[OPINION] The ANC paralysed by Zuma
President Zuma can rest easy as he jets off to attend Fidel Castro’s funeral. He has, after all, survived another attempt on his political life.
The extended ANC NEC meeting this week represented a reprieve for Zuma, but the full-on war will come after this week’s battle. Of that there can be no doubt.
In all of this, South Africa and its institutions are the major casualties. Zuma and his cronies have shown their disregard not only for the institutions of state but for the very Constitution itself.
In the alternative universe which Zuma and his cheerleaders inhabit, Zuma is a victim of an array of outlandish conspiracies.
He is the veritable wounded animal and he will do whatever it takes to survive calls for him to step down. This includes continuing to use the courts to delay any form of accountability, be it on state capture or on the 783 charges of fraud and corruption hanging over his head.
He and his band of cronies have too much to lose to simply give up now.
And so it will be a slow burn process until we finally see the back of Zuma.
Despite the fact that the motion tabled by Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom and others failed, what it has done is speak about that proverbial elephant in the room, about the damage Zuma is doing to the economy and our democratic institutions as well as the blatant corruption that has taken place on his watch.
If one thinks about it realistically, there was not that much reason to believe that Zuma would be recalled, even if the NEC meeting lasted longer than expected.
The waiting game continued into Monday but as Zuma’s motorcade sped off to meet Uganda’s President Museveni it was obvious that he had in fact not been ‘Hanekomed’.
The next signal was a press briefing called for 2pm the next day, with ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe starting it off saying, “This was not a special NEC meeting”. Oh, alright then, just normal run of the mill recall stuff.
One could cast one’s mind back to Thabo Mbeki’s recall in 2008 and how brutally swift that was.
What denial the ANC is in now. It is paralysed by Zuma and Zuma is paralysed by his own actions. The state seems to be run without leadership and in pockets of certainty.
Zuma is like the proverbial cat with nine lives. But let us make no mistake, the noose has tightened and Zuma has less room to manoeuvre. Whether he will now reshuffle his Cabinet in a classic payback remains to be seen. He too, is constrained despite how things may seem.
For now, everything is fluid but this is no country for recall.
It is no coincidence that Zuma has repeatedly spoken about a conspiracy to ‘jail’ him. Clearly the 783 charges of fraud and corruption weigh heavily. He thus has too much to lose - as do his merry band of corrupt cronies.
Until the ANC conference in 2017 and the national election in 2019, it’s going to be a rocky ride.
While Mantashe emphasised unity, there is nothing to suggest that the ANC, a shell of its former self, is able to self-reflect and do the necessary work to ensure that it does not face bruising electoral losses in 2019.
After all, it has still not properly thought through the repercussions of its losses in the 2016 local government elections.
But while Zuma survives, the conversation about what a post-Zuma world may look like has begun in some quarters.
For the ANC this is a conversation that is fraught with complexity about succession and personalities. Yet, it really should be about organisational renewal and how, if at all, the ANC is able to drag itself out of the quagmire in which it finds itself. It will not be easy.
It is worth remembering that the rot within the ANC has not happened overnight.
Zuma has taken corruption and cronyism to new heights and his brazenness has been extraordinary, but as far back as 2007, then secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe warned of “the cancer of corruption eating away at the ANC”.
In December 2005 then President Thabo Mbeki addressed an ANC staff lekgotla and spoke at length about the ‘new cadre’ of the movement.
Mbeki’s analysis then described how at successive intervals in the ANC’s history, a ‘new cadre’ was required. Mbeki pointed out that the challenges for the ANC was dealing with ‘being in power’. “We have seen these people attracted to join the ANC as a bee is to a honey pot. They come with the view that they will use access to power for personal benefit.”
He went on pointedly to say, “We have been trying to raise this matter for some time now,” before listing examples of those who may carry an ANC membership card, but in their actions of stoking violence to gain positions “are not ANC”.
So the complexity of the liberation movement dealing with power and attempting to become a modern political party, constrained by free and fair elections, and then the transparency and accountability required in a democracy, has found the ANC sorely lacking in depth and in its ability to keep the rent-seekers out.
This challenge is, of course, not unique to the ANC as a liberation movement.
Enter Jacob Zuma who ascended to power in a way that shifted things within the ANC quite dramatically. At Polokwane the deep strains of intolerance that had been building across the tripartite alliance during the Mbeki years were felt almost from the first day of that ANC conference.
Ahead of the conference there were already significant gripes regarding membership numbers and whether some delegates at Polokwane were members of branches in good standing or not. ‘Slate voting’ - where delegates vote en bloc for a group of individuals thus distorting voting processes and entrenching factionalism - became the order of the day and set a pattern for voting at subsequent elective conferences.
Motlanthe, ahead of the ANC’s Mangaung conference, lamented that slate voting was the ‘worst form of corruption’ within the party. But, who was listening then and who is listening now?
One person alone cannot solve the ANC’s challenges though one cannot help but look to Zuma as the embodiment of all that is wrong and corrupt within the ANC.
The ANC long detached from its founding ideals and its members’ voices, is in serious trouble and no amount of papering over the cracks will show otherwise.
How does it therefore rejuvenate itself and is that even possible? It has managed to do so over successive generations and mostly had the calibre of leadership when it mattered most. That cannot be said of the current ANC, a shadow of its former self.
Do the good men and women within the party simply continue trying to effect change from within - until now unsuccessfully – as the tenderpreneurs and those with undemocratic instincts fight for the last scraps? Or, will we see another split in the ANC that gave us Cope and the EFF? Or will we see the instability of further coalition politics?
If the ANC continues on its current trajectory of denial, it will undoubtedly pay a further price at the polls in 2019 because as we have seen Jacob Zuma is all about self-preservation – he really looks out only for Number One.
Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies.