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Don’t be fooled into thinking ‘Zuma issues’ are the problem – the problem is the ANC


Thabiso Bhengu is a producer of the television show The Big Debate.

President Jacob Zuma did not ascend to power on his own, but through the support of the ANC. And the party, not Zuma alone, has allowed state capture to flourish.

One of the ANC’s biggest political cards is how the organisation has been able to attribute the problems that the party is dealing with as “Zuma issues”. The political complications of South Africa are understood similarly as having a drunk uncle who abuses everyone in the family because he is putting food on the table. However, with the President the story is different because he is not even providing decent food for people, as demonstrated in the increase in the number of people living below the poverty line of R444 per month.

This discourse about the Zupta ANC that centres on Zuma and the Guptas as the core struggles of the ANC will come back to bite us very soon – in 2019. I acknowledge that the term “Zupta” exists as a way to reflect that there are factions within the party. However, there are factions in every political party. The term also exists because of the way that the media has been defining state capture as an intimate process between Zuma and the Guptas, who are so powerful that they can make ANC decisions outside of ANC constituencies.

Therefore, this means that people can imagine a possibility where the ANC constituencies are being bullied by this rogue of a President and his friends. This narrative is false and misleading because the ANC in theory has the power to fire the President. This is a very different system than in the United States where the Republicans can’t just fire President Trump. The ANC, every day, has that power – and refuses to use it.

This Zuma-centred discourse has seen people like Makhosi Khoza being paraded as radical political subjects, as politicians who deserve our prayers and support because they have suddenly sobered up and realised that the uncle is drunk. That is not radicalism, it’s finally coming to your senses.

Radicalism is better defined by Angela Davis as an investigation of “grasping things at the root”. For as long as Zuma is thought of as a root, people aren’t being radical. The root cause of the problems of the ANC is the ANC as a whole. The party throughout its administration has created systems that allow for problems like state capture to continue.

The issue makes you wonder about the power dynamics under which our democracy was negotiated. Was there ever a time where the state was not captured? Why is the media not willing to have that conversation?

A discussion around previous state capturers will allow us to see that the ANC has been a problem as an organisation. This is echoed by the state of our economy that has been largely unbeneficial to many South Africans for years that precede this man. At the root is the fact that this man was created by the ANC, he did not ascend to power on his own. He had people like Gwede Mantashe, Julius Malema, Zwelinzima Vavi and millions of others behind him. However, that is not how current ANC “radical” leaders and those like Vavi, who have opted out, choose to think about this man.

In May 2017 at the People’s Economic Forum in Durban, Vavi gave a lecture as part of his launch of the South African Federation of Trade Unions. In this lecture Vavi talks about Zuma as a “thug” they wanted to use to rob other thugs (the capitalistic system) to help enrich blacks. A laughable narrative, to be honest, where Vavi speaks about Zuma like a lab test that has exploded out of proportion without warning.

A contestation against Zuma gaining power in 2007 might have been a radical decision then. An anti-Zuma discourse was a radical one when Khwezi accused him of raping her. And when Schabir Shaik was found guilty of bribing him and the countless number of corruption charges that followed soon after. Now, the anti-Zuma discourse is not a radical stance but just a decision of common sense.

The most radical position is getting rid of the ANC. The Zuma haters stand nothing to lose but political currency to gain in whatever political party that they can find themselves in or whatever version of the ANC survives that will need “outspoken and courageous leaders”. Therefore, we can think of a scenario where people like Makhosi Khoza are future EFF members who were smart enough to jump ship before the collapse.

The paradox of this imagined fall of the ANC may just be another dream deferred. This will be because the definite exit of Zuma is largely read as the ultimate problem-solver that will help us gain back our country and “our ANC”. We see this with multibillionaires like Magda Wierzycka willing to pay Zuma to resign.

This therefore means that in every transition the ANC is looking for a new head to replace the old one, rather than addressing core issues that are stifling the party. Zuma was a product of an Mbeki-centred narrative and we are back to square one as we look for a new head to replace him.

The process makes us vulnerable to politicians who have to be personalities rather than critical thinkers. This is because the problem is understood simply as the head and we are in desperate need of a new charismatic leader who matches the gender and the tribe that we desire now. This is seen by how Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa are waffling in their articulation about the meaning of radical economic transformation. They don’t have to have any clue about anything.

This is the danger of making one man the entire problem of an organisation. DM


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