South Africa’s poorest people will be hit by Jacob Zuma’s hollow victory

Jacob Zuma may have survived a motion of no confidence in the South African Parliament, but the fierce battle over his leadership has damaged the chances of the African National Congress of winning the 2019 national election.

The struggle between Zuma supporters and opponents within and outside the ANC has paralysed both the ruling party and the South African government, and it is likely to resume with even more vigour, potentially leading to another split in the party, this time possibly fatal.

Stand by for more paralysis in the ANC and the government. This, in turn, will make the necessary economic reforms – among them cleaning up wasteful state-owned entities, improving the efficiency of public services and tackling public corruption – near impossible.

Failure to deliver these reforms will hurt business confidence and lead ultimately to increasing economic hardship among ordinary South Africans. And the impact will be particularly acute among poor black traditional ANC supporters, who have borne the brunt of the effects of a technical recession, the downgrading of the country to junk status by global rating agencies and the resultant slew of mining and factory closures.

Zuma is facing at least 783 fraud, corruption and racketeering charges, all stalled by legal appeals.

The scale of corruption, mismanagement and lack of public service delivery combined with the sheer arrogance, bling and indifference shown by the Zuma faction, mean a tipping point has been reached for many ANC members and supporters. Big numbers are already abandoning for the party and Zuma’s latest victory is likely to drive many more of them away.

Zuma’s victory now strengthens his faction’s hand within the ANC ahead of the party’s December 2017 national elections, where a new president will be elected. Zuma’s handpicked successor is his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former head of the African Union. She is opposed by Zuma’s main rival, the deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa has now missed a crucial opportunity in the no-confidence vote to rally ANC MPs to get rid of Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma is arguably much less electable among ANC rank and file, but could now be more easily placed in the party leadership, since the Zuma faction controls the party’s electoral caucus, and their grip, following this parliamentary vote success has now been further strengthened.

Zuma and supporters successfully presented the no-confidence vote as a non-electoral attempt by opposition parties to dislodge the ANC, rather than punishing Zuma himself for his poor performance. This played on the African liberation movement “code” whereby members are required to rally behind the party leader if the party is threatened by a common “foe”.

ANC members also want to be seen to be getting rid of their leaders themselves, rather than having it done to them by opposition parties. As Jackson Mthembu, the ANC chief whip said before the vote: “Because this opposition wants to remove the ANC government, now, who in his right mind from the ANC desks would then assist such an opposition in removing its government.”

Zuma’s second term as ANC president comes to an end in December, when the ANC holds its national conference and his second term as South African president ends in 2019 when national elections are held. The Constitution sets a two-term presidential limit but there is no term limit on the ANC presidency although Zuma has said he will stand down as party leader.

His main strategy has been to try to secure a sympathetic successor, who would be able to protect him from prosecution when he steps down. His enemies within and outside the ANC have vowed to push ahead, however, in the same way, that Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has been successfully prosecuted for corruption after his presidential term.

Dlamini-Zuma is arguably less electable than the business-friendly Ramaphosa who is also supported by the main trade unions. This means that with Dlamini-Zuma as presidential candidate, the ANC may not win the 2019 national elections unless it can strike a coalition with either the opposition Economic Freedom Front (EFF), the populist breakaway from the ANC, led by Zuma’s nemesis and former ally, Julius Malema, or the main opposition Democratic Alliance, invigorated by its first black leader, Mmusi Maimane.

If the opposition parties shun the ANC in a coalition and form their own governing coalition they may then come under popular pressure to prosecute Zuma. His win this week could ultimately be a hollow victory.

*This article was published in The Guardian. To view the article on their website click here.

William Gumede is Associate Professor, School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand. He is Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works Foundation and former Deputy Editor of The Sowetan newspaper.

During the anti-apartheid struggle, Gumede held several leadership positions in South African student, civics and trade union movements. He was a political violence mediator and area coordinator for the National Peace Committee during the multiparty negotiations for a democratic South Africa and was seconded to South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He is the author of several number 1 bestsellers. His more recent books include: Restless Nation: Making Sense of Troubled Times (Tafelberg); and South Africa in BRICS – Salvation or Ruination (Tafelberg).

To read publications by William Gumede on our website please click here.

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