Shifting the focus from booting out Zuma to voting out the ANC - BizNews,16 August 2017

Aug 16, 2017
From this viewpoint, the defeat of the no-confidence motion is not a mark of Mr Zuma’s continued strength but rather a confirmation that the time for Mr Zuma’s departure – in the eyes of all those trying to keep the ANC in power in 2019 – is not yet ripe.


By Anthea Jeffery

Many commentators see the failure of the no-confidence motion last week as having strengthened President Jacob Zuma. That he managed to win for the eighth time in a row is far more important than the narrowness of his 21-vote margin of victory, they argue. It also demonstrates that Mr Zuma still has the capacity to control the ANC and defeat any challenge to his dominance.

There is, however, another way to see the situation. According to this alternative view, Mr Zuma has already been so discredited that he can neither win the ANC presidency for himself at the ANC’s national conference in December this year, nor secure it for his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

From this viewpoint, the defeat of the no-confidence motion is not a mark of Mr Zuma’s continued strength but rather a confirmation that the time for Mr Zuma’s departure – in the eyes of all those trying to keep the ANC in power in 2019 – is not yet ripe.

In the days leading up to the no-confidence vote, many ANC MPs – anxious to avoid having to grapple with the dictates of their consciences – would have found the timing argument compelling. They would also have been easily swayed by other factors, including many years of ANC propaganda demonising the DA as counter-revolutionary. More importantly still, if Mr Zuma had indeed been removed, the ANC might not have been able to agree on who should replace him as national president within the 30-day period stipulated in the Constitution. This could then have triggered a general election in which many of the party’s MPs might have lost their seats.

Mr Zuma thus won the no-confidence motion. He may nevertheless still be on his way out – for the simple reason that the ANC knows that it could lose the 2019 election unless it jettisons both him and his ex-wife.

The ANC likes to emphasise the 62% majority it won in the 2014 election. However, it also knows that it gained that seemingly strong majority with the support of only some 36% of all eligible voters. At the same time, some 40% of the adult South Africans who could have voted in the 2014 election chose to stay away rather than support the ANC. This 40% potential ‘swing’ vote is highly significant.

Its importance is also growing as public knowledge of the extent of ‘Zupta’ looting expands. In addition, the ANC’s loss of three additional metros in last year’s local government elections has shown that the ruling party is not invincible and helped to break past voting patterns. This has made it more feasible for people to punish the ANC – not simply by staying away, as in the past – but by shifting their votes to other parties..

Mr Zuma also faces a host of other problems. Before the end of the year:

  • the Constitutional Court might decide that Parliament must do more to hold him to account for the flagrant overspending of public monies at Nkandla that so enriched him and his family;
  • the Supreme Court of Appeal might agree that the National Prosecuting Authority acted irrationally in withdrawing 783 counts of fraud and corruption against Mr Zuma in 2009 and that the relevant charges still remain operative; and
  • the High Court might endorse the remedial action recommended by former public protector Thuli Madonsela in her ‘State of Capture’ report, so paving the way for an effective and carefully focused judicial commission of inquiry into Zupta looting.

If any of these court decisions goes against Mr Zuma, his credibility will crumble even further. More damaging revelations could also come to the fore to complement the daily disclosures from the leaked Gupta e-mails. Public outrage will grow – and will increasingly become directed at Mr Zuma.

Against this background, Mr Zuma – no matter how much he tries to pre-determine a different outcome – could prove unable to prevail at the December conference against the combined weight of the SACP, Cosatu, the Save South Africa group, and a host of delegates worried that the ANC’s electoral defeat in 2019 would put an end to their personal perks of power.

At the same time, the ANC and its allies in the SACP, Cosatu, and the Save South Africa group would want to time Mr Zuma’s departure very carefully.

Their first step would be to elect a credible ANC president in December (Zweli Mkhize might emerge as the most probable candidate), so that the organisation can start recovering its reputation. The SACP, Cosatu, and Save South Africa would then rally strongly behind this ‘renewed’ ANC, which would of course make much of its anti-corruption stance.

The next step would be to orchestrate Zuma’s recall as national president. This would be done as late as possible in 2018, so as to maximise the bounce in support the ANC could then expect to garner in the 2019 poll.

Opposition parties would want to get Mr Zuma out much earlier, so that this bounce had dissipated by the time of the election. However, since their attempts are unlikely to succeed – and since Mr Zuma is not the key problem confronting the country – a cannier strategy would be to stop making him the main focus of their criticisms.

What really matters for the country’s future – and what the SACP, Cosatu, the Save South Africa group, and many other commentators continue to deny – is that South Africa will not be able to thrive until the ANC is voted out of power.

The ANC’s damaging statist ideology has led to poor policies, pervasive mismanagement, and rampant corruption at all tiers of government. These factors have brought the country to its current crisis of recession and massive unemployment. At the same time, the ANC lacks the will to devise or implement the structural reforms needed to reignite investment, growth, and jobs. Instead, it remains intent on dragging the country down yet further under the rubric of ‘radical economic transformation’.

Mr Zuma’s obvious role in corruption has given opposition parties a useful basis on which to start whittling away at the ANC’s electoral support. But that support has long been falling in any event. The key need now, for the DA in particular, is to come up with a new vision for prosperity and success, backed by credible policies to overcome the present crisis.

The pressure against corruption must, of course, be retained, but the DA could soon find itself outflanked on this front by a ‘new’ ANC. Understanding and explaining how ANC ideology and policy have brought the country to its present malaise is a more complex and difficult task. It nevertheless needs to be addressed. How the DA would put the country on the path to prosperity must also be made clear.

Mr Zuma has long been the gift that keeps on giving for the DA and other opposition parties. However, that gift may no longer be available in the run-up to the 2019 poll. The time has thus come to look beyond Mr Zuma – and for the DA, in particular, to start gaining far more electoral support by unpacking, in clear and compelling terms, how its emphasis on investment, growth, jobs, and clean administration would unleash the country’s great potential and bring far greater gains to far more people.

*Anthea Jeffery is Head of Policy Research at the Institute of Race Relations, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom. 

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