Mbeki’s burden will be Zuma’s too

With the baton now in Msholozi’s hand, the time for umshini’wam is over.

Barring some catastrophe, it is fair to assume the ANC will win the elections and Jacob Zuma will take over the running of the country.

He will assume the position on the back of some of the most vocal support ever given to an ANC president by party and alliance leaders.

It is support born of years of standing by him when he was out in the cold.

It is also born of a determination that he should succeed and make the critics eat humble pie; a resolve that says it is not only the educated elite (read Thabo Mbeki) who should be trusted with leadership, but in the eyes of his supporters, one of us, an ordinary man with humble beginnings like most South Africans.

The greatest irony for me is that I believe he will face exactly the same challenges that brought Mbeki down.

Many in the ANC leadership believe he will be a good leader who will surprise pundits as his leadership and decisions will always be anchored on consultation and incorporation of a variety of views.

All of this, of course, assumes that he won’t be convicted and sent to jail for his past sins.

With the overwhelming support of the ANC’s alliance partners — Cosatu and the SACP — he is partly the reason why the SACP decided not to exercise its option to contest the elections on its own. Its rationale is informed by hope that it does have an alternative path to power.

Despite its vehement denial of this characterisation, Zuma is in fact its Trojan Horse and the SACP’s recent articulation of the kind of state that it plans, which includes a two-tier cabinet, a planning commission and so on, is an indication that it takes for granted that Zuma’s government will simply implement its own wish list.

It is in this context that rumours have spread that SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande wants to be the next deputy president.

But what I have since gathered is that this issue is not so much about Nzimande’s personal desire for government perks, but about the SACP wishing to exert influence in government through Nzimande.

The SACP wants any position that will give it power, be it deputy president, planning minister, super minister or whatever the strategic position will be called.

Former president Mbeki spent most of his presidency fighting off the SACP and reminding it that just as the communist party has its socialist priorities, so too the ANC has its different set of priorities.

I’m afraid that Zuma will be sucked into the same battle and might have to deliver the same reminder to Nzimande much earlier.

Having worked this hard for Zuma’s victory, the communists believe they deserve a share of the spoils. Much as the ANC’s leadership is united in protecting Zuma, but it is doubtful whether they are agreed that they owe the SACP anything. It is a hot potato and once in office Zuma will not get away with the double-speak, endless clarifications and tailoring messages to suit audiences.

Again, JZ was at the forefront of questioning Mbeki’s prerogatives and presidential powers.

Given the high-handed and unconsultative manner in which Mbeki operated, it was perfectly logical for his organisation to start feeling the discomfort.

But with Mbeki’s persona no longer clouding the issue, Zuma will still have to answer the question: how much consultation is enough consultation? Is the president allowed to exercise his mind and take final decisions after consultation or he is bound by the inputs from the consultation? Does he sign every Bill coming from Parliament or can he send it back to Parliament without publicly incurring the wrath of his party?

Does he treat every Polokwane resolution as sacrosanct and binding for implementation without taking into account any realities that have developed since Polokwane? Is a president a president? Or is he just a stooge of the dominant grouping within the ANC?

I suspect the wheel will be re-invented and Zuma will face almost exactly the challenges that Mbeki had to deal with as he tried to leave his personal stamp on governance.

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