The world might wonder how Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, now gunning to be elected president of the ANC in December, will extricate herself from claims that, by having accepted the South African of the Year Award in 2015, she might have accepted dirty money and therefore colluded with evil.
The award, which was run by the then Gupta-owned news publication The New Age, carried prize money of R250 000.
A writer whose name now escapes me observed many years ago that, even if we do not commit evil but don’t condemn it, we become culpable.
In December 2015, the news organisations associated with the Guptas conferred the “honour” on Dlamini-Zuma at a glitzy affair, which President Jacob Zuma addressed. He was accompanied by his lieutenants, including the present Finance Minister Malusi Gigaba, former communications minister Faith Muthambi and Free State Premier Ace Magashule, among others.
Dlamini-Zuma should have thought: What is it that I have achieved that is so strikingly out of the ordinary that I should accept this honour?
The conferment of the award has been shrouded in mystery and raised many questions.
Why was it necessary for her former husband to confer the award? Knowing what the world knows today about the revelations contained in the leaked Gupta emails and the piles upon piles of alleged shady dealings, how does Dlamini-Zuma square up with that? How does she deal with the fact that she could have received money whose origin and source might be suspect? Is that the calibre of president the country wants? A president who does not ask probing questions when there is pressing need to do so, an urgent need, we might add.
Perhaps as a strategy to wash her hands of it, Pontius Pilate-style, Dlamini-Zuma offered to donate the prize money to some charitable organisation, a move that may have been calculated to deflect from the sordid saga of the controversial R10-million “laundered” sponsorship, out of which the R250 000 prize money may have come.
As Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential campaign goes into top gear in a final effort to attain supreme political power, she may have to brace herself to deal with the old scandals involving the controversial funding of the musical Sarafina II in 1995 for a staggering amount of R14.27-million.
What is the point of raising the Sarafina II saga now? It touches on ethics and ethical living. Hard as Dlamini-Zuma may wish for these controversies to disappear, they will not, precisely because political stakes are high and the ANC national elective conference is only two months away.
Zuma has been associated with the Guptas, a fact that is no longer in dispute and has been confirmed by senior members of the ANC on countless occasions. Some have expressed their disdain, and they have been joined by others in the tripartite alliance, who have also suggested that Zuma’s behaviour and his association with the Guptas is reason enough for him to “step aside”. The leaders of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and labour federation Cosatu have spoken up about unethical dealings.
The SACP’s first deputy president, Solly Mapaila, has expressed his party’s disdain on many platforms, describing how intolerable the situation has become. He has called for the president’s head, describing Zuma on one occasion as having “dictatorial authority over the ANC”.
Mapaila gave his support to former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, who openly challenged Zuma’s legitimacy to be the leader of the organisation and called for his recall, and also supported the opposition-led vote of no confidence in the president.
In equal measure, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande has been critical of Zuma and his association with the Guptas, describing the relationship as “toxic” and “as the single biggest problem of the ANC”, a point that is shared by the general secretary of Cosatu, Bheki Ntshalintshali.
This might point to a loss of legitimacy, as does the willingness of some members of the alliance to speak openly about their concerns about Zuma’s failing administration and his lack of ethical leadership. If comrades are prepared to shout from the rooftops for the demise of their president, this might suggest the situation has become untenable, and that, for many, patience with the president is running thin and the desire to dislodge him from power as a last resort is palpable.
Obviously, this does not bode well for the ANC, which sees itself as the leader of society — and also sees that it is being led by a lame duck, lacking in legitimacy and moral authority.
There is a strong argument that his resignation could cause a crisis. But this analysis lacks the appreciation that a crisis of legitimacy and moral authority has already been created, that Zuma is holding on to power by the skin of his teeth, and that he has tainted those he seeks to anoint to be his successor. If this is true, this does not bode well for Dlamini-Zuma, who is being backed by the president and sections of the ANC Women’s League and the ANC Youth League, among others.
Which brings me to the final point. Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy for the presidency is arguably weakened. The political infighting and divisions being played out in what could be described as her stronghold — KwaZulu-Natal — may in general be a cause for concern but in particular it should be a worrying factor for her campaign. Traditionally, the province is regarded as a Zuma stronghold. But, given the deepening schism in the province, this might no longer be the case. The provincial executive committee has been dealt a severe blow by the high court, which declared it null and void, and thus has sharpened the divisions between the warring factions.
The claims that the leagues are in full support of her campaign cannot be substantiated; at best, they must remain anecdotal.
But this should not mean she cannot win the elections. Although there are huge pockets of support for deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, the ANC in the provinces is racked by division, as was recently manifested in the Eastern Cape, a provincial electoral process of violence and shame.
All this must point to the fact that, in the words of Zuma, “yinde lendlela” — the road is long and fraught with difficulties.
Jo-Mangaliso Mdhlela is a freelance journalist and a priest