Zuma’s chess strategy explained…

The outcome of the historic 2024 elections has its roots in the rift between the camps of former President Jacob Zuma and current President Cyril Ramaphosa that formed after the NASCREC conference in 2017. In this interview with BizNews, macroeconomic and political analyst Phumlani M. Majozi, who is also the author of “Lessons from Past Heroes”, explains the strategy followed by Zuma, an avid chess player. He describes how Zuma came to view the Ramaphosa faction as a group of people who were after him and who mistreated him. “And up it went and went and went and went up until to a point where Zuma said, I guess as a chess player himself, he said, I’m going to strategise it. I need to hurt these people in the 2024 election. And that is what exactly happened. ” Majozi describes how Zuma used his huge support in KZN, a province that his very popularity won for the ANC, to fight back against the ANC. He shares his theories on Zuma’s end game and the benefits the former president likely wants from regaining “an influence in how things go in governance”. Majozi examines the factors that will determine the future of the ANC and Ramaphosa, and outlines the coalition formation needed to push the ANC into pro-market, pro-growth policies. He also examines the future of democracy in South Africa post May 29.

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Extended transcript of the interview    ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Chris Steyn (00:00.044)

The Eyes of the World are on South Africa where various political parties are negotiating a Government of National Unity. Speaking to us from Maryland is macroeconomic and political analyst, Phumlani Majozi, who is also the author of “Lessons from Past Heroes”. Welcome, Phumlani.

Phumlani M. Majozi (00:21.56)

Thank you, Chris. It’s great to be here and I’m a big fan of the BizNews platform.

Chris Steyn (00:27.532)

Thank you so much. May I start by asking you, what are your thoughts on South Africa’s democracy after May 29th?

Phumlani M. Majozi (00:39.09)

well, look, I just think our democracy does work. It’s one of those democracies that are really on the right footing, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where you’ve had many, many countries over the past decades since independence began in late 50s, early 60s in much of the sub-Saharan Africa.

I think it makes sense to argue that South Africa’s democracy is gaining strength, right, that in the sub-Saharan region, South Africa is quite something to be, you know, to be proud of in terms of the democratic processes, the democratic institutions themselves. You know, The Economist, Chris, wrote recently, because they were doing a very nice sort of graphic looking at the state of democracy. And then they painted them, you know, they looked into Africa. And they did highlight that – this is The Economist magazine in London, UK – they did highlight that despite its flaws, South Africa’s democracy does much better, you know, in contrast to other African, sub-Saharan countries. So I’m quite, I mean, I even wrote about this on social media that I’m quite proud because of how the whole process has been going. 

Here’s a political party that has been governing South Africa since democracy began, the liberator of South Africa’s black people, the African National Congress. You know, the ANC is losing an election, being knocked out by close to, well, losing by a huge amount, close to 20% of the votes they lost in contrast, or in comparison to 2019. A huge, huge drop. Yet they’ve accepted that they’ve really lost the votes, and they’ve said we are going to go forward and try to create a situation where we can govern with other people. Now there have been many sort of speculations before and thoughts, people sharing their opinions, that the ANC loses support at these levels, they would resist the defeat and not concede the loss of votes or the loss of power in the country.

Phumlani M. Majozi (03:04.696)

But they’ve never done that. They’ve just come out and said, we accept. We do concede that we’ve lost votes and that we need to govern in a method that allows other parties to come through in governance. So I’m quite really happy with our progress. Now, this is not to say that there haven’t been people previously who have attempted within the political spaces and circles to hijack our institutions, to use them for personal gains, personal motives. There have been those attempts, but we’ve always managed to push back and resist and create an environment where we’ve had even the former president sleeping in a jail cell without any sort of conflict erupting. And in many African countries, such hasn’t really happened. So I’m quite, I think we’re on the right footing. I would argue…

Chris Steyn (04:08.3)

Speaking about our former president, Jacob Zuma, what do you make of the rise of his party, the phenomenal rise of his party, MK?

Phumlani M. Majozi (04:17.688)

Well, look, I see the rise of the MK Party. I see the MK Party as a faction of the ANC, right? It’s a dissatisfied faction of the ANC that detests, hates Ramaphosa. It didn’t like him. It lost in the 2017 NASREC Conference. It’s never recovered from that. It’s a faction, it’s a Zuma faction, that has never really liked Ramaphosa since the NASREC conference in December 2017. And since then, they’ve never really accepted Ramaphosa. They’ve undermined him, did everything to undermine Ramaphosa’s presidency, to portray him as someone who is …of course, there’s much to criticize with our President Cyril Ramaphosa, on public policy, on his style of governance, we could go on, it’s a democracy, we should do that…

But within the ANC itself, the Zuma faction has never wanted Ramaphosa to really govern the ANC and the country itself for many reasons. I should say. So what happened was that you had a Ramaphosa faction, right? And we had a Zuma faction. And they couldn’t get along since the NASREC conference in 2017. Over the years, they just couldn’t get along. 

Jacob Zuma saw the, you know, the the Ramaphosa as a faction or a group of people who are after him and who mistreat him. He doesn’t get fair treatment. And up it went and went and went and went up until to a point where Zuma said, I guess as a chess player himself, he said, I’m going to strategise it. I need to hurt these people in the 2024 election. 

Because remember, Zuma is very much popular, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, my province. Very much popular, huge support there. And in fact, by the way, the reason why the ANC went to them, became an ANC-governed province was mainly because of Jacob Zuma. It was governed by the IFP before, the Inkhata Freedom Party. But then over the years, as this senior Zulu sort of prominent, charismatic personality came through, Mr. Zuma…So, so yet he has always had huge support there, Mr. Zuma, and now he said, you know what, I am going to use this huge support I have, the very big support I have to fight back against the ANC. Right, and I’m going to hurt them, at the election in 2024. And that is what exactly happened. 

He said, you know what, as a faction, I’m, I’m, I’m moving away. I’m starting, starting….Remember, really has never resigned from the ANC. So he still says he remains a member and still is. But, you know, he said, I’m going to lead this MK Party to show them that I do, I have, I’m still, I have a huge impact on them. 

And that I do believe that the idea with Zuma is to look for a negotiation process or somehow weaken the ANC to a level where they can get into a negotiation and somehow…He wants to shape them, he wants to have an influence in how things go in governance so that, of course, he can get some, you can say some benefits from a legal perspective. As we know, he’s dealing with many sort of court cases he has to deal with. And his Arms Deal Corruption trial will begin in April next year. So he’s a man who’s really desperate to shape things up and he wants somehow to influence the ANC and to get it into a footing or a direction that will favour him and hopefully at least to him according to him to a point where he can get to be you know to his court issues to be dropped in some form. How you do that I’m not sure perhaps maybe could have a president pardoning him or things like that if he found guilty or you could have maybe influenced the prosecution’s team, things like that within the structure of our governance. And Zuma wants to reshape that so that things go according to his view and according to his favour. Now, as I’m saying, that is what explains what is MK Party. It’s a faction of the ANC. It was very much huge.

Phumlani M. Majozi (09:07.256)

And also as well, what also played into that, of course, was, of course, the frustrations around our governance in the country, the economy that is not growing, high unemployment rates, the problems of blackouts over the years, so the problems of crime. So all those things as well, people will say, well, that also played a factor in terms of saying people are looking for an alternative. Fine, we can add that. That is okay. But I do believe that there is that…you know, and this is a Zuma faction, basically a Zuma faction of the ANC. It’s decided to say, you know what we’re going to. We’re going to step away. 

Now there are also some comments by some people that in fact I saw one of the academics, South African academics saying that there is also ethnicity with Zuma. You know he is a Zulu guy and it’s all about you know the Zulu way of doing things and that people have voted for him. The reason why it’s mainly in KwaZulu-Natal is because he is Zulu. There is some ethnic sort of things taking place. Even Helen Zille as well of the DA, that is what she has said post the election that we’ve moved into that ethnic kind of political sort of things that are taking place.

So we shall see how that goes. But I mean, that’s how you can explain the MK Party. And one of the things that are quite stunning to me is that it’s a party that’s got really, they didn’t have a plan as to what’s the structure, you know, who does what, what are the roles in the party at a senior level, what is the kind of leadership they want. The whole structure is not really clearly defined. They’ve ran into the election and really hurt the ANC.

So we shall see how that goes. So, but I mean, that’s how it is. And it’s one of the reasons why it’s standing.

Phumlani M. Majozi (11:02.136)

And we shall see how it goes. And I just suspect something that won’t survive without Zuma. This is a Zuma thing. The moment Zuma disappears, the whole thing just implodes.

Chris Steyn (11:14.924)

What about the future of President Cyril Ramaphosa? Do you think he will see out his second term?

Phumlani M. Majozi (11:22.776)

It depends how the ANC handles this process. And by this process, I’m talking about the way of governing going forward. If it is going to align itself, this is the ANC’s Ramaphosa now. You can say the ANC now, and I’ve argued that over the years, Ramaphosa is fully in control of the ANC now. Remember post-NASREC December 2017 conference that the National Executive Committee was kind of split. So you had the Zuma faction and the Ramaphosa faction, you could call them that. But over the years, Ramaphosa has gained that, that, you know, he’s all the guys where the Ace Magashules, you can go on, some within the NEC. They’ve really… Zuma himself. He has even left, basically, to be with his MK party. So Ramaphosa now is really, he’s in charge of the ANC and his people.

So now if they choose to govern with people like the MK Party and the EFF, they must know that their leadership or Ramaphosa’s presidency is at risk because those guys are going to turn around against Ramaphosa and that won’t be good for Ramaphosa. So his presidency is at risk because remember, at least it’s been reported that part of the demands by the MK Party is that Ramaphosa must go.

And that is what Zuma seeks and…is doing to split the ANC because he wants to somehow push for a negotiation that sees Ramaphosa going and someone who Zuma favours can take over. So if he aligns or if the ANC aligns itself with parties like the MK and the EFF, Ramaphosa’s presidency is at risk. He could really be off by end of his second term. But if he aligns with the guys like the DA and others who are anti, not that they are pro-Ramaphosa, but they are saying that Ramaphosa is the least worst of the ANC and they are willing to work with him. If the ANC is going to align itself with people like that, then Ramaphosa’s presidency will likely survive throughout the first, or sorry, his second term. 

And my view is that they’re likely to end up, regardless of what you call this thing, whether it’s a Government of National Unity. To me, it’s going to be either way. It’s just a coalition in a different name. But my view is that it’s going to be likely, you know, it’s going to be something that favours that Ramaphosa stays, you know, otherwise, it should be something like the DA, maybe with the IFP and other parties and so on, smaller parties that would want Ramaphosa to stay. That is in the interest of the ANC, if Ramaphosa is to stay for his second term. So that’s how I see Ramaphosa’s fate going forward. So I would bet that he is going to align, he will be on the side of a governance that keeps his presidency. That would be along the DA and others that want Ramaphosa to stay, because that is in the interest of the ANC.

Chris Steyn (14:44.172)

What is in the interest of a country? What coalition would be best for South Africa?

Phumlani M. Majozi (14:51.448)

Well, we need to understand what the state is of the country, Chris. That is very much important. What is the state of the country? Where are we as a nation? Right? If you have about half of the population being classified as poor, that’s a problem. If you have at least 60% or about 60% youth unemployment rate, that’s a huge problem. Young people are the future of this country. You know. We need them to be productive in the economy. For them to walk around hopeless that is damaging to the country. 

If you have, If you have growth rates of less than 1%, that is damaging because you need strong economic growth to be able to generate jobs or to create jobs; that is disturbing and that is damaging to our society because remember, if you have something that is not 0.5% or something between 0.5% or something between, you know, in fact, something between 0.5 and 1% or between 0% and 1%, well, it’s bad. Because our population growth is at about 1.5%. So we have an economy that is underperforming population growth, and that’s a big problem. 

Now, many people, including… when some of the economists in South Africa have said that you would need plus minus 5% economic growth to drastically reduce our staggering, shocking, stunning unemployment rates. And that’s where we need to go. And those are the issues we should think about. 

And then there’s a crime crisis that is taking lives. You know, dozens of people dying daily because of the, of the violent crime that we have to deal with in the country. We have problems of immigration as well. These problems are real. We have problems of education where you have at least 81% of Grade Four learners cannot read for meaning. And when you look at our educational outcomes, we do worse in contrast or in comparison to poorer countries in the continent like Tanzania, Kenya, and so on.

Phumlani M. Majozi (17:10.68)

So now I’m giving what the state of the country is right now…And then we’ve had blackouts, problems of corruption at ESKOM and other institutions and corruption in general. You know, the lack of law and order really is hurting us in the country. And we had when a situation where we had, we have about, according to the World Bank, 10% of our GDP is being lost to criminality, the crime in the country.

That tells you of the seriousness of a situation in terms of lack of law enforcement and the ability to suppress crime in the country. Now, but your question is now, what kind of coalition do we need to address these issues? I’ve just shown to you. We need a coalition that will put the private sector forward and forth. It must be centre the private sector to be the driver of economic productivity with the government creating an environment that is conducive to business operations, business growth, innovation, all of those things. You do need such a government and that government needs to be capable government, not run by corrupt people. Competence is very critical here. So you need, and that government needs to create the structure, the environment.

This is a crisis. This is a problem in terms of fighting crime that I’ve just mentioned, reducing crime that is hurting the private sector, creating better educational conditions to produce competent young people who can really go out with them and make an impact in the very sophisticated fields. You need that education. And education can take different kinds of structure, so long as the government creates an environment where public education works, then there is…there’s reform there. Unions, teacher unions don’t just dominate and do whatever they want. Also independent schools, low-fee independent schools, reforming education so that, you know, there is that culture of competitive education and education where officials are held accountable. That is very important.

So you need such a kind of governance. And I strongly believe, Chris, that that cannot be brought by the ANC partnering with the EFFs and the MK parties. The EFF is a radical sort of Marxist, not even sort of Marxist organization that celebrates Karl Marx, right? They want nationalisations, they want all kinds of regulations that don’t make economic sense. Right, you want a national minimum wage of plus 6,000 Rand or plus or somewhere along there. That is crazy. You know, MK Party, same thing, nationalisations of key sectors of the economy, the government being the land owner. 

If you want to fix South Africa, then you must empower the people. Don’t let government be the driver and the takeover of everything. Empower the people. If your goal is to uplift the poor, right? Don’t make politicians be the controller of everything. Empower the poor people. So, and you do that by creating an environment with good education and all the stuff and allowing them to removing all kinds of barriers for them to be participants in the market. And although the market is key and enabling people to be productive participants in the market is very, very important. So I would say that a coalition like the ANC, the DA and along with the IFP as well and probably with other smaller parties or something like that because such is not too hostile to the private sector. Right. And the DA would act as it was. Remember, what you want DAs to have, at least in the case of South Africa, you already have very much left wing sort of the ANC in charge, most of the main office programmes, right. But they’ve also, the ANC itself has always in some ways very much open to the private sector, sort of playing a role in the economy. We’ve seen with the Electricity Amendment bill that has been signed to basically, you know, do away with ESKOM’s monopoly and allow the private sector also coming into the energy sector and be the provider as well. That is good. I commend President Ramaphosa for that. So you would need a coalition that will really push for stronger business productivity. And I think the DA and the ANC, at least the DA would somehow challenge the ANC in pushing it into a pro-market, pro-growth policies because that is what I believe we do need to reduce our shocking unemployment rates.

Chris Steyn (22:09.644)

Okay, so what you’re saying is that a coalition between the African National Congress, the DA and IFP and perhaps some smaller parties would be the way forward to try and address the socio -economic challenges and whereas a coalition with the EFF and MK would not necessarily set back the effort to address the socio-economic challenges but could hamper those efforts.

Phumlani M. Majozi (22:37.112)

Yes, I think it will take us in quite a negative direction because when you look at what they propose and their manifestos and what they stand for, it’s not something, it turns us into the idea of Zimbabwe, right? Where we have this forceful way of addressing what’s called land reform. You do it by racial divisions and really destroying the property market. You don’t want that. They want to take us through the root or the root of Venezuela and that’s not what South Africa wants.

South Africa needs a productive economy, productive citizens who are freer to do what they want and who where the government plays an important role in enabling them to be productive participants in the market.

Chris Steyn (23:25.484)

Thank you very much. That was Phumlani Majozi, macroeconomic and political analyst speaking to BizNews from Maryland in the United States. And of course, Phumlani is the author of Lessons from Past Heroes. Thank you so much. I’m Chris Steyn.

Phumlani M. Majozi (23:42.584)

Thank you, Chris. Pleasure.

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