ANTHONY BUTLER: Zuma’s centre cannot hold — and Dlamini-Zuma is a non-starter
Zuma’s lame-duck legacy is writ large, but the NEC may put him out of our misery sooner rather than later
Does President Jacob Zuma still really believe that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma can become president of the ANC?
At the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting this weekend, Zuma’s disastrous legacy, and his plans for the future, will be on the agenda. NEC members will be thinking hard about three questions. What will happen in December, at the ANC’s elective conference? What will be the result of the 2019 national and provincial elections? And why the hell is Zuma insisting that Dlamini-Zuma be his successor?
The logic of a lame-duck presidency is that the incumbent’s power declines as the time he has left in office ebbs away. Add to this the fact that the latest Cabinet reshuffle was a national economic disaster, motivated by transparent self-interest.
Zuma’s “premier league” backers are in disarray. KwaZulu-Natal is divided. The Cape provinces and Gauteng are firmly anti-Zuma. Union federation Cosatu and the South African Communist Party are in the reform camp. And the courts and financial regulators are closing in.
The looting of parastatals has been carried out with extraordinary incompetence. Why, for example, did one astute parastatal bureaucrat go into an elusive Saxonwold shebeen on so many occasions while carrying a SIM card registered in his own name?
It is sometimes claimed that Zuma is a potential “strong-man” president. He will take over the state; spy on, bug, and intimidate his enemies; cow the judges; manipulate elections; and shut down the free press. But he has been trying this for some time now, and he is getting old. The people who work for him are really not up to the task.
There is little support in the wider ANC leadership for actions that would destroy a hard-won democracy, or kill the economic goose that lays the golden eggs the ANC must distribute in order to survive.
Now we can see that the Zuma brand will not even secure the rural areas in 2019. At by-elections this week in Nquthu, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma placed his personal credibility on the line. He told citizens to vote ANC, because “even the ancestors and angels will love you”. They voted for the IFP instead.
Afternoon visitors to dance studios in the suburbs will be familiar with the spectacle of senior citizens gamely trying their hand at youth dance genres. Pensioners can be seen undertaking shuffling, hip-hop style manoeuvres, or attempting the roly-poly, crossover, “Oros, Gangnam Style” routine that is now performed at many ANC Youth League rallies.
Like the determined pensioner that she is, Dlamini-Zuma has, in the same way, tried to tap into the “radical economic transformation” Zeitgeist — but with the same predictably lamentable results. She has scarcely dared leave KwaZulu-Natal, and she does not seem to be popular even there.
Dlamini-Zuma’s fake “turnaround” at home affairs, the AU jamboree that cost the continent so dearly, and the president’s own belated discovery of women’s political empowerment — no doubt they all seemed like good ideas at the time. But Zuma has left it too late to change course. There is now every likelihood that the NEC will bring the whole miserable charade to a close.
• Butler teaches public policy at the University of Cape Town