Credibility issue hangs over Zuma faction
Business Day, 4 Dec 2015
THERE was a flurry of excitement earlier this week when a pseudonymous contributor, “Lily Gosam”, wrote in the Rand Daily Mail that Jacob Zuma was pursuing a third term as African National Congress (ANC) president in 2017. From his Luthuli House redoubt, he will then become the power behind the throne of his successor as president, most probably African Union (AU) Commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
This is not an original proposition. Zuma’s predecessor as ANC president, Thabo Mbeki, was “persuaded” in 2007 to seek a third ANC presidential term in Polokwane. He, likewise, made plans to shift government officials to Luthuli House to run the country. And he too chose Dlamini-Zuma as his Union Buildings puppet.
Yet Zuma’s third term bid would be an even longer shot than Mbeki’s. He is already 73. Afrobarometer data show he is easily the most unpopular postapartheid president. He alienates city folk and the young, which makes him a growing electoral liability.
Why then did Gosam’s eccentric idea make such a big social media splash? Because the Zuma faction has a leadership credibility problem. DlaminiZuma is the front-runner because of stage-managed endorsements from the ANC’s youth and women’s leagues. She has benefited from the belated conversion to feminism of dubious patriarchs from the most corrupt ANC provinces. Her ministerial failures have been airbrushed. But she remains a poor candidate for the ANC or state presidency and the people who disdain her most are the ones who know her best. She was Mbeki’s dummy in 2007. She will be 70 in 2019 when she hopes to become president. She represents the past.
Gosam struck a chord because a DlaminiZuma term equates to a third term for Zuma. Yet everyone knows there is an alternative. Former KwaZulu-Natal premier Zweli Mkhize created the ANC machine in his province, managed the integration of the Inkatha Freedom Party into the ANC, and climbed to the national position of treasurer-general in 2012.
In the past, ANC leaders’ seniority came from Robben Island, from exile or from work in powerful affiliates. Mkhize is the first organic provincial politician to move up to national level on the basis of his organisational and political skills. He is an exceptional political manager. He rose from humble beginnings but has acquired the demeanour of a president. He is interested in public policy. And he is nobody’s fool. In short, he is everything Dlamini-Zuma is not.
Why, then, is Dlamini-Zuma, and not Mkhize, the designated successor for Zuma’s faction?
Some observers of ANC politics claim that he has been unable to acquire sufficient “seniority” to take on Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. After all, Ramaphosa became ANC secretarygeneral in 1991, when he even had Zuma as his deputy. Mkhize, in contrast, rose to the lesser position of treasurer-general only two decades later. For this reason, they argue that DlaminiZuma should serve a term before handing over to an unopposed Mkhize. But the seniority DlaminiZuma ostensibly enjoys has been granted to her primarily by her former husband. Zuma expended untold national political capital to secure a senior AU position for her.
If only Zuma allowed merit to speak, Mkhize would become the candidate to beat for the ANC presidency. It might, or might not, be a desirable outcome for him to defeat Ramaphosa in the succession race — something he is fully equipped to do. But, either way, the country would be saved from a directionless Dlamini-Zuma term that it cannot afford. Such an outcome would also rescue the ANC from a potentially disastrous electoral counter-reaction. How could it survive the choice of an ageing nonpresident who stands for nothing but the past, personal patronage and patriarch-sponsored pseudo-feminism?
Butler teaches politics at the University of Cape Town