Khaya Dlanga: The ANC won despite flawed president

The ANC achieved a miracle when it got 62.15% of the total vote in the 2014 national elections. The party was led by the most flawed candidate it has ever had on the ballot, yet it still managed to get above 60%. The ANC’s election machinery has to be commended for having achieved that result despite the impossible odds it faced, specifically around the presidential candidate. 

Jacob Zuma is the only ANC president who has seen ANC support decline in each election during his leadership of the party. To be fair, we have only had three democratically elected presidents in Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. In three consecutive elections, the Zuma-led ANC lost support. I am, of course, including the local government elections here. 

The lowest the ANC ever achieved before this election was under Nelson Mandela when the ANC got 62.65% of the 1994 vote. He was leading the ANC at its most difficult time. There was much mistrust in that year. In particular the massive blood shed in the period leading up to the elections, and the accusations of a third force that was attempting to destabilise the ANC.

At the time, there were murders on trains as people commuted to and from work, mass killings at places like Boipatong, and the AWB had stormed the World Trade Centre. Added to this, Chris Hani had been assassinated the year before the elections and the Bisho Massacre of 1992 was still fresh in people’s minds. The list of events that led to divisions in South Africa is endless. 

In 1999, Thabo Mbeki had the tough task of following the saintly Mandela and he managed to increase the ANC’s share from 62.65% to 66.35%, a 3% gain. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that Madiba went around the country telling anyone who would listen that Mbeki had in fact been running the country all along while he was president. 

Then, in 2004 Mbeki helped the party win the highest percentage of votes it had ever achieved: 69.69% of the national vote. It was testament to the confidence the people had in his leadership of the ANC and the nation. Despite this achievement, he was still recalled, thanks to his fight with Zuma, which massively damaged the ANC. Mbeki gained share in each of the elections under his leadership, while Zuma has lost share in each election cycle. The ANC lost 4% in 2009 under his leadership and almost 4% again in 2014. That is a total of an almost 8% drop under his leadership. 

The ANC did not get 62.15% because of Jacob Zuma, it got it despite Jacob Zuma. That is the truth. The ANC has been good to president Jacob Zuma but he has not been as good for the ANC as it has been for him. It has defended him, protected him and shielded him against every single scandal that has unfolded in his tenure. President Zuma cannot be praised for the latest results; the ANC deserves all the praise for pulling this one off. I bet Zuma knows this, even though he would never admit it. 

There is no question that he sacrificed for the ANC. Zuma is a hero of the struggle. His contribution to the struggle is sadly never narrated as much as it should be, it is often forgotten because of his involvement in scandals post-apartheid. What will Zuma’s legacy be at the end of his reign? Under his tenure, matric results have improved, we managed to reduce HIV infections and infrastructure development has been very visible. But there is no real legacy in his leadership. His fight against apartheid is his real and long-lasting legacy. 

The ANC will do well to look to the future now and leave him behind. Rebuild and unshackle itself from him and point to a brighter dawn and new age for the ANC. 

I am willing to bet that in the next national election, the ANC will improve from where it is now. But I won’t promise to eat my hat.

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