/ 13 June 2008

Pass the Panado

With his popularity waning, ANC president Jacob Zuma faces a series of hurdles.

With two months to go before the ANC launches its 2009 election campaign, ANC president Jacob Zuma has a number of major headaches as ruling party leader.

These relate primarily to the divisions in the ANC, which have hardened since the Polokwane conference last December — despite the weekend statement to City Press by Zuma and Thabo Mbeki that there is no rift.

But they also include court cases, including the corruption, fraud and racketeering charges Zuma’s team is working furiously to have thrown out of court or delayed, possibly until a new government can amend the Constitution to immunise a sitting president from criminal charges.

Here are the hurdles Zuma must surmount in the next 10 months:

Shifting popularity
A survey released last week by TNS Research shows that Zuma’s approval among the party’s core supporters, working-class blacks, stands at only 36% — among the lowest ever for a ruling party-leader in the post-apartheid era.

At the same time, his ratings in the boardrooms of big business and the ratings agencies have improved.

Zuma ascended to leadership of the ANC on the promise of radical change, not business as usual. How will he turn this around?

The corruption trial
The elephant in the room is the fraud, racketeering and corruption case against Zuma, which his camp is pretending does not exist.

A number of sources say the bottom-line strategy of the ANC president and his lieutenants is to delay the judicial process until after he is elected national president.

Thereafter, a plan will be hatched to delay prosecution until he steps down. This will be achieved either by passing a law to prevent charges against sitting presidents or via a petition to the national director of public prosecutions.

The justification is that a number of countries have similar provisions.
Zuma’s lawyers have already succeeded in delaying the trial until 2009 — the August 4 trial date previously agreed has now been set aside for a review application, where his lawyers will argue that the National Prosecuting Authority should have given him an opportunity to respond to the charges before taking a decision to recharge him.

If he loses this application, he will undoubtedly file an appeal. A further application for a permanent stay of prosecution, citing the violation of his constitutional rights, is also in the wings.

A dismissal of that claim will be taken on appeal to the Constitutional Court. Zuma’s attorney, Michael Hulley, has said he does not expect the trial to begin before 2010.

Provincial splits
Zuma must oversee the drafting of electoral lists which satisfy demanding factional interests and ensure that the party’s footsoldiers are fired up for the election campaign.

As Idasa political analyst Jonathan Faull points out: ”One of the consequences of the Polokwane conference is the devolution of decision-making in the ANC. The process of coming up with party lists will have to be impeccably inclusive to give these resolutions effect.”

That will not be easy. The divisions that wracked the party in the run-up to Polokwane are being replicated in provincial conferences currently under way across the country, and it is far from clear that Jacob Zuma and his allies will sweep the board.

Big provinces are up for grabs. In the Western Cape, supporters of Premier Ebrahim Rasool and his key ally, provincial chairperson James Ngculu, are cock-a-hoop over recent results from branch AGMs, which they believe show that they are back in the ascendancy after coming under intense pressure from Mcebisi Skwatsha’s rival camp.

Skwatsha’s allies still believe they will prevail, but admit to being more nervous about the outcome than they were in the immediate aftermath of Polokwane.

The Western Cape is a delicately poised province, which was won by the Democratic Alliance in the past, and any internal bickering on the eve of elections could give the province to Helen Zille’s party.

The same divisions prevail in the Eastern Cape, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and, acutely, in the Free State, where a new and parallel ANC structure has emerged, headed by people who have fallen out with provincial chairperson Ace Magashule.

The ANC has lost municipal by-elections in townships in the Free State and Northern Cape which members feel the party should have won with ease.

In the Free State the ANC lost two by-elections in April, one in Tumahole in Parys, to the PAC, and the other in Allanridge in the Welkom district, to the DA.

The PAC’s victory is potentially the more worrying, as it is a moribund party. Tumahole is, ironically, Magashule’s home town.

In the Northern Cape where the party has always performed well, the ANC lost a by-election in the capital, Kimberley, to the DA last month.

The ANC revealed in a provincial executive committee report that it is worried about the growth in strength of the Independent Democrats in three regions, including the Northern and Western Cape, where coloured voters are in the majority.

ID leader Patricia de Lille eschews identity politics, but is very popular among coloureds.

The same report points to disputes between the provincial leadership and branches about who to put forward as candidates for the by-elections.

The DA says apart from retaining all its own wards in by-elections since the 2006 local elections, it has won five wards which previously belonged to the ANC.

Government paralysis
Paralysis has set in at every level of government as politicians adopt a wait and see approach to the leadership battle. Officials know that an American-style political system now prevails, in which they will be removed when a new order comes in.

Zuma’s team is extremely concerned about the threat that delivery will come to a standstill in the next nine months. The tardy response to the recent xenophobic attacks underscores growing government inertia.

Very few of President Thabo Mbeki’s Cabinet members are likely to stay on: already Minister in the Presidency Essop Pahad, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin and Home Affairs Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula have announced that they are not available for election.

This means they have no reason to up their performance and are likely to be looking for jobs.

Ministers who backed the right man at Polokwane are strategising on who they should support in the various list and leadership battles in the ANC.

Hot spots
The ANC has lost substantial support in areas such as Matatiele and Moutse, where residents remain bitterly aggrieved by demarcation decisions.

In Matatiele, residents have formed the Matatiele Action Committee, which contested the local government elections against ANC candidates. Khutsong has remained ungovernable since 2006, with North West government officials unable to enter the township, councillors still in exile and the ANC prevented from organising.

Fewer than 1% of Khutsong residents voted in the last local government elections.

This week schooling ground to a halt as pupils were writing exams. Last week the residents marched to Luthuli House, threatening that campaigning and elections will not take place next year unless the ANC reverses its demarcation decision.

President Thabo Mbeki
Mbeki and ANC president Jacob Zuma wrote a letter to City Press at the weekend claiming unity, seeking to end the talk of internal ANC strife. This was as convincing as former spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama’s declaration last year that ”there are no divisions in the ANC”.

Current events which are souring the political mood — the meltdown at the SABC, the mismanagement of Eskom and consequent power shortages, and fuel price rises — all require government power to redress.

But Mbeki is a lame duck president who has tired of governing South Africa. The ANC has decided that it will not force him to step down, meaning that Zuma will hold effective power without office for the next nine months.