By Owei Lakemfa:
In one swing, South African President Jacob Zuma swept the governments of his country, since independence in 1994, into the dust bin of history. Describing the past two decades as those of waste, Zuma condemned the administrations of the legendary Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlante and his own.
Speaking this week in Pietermaritzburg at the launch of the Truman Magubane Foundation, Zuma said because the recent past has been a wasted one, “That is why we speak of radical socio-economic transformation. If we did this shortly after 1994, we would be very far by now…But unfortunately, when we landed, we thought this was the landing. We have not changed the structure of the economy, the systems, institutions, patterns of ownership and control of the economy. We have to change the structure of the economy, but the reality is that we did not do the right thing.”
Zuma’s populist statement comes a few days after the July 18, 2017 unflattering assessment of the South African situation by anti-apartheid leader and ‘Mother of the Nation’, Winnie Madikezela-Mandela. She said, “something is very wrong with what we have done to the history of our country. Something is very wrong with what we have done, and how we have messed up the African National Congress”. While Winnie has been consistent in her criticism of the ANC and its consigning the economic struggle to the back burner, Zuma has not.
Zuma as incumbent president of a country in deep socio-economic crisis might be trying to deflect some of the attacks on his administration by blaming Mandela and his successors. He was also playing the game of collective guilt; trying to rope in everybody. Again, while most of the attacks regarding the mismanagement of the economy, rising mass unemployment, increased school fees, lack of equitable land distribution and corruption have been directed against his government, he has tried to tie his record with that of his predecessors. Also, he talks about the need to start on a clean slate, but it cannot be about his administration which has expended eight years of a maximum ten; it must be about a new administration which he hopes his former wife, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will lead. She is, doubtlessly, a formidable leader in her own right. The immediate past chairperson of the African Union Commission and at various times the South African minister of Health, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs, Dr. Zuma has sound credentials that stand her in good stead.
Personally, I have a good impression of her leadership qualities at the AU where she steered the continental body towards an African-centred Agenda 2063. She also encouraged the development of continental organisations like the Organisation of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU) which I headed during her tenure in Addis Ababa. However, the race to head the ruling ANC and subsequently, that for the South African presidency, may centre around President Zuma; a vote for, or against him.
There have been a number of failed attempts in the National Assembly to pass a vote of no confidence on him. But the self-educated Zuma has ridden over all obstacles and opposition, including those of veteran ANC leaders like Ahmed Kathrada. In a March 31, 2016 letter, Kathrada had told President Zuma: “Dear Comrade President‚ don’t you think your continued stay as President will only serve to deepen the crisis of confidence in the government of the country?… there comes a time in the life of every nation when it must choose to submit or fight. Today I appeal to our President to submit to the will of the people and resign.” But Zuma, the former herd boy, ignored such appeals. He is a survivalist; going through the notorious Robben Island; surviving exile, accusations of rape and financial misdeeds; being ordered by the courts to refund money into state coffers and withstanding open revolt against his leadership.
Apparently, the president has been able to overwhelm the opposition within the party. He has squared up against key ANC blocs like the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which has become weaker with a split. He seems to have firmly in his hands, state power and the party machinery, and has won endorsement for Dr. Zuma from the ANC Women League.
Although a number of ANC leaders like former President Kgalema Motlanthe, speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete, minister of Human Settlements, Lindiwe Sisulu, minister in the presidency, Jeff Radebe, former ANC Treasurer General, Mathews Phosa, premier of Mpumalanga Province, David Mabuza, and premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Zweli Mkhize, are said to be in the race, but it seems a clear contest between Dr. Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. The latter comes with intimidating credentials. He was general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers and head of the Reception Committee that welcomed Mandela from a 27-year imprisonment. He was scribe of the team that negotiated independence and was secretary general of the ANC after its unbanning. Mandela described Ramaphosa as “One of the ablest of the new generation of leadership.”
When he lost out in the race to be deputy president under the Mandela presidency, he went into business where he became enormously wealthy with an estimated $700 million accumulation. Ramaphosa was politically injured when in the follow up to the August 16, 2012 killing of 34 miners by police at the Marikana Mines, he was said to have used insensitive language that might have encouraged the killings. He has apologised for this and he is being backed in the race by COSATU.
In an effort to rally popular support, President Zuma is pushing for radical land reforms including “land expropriation without compensation”. He is taking this to the December 2017 ANC Conference. This might also be a ploy to weaken Ramaphosa who, given his stake in big business, might not be inclined to jettison the “Willing- Seller-Willing- Buyer” policy of land acquisition.
The main problem of the ANC is that its basic document, the Freedom Charter became like a Shoprite or Games Supermarket shopping list from which its leaders could chose and pick or drop items. Despite this, the ANC remains the party to beat. Even if the opposition parties – the Democratic Alliance, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), Congress of the People, Inkatha Freedom Party, African Christian Democratic Party and United Democratic Movement form their Freedom Movement (FM) alliance, I doubt if they can still defeat what is left of the ANC. Also in my analysis, Dr. Zuma will clinch the ANC leadership and party ticket, and succeed her former spouse as the president of the Federal Republic of South Africa. It might be a transition from President Zuma to President Zuma.
•Owei Lakemfa, former Secretary General of African Workers is a Human Rights activist, journalist and author.