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What will seven more years of Zuma mean for SA?

Nickolaus Bauer

Indications are that Jacob Zuma will secure another five-year term as ANC president - but what will this mean for our politics, asks Nickolaus Bauer.

Jacob Zuma looks set to be re-elected as ANC president. (Gallo)

President Jacob Zuma gave the first real indication he expects to be re-elected at the ANC's upcoming elective conference in Mangaung last week Friday.

Speaking at a rally in the Eastern Cape, Zuma said there would be a "change of gear" post Mangaung in the ANC's approach towards discipline.

"This organisation believes in good behaviour among its members when they do things or when they talk politics. The ANC emphasises respect. There are those who think because the ANC is good-hearted, they can mess up as they please," he told supporters in a mixture of isiXhosa and English.

The president added that ill-discipline will result in serious consequences for transgressors.

"There will be a change of gear when we return from Mangaung, because we realise that when you merely talk to a person they take it for granted this organisation is full of idiots," he said.

This is the clearest sign – tacit or otherwise – that Zuma expects to be re-elected in December.

It should, however, come as no surprise, as initial indications from branches point to Zuma being re-elected.

"I'd be surprised if there is even an election come Mangaung," Professor Steven Friedman, director at the University of Johannesburg's Centre for the Study of Democracy, told the Mail & Guardian.

The majority of branches in Kwazulu-Natal, the ANC's largest province by members, and Zuma's home province, have already indicated they will side with the president.

Zuma victory assured
Add to that steadfast support from the ANC in the Free State and strong backing within the Eastern Cape and North West and Zuma looks like he's almost assured victory.

His most obvious challenger, Kgalema Motlanthe, has also not explicitly stated any intention to challenge Zuma.

"Who would want to go against a man with that much branch support?" Friedman wryly asked.

Friedman's thoughts are echoed by Ebrahim Fakir, political analyst at the Electoral Institute of Southern Africa.

"For the moment, it is fair to predict that Zuma will be our president for the next seven years. That's two years before this term finishes and another five years if the ANC manages to get re-elected in 2014."

Those hoping for a change of leadership must either face up to this reality or hope that those intending to oust Zuma are hoping to spring a surprise in Mangaung.

ANC elective conference voting is held by secret ballot, so the president's detractors would have to be in the throes of an elaborately planned hoax for anyone to be even mildly convinced of an overthrow.

"There is that possibility, but it's rather far-fetched," Friedman said.

Zuma knows that the country may have survived a few crises under his watch, but his support base within the ANC has largely been stable.

For the first time since the toppling of Thabo Mbeki as president in 2009, the tripartite alliance can be seen at the forefront of South African state politics.

The South African Communist Party, for instance, with general secretary Blade Nzimande and his deputy Jeremy Cronin both in the president's Cabinet, are occupying positions they would not have dreamed of during the Mbeki presidency.

And this patronage to his support base has translated into die-hard support for Zuma.

"South African society may be feeling like we've reached a turning point. Like we can't handle another term for Zuma, but the people who decide that are thinking exactly the opposite," Fakir said.

Zuma's tenure has been characterised by attempts to push through controversial legislation like the secrecy Bill and scandals ranging from his lovechild with Sonono Khoza and Nkandlagate.

Some would argue that these scandals only made headlines because of revelations by those within the party who are opposed to Zuma's rule.

"If you have a president with powerful enemies lurking within his movement and government at large, there is no guarantee he can simply do as he pleases," Friedman said.

One should also keep in mind the demise of Mbeki, after he was recalled from office as state president by the ANC.

Should Zuma fail to keep his wits about him, and attempt any dictatorial-type moves during his second incarnation as party leader, he could meet the same fate.

"Anyone can be recalled from office. There is nothing constitutionally that says the president of a party has to lead the country and Zuma should keep this in mind," Friedman added.

While Zuma's enemies both inside the ANC and out will have you believe that another term would spell doom for the future of the country, this isn't necessarily the case.

Fakir adds that South African citizens should not allow the potential of a Zuma presidency to transform them into doomsayers.

"Zuma as president for the foreseeable future does not have to be the unmitigated disaster people see it as," he said.

Fakir added that the onus is upon South Africans to ensure clean governance.

"We all need to realise that we have a far deeper duty than simply complaining when our elected officials don't perform.

"We need an active society to hold our government accountable and that is only going to happen if we get off our backsides and work together," he said.


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