta family, and suggest he is again just a useful tool, that again he is being used.
It may be that Duduzane Zuma is simply useful as a decoy, a distraction, something to occupy the front pages and the talk radio shows, to draw our attention away from the real politics, away from what is really happening in the ANC, the titanic battle for control between President Cyril Ramaphosa and Secretary-General Ace Magashule.
It is likely that this perception will prevail unless he does something dramatic, something that proves he is his “own man”. That prospect seems unlikely. DM