Repeat offender — Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s puzzling streak of defiance
On Monday, Minister in the Presidency for Women Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma was absent from the National Assembly vote on whether to remove former Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane. It was the second time she had defied the ANC’s leadership, which failed to act against her the first time. Dlamini Zuma’s actions raise questions about her oft-stated loyalty to the ANC.
In the days before the National Assembly vote on whether to remove former Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane, ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula publicly told ANC MPs the only reason they could not attend Monday’s crucial sitting was if they were dead.
And yet, as MPs stood up one by one to vote on the motion, there was no sign of Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.
Immediately after the vote, the ANC’s Chief Whip, Pemmy Majodina, could not hide her frustration. She told Newzroom Afrika: “Her absence today was a shock to me. She has no apology; she has no permission to be absent. I can account for others; I know their whereabouts. I don’t know the whereabouts of Mama Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma. As I usually do, I’m packaging the report to the secretary-general’s office. It’s high time that they act once and for all; it’s enough now.”
Dlamini Zuma also defied ANC instructions last year, in the vote on whether to adopt the Parliamentary panel’s findings on the Phala Phala saga.
In that case, she stood up during the voting session and said, “As a disciplined member of the ANC, I vote yes”, when ANC MPs had been instructed to vote “no”.
She was joined by a few other ANC MPs, including Mosebenzi Zwane and Supra Mahumapelo.
This time, both Zwane and Mahumapelo voted according to instructions, making Dlamini Zuma the sole outlier.
There has been no public explanation from her for her actions. Her Twitter account was last active in June and no spokesperson has made any comment for her.
This vacuum, surely deliberate on her part, seems designed to invite speculation and follows several public comments by Dlamini Zuma.
Speaking at the BRICS Youth Summit in June, she claimed that South Africa has to “kneel before the five big banks”. As Business Maverick’s Tim Cohen has noted, this is not factually correct.
Business Day reported that she also said, “The history of BRICS is fundamentally a history of resistance against colonial conquest and imperial abuse… It is in the DNA of every single BRICS nation, historically and today, to be anti-imperialist at every turn.”
While anti-imperialism may well be in the DNA of Brazil, India, China and our nation, it may be hard to find that double helix in the history of Russia. With a rich history of repeated invasions, including the most recent attack on Ukraine to claim that country’s territory, Russia surely fits the very definition of imperialism.
What’s her motive?
It is hard to determine the true motive of Dlamini Zuma in consistently defying the ANC’s leadership.
It should be remembered that when she does this, she is not just defying President Cyril Ramaphosa, but all of the ANC’s leadership.
That said, this must be deliberate, even just because it is so public.
One of the first suspicions is that she wants to be fired from the Cabinet.
Before the Phala Phala vote, she was the Cogta minister, a position that holds important power.
Then, in his latest reshuffle, Ramaphosa moved her to the position of minister in the Presidency for women, children and people living with disabilities.
While still technically a member of the Cabinet, and despite Ramaphosa’s repeatedly stated claim that he prioritises the fight against gender-based violence, this was clearly a demotion — the position has very little formal and legal power. In the past, the holder of this post has been almost silent in major debates in our society, with the minister of sport, arts and culture (the deputy position of which was long considered the equivalent of a political Siberia).
But even if her intention was to be fired, it is not clear what this would achieve. She is unlikely to garner sympathy within the ANC because she has defied the party’s leadership twice.
No publicly visible constituency within the party supports her.
From what can be seen, her power and influence in the ANC have declined significantly since she lost the leadership contest to Ramaphosa so narrowly in December 2017.
Her loss of political power mirrors the loss of power of former president Jacob Zuma — the ripples and ebbs of power flowing from him appear to match the ripples and ebbs of power flowing from her.
This may well have much to do with her own conduct. Even during her ANC leadership campaign, there were signs she and her team were misreading the political temperature.
Famously, she went to Marikana in what appeared to be an attempt to gather support for her ANC leadership campaign. But she was forced to withdraw very quickly, as members of that community still harboured deep resentment against the ruling party’s role in the Marikana massacre.
More recently, during the lockdown period of the pandemic, she was often seen as the person most responsible for the government’s decision to ban the sale of tobacco products. This aspect of the lockdown was eventually ruled unconstitutional.
While she was implementing Cabinet decisions (as Cogta minister, it was she who signed the regulations agreed to by Cabinet following advice from the National Coronavirus Command Council), she also defended the regulations and was often their public face.
All of this may have lost her the support of much of the public.
This could make it easier for the ANC’s disciplinary machinery to heed Majodina’s plea and move against her.
Technically, it would be a simple case. She would be charged, given a chance to defend or explain herself, and then, on the facts, a determination would be made. Because of her actions, there seems to be no strong political reason not to act against her.
The main reason the ANC may have to be serious this time is that she is a repeat offender.
But even if she is disciplined, or removed from Cabinet, or removed as an MP, it is still puzzlingly unclear what her real agenda is.
Dlamini Zuma may feel that she cannot be part of an ANC that is led by Ramaphosa, or some of the other people in the leadership. But she can only communicate this message by saying it.
This matter is vitally important for the ANC. In an era where our politics is fracturing and some politicians try to create personal constituencies, it must maintain discipline to retain any coherence.
This may be an existential issue for the party. If it fails to maintain discipline, to act against Dlamini Zuma, the party itself could fracture. DM