/ 29 September 2022

Zweli Mkhize, Jacob Zuma and the hubris of ANC succession games

Zweli Mkhize with Jacob Zuma.
Zweli Mkhize, Jacob Zuma inspired to contest for ANC leadership points to a party stuck in a vortex of bad governance and stale ideas

Knowing the best time to leave the stage is difficult for most men in both political and corporate office. Let’s start with the story of the executive, fearing irrelevance. Some, if not most, who’ve made it their life’s work to build their companies into successful corporations are often most terrified by the prospect of the day the business no longer needs them and the only pathway for its future growth being their ultimate exit from its strategic direction and its day-to-day operations. 

Men such as Peter Staude, the disgraced former Tongaat-Hulett chief executive, or Markus Jooste of Steinhoff infamy, of course would have different reasons for holding on given the multibillion-rand fraud committed under their watch.

For those executives that successfully manage to let go by just reading the room, more often than not, they leave a legacy of their work that will live long into the future. Holding on too long, ultimately leads to stale ideas poisoning any prospect of  regeneration. 

It’s a human flaw of hubris to think that the institution can’t and will not be able to prosper without their hands on the wheel.

The inability to let go and move on is just as present in the world of politics with the most powerful man in the world in China’s Xi Jinping looking to extend his reign into another decade if not more. With the war against Ukraine turning so decidedly negative for Russia at the moment, one has to wonder if Vladimir Putin thinks back to that brief interlude where he left the running of “his” country to his deputy and asks whether it was best he left the stage for good. Sadly, it probably galvanises him even more, history will only tell. It all tends to end badly in the end.

The ANC suffers from a ruling elite, who — no matter their age or or how well the party has best served their personal interests while in government over the past 28 years — hold on to power in fear of the “cold” that is promised for anyone outside the party. 

This week, the party’s 80-year-old former president, Jacob Zuma, raised his hand to serve as chair of the party with Nkosasana Dlamini-Zuma, 73, as president in December. One has to wonder what new energy they would they bring to the rapidly declining party. 

The same can be asked of 66-year-old Zweli Mkhize, the former health minister whose name has been tarnished by a corruption scandal as recent as last year surrounding the procurement of personal protective equipment in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

What they clearly fear is the cold. 

Mkhize contests for position as he faces criminal prosecution. Being politically relevant helps to delay it at the very least, as we’ve seen. This week, his name has been put up  by the ANC in Kwazulu-Natal as a contender for the presidency of the party at its December elective conference. 

Governance and in particular, clean governance, is not something held in high regard in the country’s second-most populous province. The province and a few others once backed Jacob Zuma’s rise to the party presidency in 2007, despite the guilty judgement against Schabir Shaik for having a corrupt relationship with him just two years earlier. 

Whether Mkhize is successful or not in toppling Cyril Ramaphosa in a couple of months time, is that it is in his self-interest to remain a factor in the ANC’s political future for as long as humanly possible. 

There are many others in the leadership elite that need the cloak of the ANC to shield them from accountability, squeezing out the prospect of meritocracy within the party, which equates to a continuation of stale and failing ideas around the economy and especially Eskom.