Nothing will stop Jacob Zuma becoming the next president of the ruling African National Congress, and possibly the country, if he is acquitted of corruption, political analysts said on Thursday.
”If he is found not guilty and if he is not tainted … he will be catapulted into the presidency,” said the Human Sciences Research Council’s Adam Habib. ”He will be unbeatable.”
Independent analyst Aubrey Matshiqi said: ”If Zuma is acquitted, not even a bullet will stop him.”
Addressing an Institute for Security Studies seminar on the ”crisis” in the ANC, both anticipated Zuma’s so-called left-wing support base to be disappointed should he become the country’s next leader.
Zuma will face the same constraints on economic and social issues that President Thabo Mbeki does, said Habib.
Said Matshiqi: ”If a medical doctor were to examine Zuma, he would most probably not find a single left-wing bone in his body. He is a candidate of the left simply because he is not Mbeki.”
Other candidates for the presidency are businessmen Tokyo Sexwale, Cyril Ramaphosa and Saki Macozoma, with ”dark horses” Kgalema Motlanthe and Joel Netshitenzhe, Matshiqi said.
The ”nightmare scenario”, he added, is that of a battle so fierce that Mbeki loyalists convince him to run against Zuma for a third term as ANC president.
Habib said the public spat lies in opposing approaches in the ruling party to macro-economic strategy.
Proponents of the current growth, employment and redistribution strategy are seen as technocrats with little regard for the poor by the left, who are in turn labelled populists.
Zuma’s support is not the result of his own stance on the topic, but of popular unhappiness with Mbeki’s agenda, Habib said.
Should the succession race open up with Zuma’s conviction, Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka would be a leading contender by virtue of her office, Habib said. But she is unlikely to be supported by the left — represented by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party.
A candidate would have to be found that is acceptable to Mbeki and Zuma supporters.
”We can expect the battle to rage on for the next 18 months.”
The ”really big nightmare”, Habib added, would entail Zuma’s trial coinciding with the ANC’s next national conference in 2007.
Were the two processes to run concurrently, Matshiqi said, there would be a threat of the judiciary being ”sucked into” internal ANC processes.
”In the absence of effective political management, the situation can spiral out of control in a manner that is dangerous for national security and internal party stability.”
Matshiqi said one should not discount the possibility of a conspiracy against Zuma, even if he were to be found guilty.
”It is quite possible that both are true. One of the reasons conspiracies work is because they expose the weaknesses of an opponent.”
He is beginning to think, Matshiqi said, that it matters little whether any grounds exist for the conspiracy theory.
”It may matter more that this perception is beginning to guide and form political conduct. This constitutes one of the elements of the crisis and is dangerous for the country.”
Governance style may not change
Centre for Policy Studies analyst Steven Friedman doubts the future of South Africa depends on who won the battle. He rejected assertions that the country would become a ”banana republic” under Zuma or a dictatorship under Mbeki.
The current governance style could quite possibly remain unchanged, whoever wins.
Among the so-called ”new elite”, he added, problems with Zuma are not necessarily about his politics or the company he keeps, but with him being considered ”an uncouth fellow who did not go to the right universities or read the right books”.
He expressed concern for the damage the spat is doing to the country’s democratic institutions, including the judiciary.
Also worrying is a growing belief that politicians are less accountable to the electorate than to their ”secret proprietors” in the form of business people.
”Our institutions are being tested,” he said, but added they might very well emerge stronger.
Matshiqi said the Zuma affair is likely to clarify the ”relationship between money and politics” in South Africa.
The analysts said Mbeki’s recent harping on corruption might be a way of putting Zuma in a bad light, while Zuma was surreptitiously attacking Mbeki’s perceived autocratic leadership style by singing the praises of former party leader Oliver Tambo.
Personality plays a big role in the divide, Matshiqi said.
Zuma is seen to be friendly and amiable, and Mbeki aloof and disdainful.
”Everybody likes a nice man. Being a nice man in this battle can win you a lot of political capital. Sometimes it is as easy as that.” — Sapa