YONELA DIKO: Can the ANC retain Zuma supporters without him?
One of the political strategies that Jacob Zuma has maintained throughout his political career, along with his disciples, has been to entrench and deepen polarisation in the ruling party and traffic on the confusion and disillusionment it begets. It is an equaliser of sorts as it creates uncertainty and despondency among the people about everybody. The good guys become difficult to separate from the bad guys; the bad guys win.
In a polarised organisation, one group, usually the guilty one, throws accusations on its political rivals (usually the ones trying to hold the other accountable), so that the rivals spend time defending against the accusations, which creates confusion and disenchantment among general party members and supporters. In that state of disillusion, the corrupt section finds its get out of jail free card, at least among the people.
So it's been important to consistently push the current President, as Zuma and his minions did, to charge forward until doubt emerges whether it's on Cyril Ramaphosa's bank statements, Mbeki's use of law enforcement to chase an innocent man, imaginary protection of white interests or a sell-off of state-owned enterprises. It triggers emotions in black people who are tired of waiting, and exhausted of being played loosely, over again, which creates enough madness for the sinner to be made a hero. This sustains the political life of the corrupt and conman, a mixture of ideology and false accusations.
Black solidarity is a potent tool of the corrupt. They are able to cover their misdeeds under the guise of serving black interests against an overwhelmingly white-funded group within the black community.
It's been important to agitate blacks about leaders who are selling their country back to white people. This existential threat to blacks about their lives suddenly makes people respond positively to the illegal acts of the one who claims to be fighting for blacks.
Zuma has managed to redefine himself, particularly when his back was against the wall from his own corrupt activities, canvassing black people's potent anger about the unyielding economic structure of the economy and present himself, in the last year of his Presidency, as the only one fighting for black interests against another ANC that's protecting interests of white monopoly capital. This has meant some of his personal sins are overlooked by many because of what is considered a bigger battle for black economic freedom. And yet others like him, corrupt-accused and facing possible incarceration, have jumped on this useful wagon to redefine themselves as fighting for a pro-black agenda.
There's really been a genius to the madness.
The Zuma Threat
After all, Zuma's manipulation has been to give himself a political life of sort, and to sustain those who are jointed at his hip with political survival. But does the ANC face a threat to its support base if they sideline Zuma and demand consequence, especially now that he is defying the highest court in the land?
Will the ANC lose support if it turns its back on Zuma, and is there an even greater risk of his supporters working against the party in an attempt to ensure its defeat at the polls, or at the very least, in municipalities or province(s) where Zuma's support remains high?
The current flirting with Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and rumors of a coalition between Zuma's radical economic transformation ideal and the EFF seems to suggest that the ANC stands to lose a great deal if Zuma joins forces with opposition parties against the ANC. History has shown how resilient ANC support is, even against its most popular leaders who choose to leave the party and strike out on their own.
Why is Zuma still popular?
That Zuma is still popular after all he has put the ANC and country through, long after he has left public office, speaks to this polarised ANC base and electorate. Defying a Constitutional Court order, Deputy chief justice and state capture inquiry chair Raymond Zondo and the party by refusing to present himself at the Zondo Commission should have been the last straw for any person who remained persuaded of Zuma's innocence. Instead, his supporters are unmoved and some have even become more radical.
Are there still provinces and regions where denouncing Zuma may lose you internal ANC elections? Are there places where speaking against corruption can take you off ANC internal lists and turn you into a pariah?
The other day, the secretary general of the ANC stumbled all over himself trying to defend Zuma's defiance of the Constitutional Court's order, ultimately saying, at great shame to many members of the party, that Zuma has done nothing wrong. The Constitution of the country is not sacrosanct. Why would the secretary general support a fugitive? Does he think his own political fortunes are joined with Zumas?
What is true, however, is that members and leaders of the ANC are not afraid of Zuma per se, but are afraid of losing their political fortunes that they somehow still think their successes are tied to their support for Zuma. How real is this fear?
The Zuma fear is baseless
Reading about Republicans who stayed loyal to Trump, even in the face of inexplicable guffs made me realise that no one leaves a faction on principle, only on incentives. The question is, What will the leaving a Zuma led faction benefit one.
Given Aces clear lack of capacity, incompetency, lack of intelligence, would there even be a place for him in the Ramaphosa camp. This is Unlikely. The Ramaphosa camp had wanted Senzo Mchunu, a much more capable and morally clear comrade to be Secretary General, not Ace. There is therefore, no incentive for Ace to leave the Zuma faction.
Firstly, Zuma and his minions could never have the class, refinement and capacity of Ramaphosa so what is left is to invent a false contest between him as the face of a black agenda (he had 10 years to prove himself as a truly black leader to no avail) and Ramaphosa as the imaginary face of white interests.
Secondly, as part of their multi-pronged machination, Zuma and his ilk have continued to threaten, first before his removal, of the consequences to the country and even blood spill if he is removed. That never materialised. Although Zuma continues to enjoy admiration, the fear by some leaders of losing their own support if they disagree with Zuma's clear wrongdoings seems without merit.
They may well be called out as sell outs (sell out to what, nobody knows). They may also lose some factional privileges. But it's not clear if their political lives would come to an end should they publicly rebuke Zuma.
What is to be done
The ANC is now caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, members of the movement who think Zuma has gone too far in defying the Constitutional Court has tolerated one too many of his gaffes and it's time to cut him loose. On the other hand, there is a significant number of people who think Zuma is being targeted, for among other reasons, his stunts on radical economic transformation - this is no small base, especially given ANC's declining fortunes in the last few elections.
Either way, the ANC will have to make a choice. The real question is, can the ANC retain Zuma supporters without Zuma himself? On this front, I think enough ANC members have seen their organisation losing its standing in society and its power in its electoral mandate to realise that the Zuma chapter must finally be closed.
If the ANC could say that Zuma must be fined or jailed for defying the Constitution, it could unburden the organisation from his excesses and let him and his cronies battle it out on their own.
After that, a full restoration for the party may well be possible.
Yonela Diko is the former spokesperson to the Minister of Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation. You can follow him on @yonela_diko.