/ 7 July 2017

Uneasy Zuma hedges bets

President Jacob Zuma
President Jacob Zuma


Is President Jacob Zuma running scared?

His proposal that the losing presidential candidate at the ANC’s elective conference in December should automatically become deputy president could be a sign that he is not convinced his preferred candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will win the contest against current deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

His suggestion came after most of the proposals presented by his supporters at the party’s national policy conference were shot down.

The only key proposal the Zuma faction can claim victory for is the nationalisation of the South African Reserve Bank. Few Ramaphosa supporters objected to the proposal, insisting only that the bank remain independent.

Prior to the policy conference, Zuma’s backers were confident that all their policy proposals would be adopted. This was not the case.

Take the debate on “white monopoly capital”, for instance. Nine out of 11 internal commissions did not agree with including the race dimension in the proposal. So furious were the Zuma supporters that they even wanted ANC policy guru Joel Netshitenzhe kicked out of the plenary session after he revealed the numbers at the media briefing on Tuesday night.

Netshitenzhe, who in May tabled a motion during the ANC national executive committee meeting to compel Zuma to step down as the country’s president, refused to apologise and was supported by a significant number of the ANC delegates in the plenary.

When labour federation Cosatu declared in November its choice of Ramaphosa to succeed Zuma, the president’s backers swore that Ramaphosa was unlikely to get support from a single ANC provincial structure.

But eight months later, the balance of power in the ANC provincial structures appears to have changed and Zuma has undoubtedly noticed this. It became clear during the policy conference that more provinces were tilting towards Ramaphosa. They include Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, Gauteng, the Northern Cape, Mpumalanga and a portion of Zuma’s home province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Indications are that Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza has dumped Zuma for Ramaphosa after he contradicted a number of key mooted resolutions by Zuma supporters, including the expropriation of land without compensation.

Zuma, who is stepping down as party leader in December, argued that the proposal to have the losing candidate become deputy president will do away with factionalism and “slate” politics. But political observers believe his suggestion would not only institutionalise factions in the ANC, but also erode democratic practices that have been in place for the party’s entire 105-year history.

Although one might be tempted to think otherwise, it is difficult to believe that Zuma’s call for unity is genuine. For the past 10 years, he has failed to unite the party by choosing one faction over the other.

It came as a surprise when Zuma, in his final address to the ANC policy conference, said he was worried that the party was losing capable cadres. Is this the same man who showed little regard for “clever blacks” in the ANC who challenged him intellectually?

The only conclusion to be reached is that Zuma now realises that Ramaphosa cannot be dismissed in the 2017 ANC presidential campaign. The president is also afraid of an ANC split, which could cost the party the general elections in 2019.