Despite the Nkandla splurge, President Jacob Zuma and the ANC are unlikely to face severe sanctions come May 7, say analysts.
The state's spending on the security upgrades to President Jacob Zuma's Nkandla homestead may have been "unconscionable", but it appears unlikely that Zuma, or his party, will be sanctioned for the estimated R246-million spending splurge at the polls, according to analysts.
What's more, if opposition parties are not careful about how they treat the release of the Nkandla report in the run-up to the elections, they may inadvertently build sympathy for Zuma.
"Practically speaking, a direct link between the fortunes of the ANC and the fortunes of Jacob Zuma cannot be made, as South African elections are party based," said political analyst and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Johannesburg, Professor Tinyiko Maluleke.
"Nowhere in the elections do we have to make a decision about Jacob Zuma," he told the Mail & Guardian.
Voters, particularly loyal ANC voters, would have to decide if they believe public protector Thuli Madonsela's findings point to a problem within the party, the government more broadly, or whether they reveal Zuma's leadership as the main cause for scandal. Voters would then have to decide if this was something that would affect how they vote, he said.
They could decide that the "omissions and commissions were not his alone" but government's in general. Likewise, voters could view the fault as originating not just with the president, but the ANC leadership.
Alternatively, they could view it as a "Jacob Zuma problem" and choose not to reduce the ANC or the ANC-led government's performance to the actions of one man.
"But the most difficult combination for a loyal ANC voter to embrace is to collapse the government, the ANC and Jacob Zuma [together]," Maluleke said.
Another consideration in the wake of the Nkandla report was the responses of opposition parties.
"Over the top" reactions may generate "fatigue in the ears of voters" and could backfire politically, he said.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) are pressing criminal charges against Zuma. The DA has written to Speaker of Parliament Max Sisulu, requesting the National Assembly be recalled to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. The House concluded its work in mid-March, ahead of May’s ballot.
According to Maluleke, the characterisation of Zuma as an "easy target" is part of the reason for his rise to power and his ability to stay there, despite numerous scandals.
Whether this was a deliberate strategy, or a result of fortune, his political adversaries tended to waste all their "bullets in one go" when criticising Zuma. This inadvertently built sympathy for him, especially among loyal ANC voters.
"They [opposition parties] must be careful they don't make average citizens feel under attack for voting for the ANC in the past," he said.
This applied equally to voters who, for the first time, may be considering not voting, or voting for another party.
"[Opposition parties] must not make them feel stupid."
The power of the ANC still lies in it being a liberation movement, and this power emerges each election, said Maluleke.
"It is not a question of how much the ANC will lose – it won't – it's how much this will affect their majority," he said.
Not much fallout
International analysts are not expecting much fallout for the president.
"The story has been running for so long, and with the public protector not finding any significant new smoking gun beyond what the media has already exposed, we do not see the report as changing anyone's views on the ANC or Mr Zuma beyond what they already were," Peter Attard Montalto, emerging markets economist and strategist at financial holdings company Nomura, said in a research note.
"Those that will always vote ANC will continue to do so. Those that have had enough will already have left [to more likely not vote than to vote for another party]."
The effect on the markets would have no real significance except when it came to foreign direct investment, he added, as the report's release may entrench existing perceptions of corruption.
There was "a sound grouping within the ANC" that believed in returning it to the days when policy and development were the priority, "rather than cadre deployment and tenderpreneurship", he said.
This grouping was unlikely to be strengthened by these events however, given their loss in Mangaung when Kgalema Mothlanthe stood against Zuma. Many had been ousted from power structures and parliamentary lists, concentrating power towards Zuma, he said.
This could change come the ANC's 2017 elective conference, he said. But "this is still a very long way off and even then Mr Zuma will control his succession."
But the report and the resultant distraction that Zuma is becoming for the ANC could accelerate his eventual handover to the next in line, Attard Montalto said, naming Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as possible candidates.
He said it could strengthen the emergence of a worker-led party going into the 2019 elections, headed by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) and Zwelinzima Vavi, former boss of trade union federation Cosatu.
"Equally, we think it will secure Numsa's position in its ongoing … breakaway from Cosatu. Cosatu's silence since the report on Wednesday will likely further exacerbate this."
The release of the public protector's findings reportedly made little difference to ANC supporters gathered in Sharpeville on Friday to hear Zuma commemorate Human Rights Day. A number of people who attended told news agency Sapa that they would continue to support the ANC.
Duduzile Skhosana (30) said he would still vote for the ANC on May 7, despite the opposition labelling Zuma corrupt.
Others such as Noma Mpumula (35) said that although he did not believe in Zuma, "the ANC is not Zuma" and he would continue to support the party.
On Thursday, ANC election campaign head Malusi Gigaba declined to comment on how the Nkandla report could impact the party's campaign, as the ANC was in the process of releasing a statement on the matter. There was no response to further requests for comment subsequent to its release. – Additional reporting by Sapa