Editorial: Finally, Zuma pushback digs in

Luthuli House is finally pushing back, it seems. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Luthuli House is finally pushing back, it seems. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

Luthuli House at last seems to be pushing back against the Jacob Zuma project – not fighting back, exactly, but certainly making moves. They may be embryonic, but they are growing fast, as the Mail & Guardian reports this week.

There has been a long debate about the relative powers of the state and its elected officials versus those of the party, which has in part been to do with a liberal conception of separated capacities versus a model based on the one-party or one-party-dominant regimes that emerged from the immediate aftermath of independence. The ANC, as the party of liberation, has tended to see its mission in religious terms and to damn any opposition as though it was still fighting a war. This has not been healthy. Nor has the fragmentation of the ANC as the ruling party, which has become violently factionalised as rulers in the patronage-based, patrimonial mould claw their way to power and do underhanded things to keep it – as Zuma has done.

Whatever the case, it has been the ANC’s argument that it is able to “self-correct”; that its internal mechanisms, both ideological and in terms of the leadership apparatus, are able to adjust for those who spurn the ideals of the party, or act against its interests. Supporters of the ANC’s broad project, not just die-hard ANC supporters, have long been wishing the party would self-correct on issues such as having an evidently corrupt leadership.

Julius Malema was thrown out of the ANC for bringing the party into disrepute. What he really brought into disrepute, however, was the reputation of the president, Zuma, by comparing his administration unfavourably with that of the man he ousted, Thabo Mbeki. As was noted at the time, that expulsion on those grounds made it clear that this was about Zuma, personally, and not really about the ANC. The ANC, having elevated Zuma to the top, was now kowtowing to his wishes, as though he were president for life or some God-given medieval monarch whose interests were indistinguishable from those of the party, the state and the nation.

How does the ANC self-correct for that?

Only internal insurrection against the present leadership will do, it seems, and that has been growing. The open challenges to Zuma’s authority, the calls for him to go from so many, have so far failed in the ANC’s own structures, such as the national executive, but they are likely to keep coming. At other levels in government, where the party can put pressure on the Zuma project, it’s not so much a matter of open challenge as it is one of increasingly stubborn pushback.

The usual democratic mechanisms (fear of losing an election) have no doubt been working slowly on the thinkers in the ANC but they have long been countered by those who already have their hands on the levers and who have interests to protect.

It seems that the Zuma pushback is digging in. The waterfall of #GuptaLeaks, which reveal chapter and verse of that family’s state capture project, implicate many ANC high-ups – including Cabinet ministers – in questionable activities. It looks like the ANC, as the party, is finally taking action.

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