Timing of Zuma exit crucial for opposition party electoral success

I don’t know how many people remember Lester Venter’s book of a decade ago called, When Mandela goes: The coming of South Africa’s second revolution. Well, that’s been pretty much answered, but the sequel, given the opposition’s conundrum, must be, When Zuma goes? What then? That’s because for the main opposition parties, delighted with the surprise turn of events, the timing of when Zuma goes is actually a political bind. If the number of top ANC leaders set against him continues to grow and a somewhat unlikely secret ballot is allowed, he and his cabinet might be turfed, with the EFF and DA claiming victory. However, if the ANC continues to close ranks as the National Party did at the height of its isolation, paranoia and defensiveness, Msholozi will make it to the December elective conference. From there – if his favoured successor gets in – the current misrule will continue. With this scenario, the opposition parties have seven to 18 months to feed on free weekly Zuptoid voter ammunition, increasing their chances of an electoral victory in 2019. The fly in the ointment would be an early prosecution of Zuma, requiring the outwitting of the captured National Prosecuting Authority. – Chris Bateman.

By Paul Vecchiatto and Mike Cohen

South African opposition parties trying to get Jacob Zuma to resign are in a conundrum: if they bring down an unpopular president they may lose their best chance to win the next election.

“I suspect opposition leaders are eternally torn on the subject,” said Daryl Glaser, a political science professor at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. “A lot of them may genuinely want Zuma to go and they may hope that his going spawns a kind of chaos and division in the ruling party that they could benefit from. It is also undeniable that Zuma is something of an electoral asset to opposition parties.”

South African President Jacob Zuma. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

Since he took power in May 2009, Zuma has been dogged by scandal, and is on his fourth finance minister in less than two years, with S&P Global Ratings and Fitch Ratings cutting South Africa’s credit rating to junk. The African National Congress suffered its worst-ever electoral performance since the end of apartheid in a municipal vote in August that saw it lose control of Pretoria and Johannesburg.

Tens of thousands of people have joined street demonstrations since Zuma fired Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in March. Opposition parties have joined church and civil rights groups to push for Zuma’s ouster. Several top ANC leaders have said the party risks losing power in 2019 elections if he’s allowed to complete his second five-year term.

ANC logo stencilled on a wall in Soweto, Johannesburg

Even the labour unions that helped him win control of the ANC have turned on him. Planned speeches by Zuma and others were cancelled on Monday when members of labour federation Cosatu booed him at May Day celebrations in Bloemfontein.

Zuma has indicated that he favours Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his ex-wife, mother of four of his children and former head of the African Union Commission, to succeed him as ANC leader when he steps down in December. The other frontrunner for the post is Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who’s criticised Zuma’s decision to fire Gordhan and spoken out against corruption.

“From our own messaging point of view, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would probably be seen as a continuation of more of the same,” said Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane. While Ramaphosa may be seen by some as a “new broom who sweeps clean” and that the ANC is redeemable, “in truth, the system is broken,” he said.

The president has said he won’t voluntarily relinquish office early and accused his critics of racism and trying to frustrate his plans to bring about “radical economic transformation” to give the country’s black majority a bigger stake in the economy. The ANC has backed Zuma so far, saying the country’s woes can’t be pinned on him alone.

Zuma is also facing a motion no confidence in Parliament where the ANC holds a 62% majority. The Constitutional Court is currently considering whether to decide if there should be a secret ballot, and if it rules that there should be, disgruntled ANC lawmakers who’ve previously helped quash several previous no-confidence motions could side with the opposition without risking losing their jobs.

“It seems the opposition parties are trying to have it both ways,” Cherrel Africa, a political science professor at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, said by phone. “If the motion of no confidence works, then they can say they got rid of Zuma. If it doesn’t then they can say the ANC is protecting Zuma.”

The ANC NEC Lager. Cartoon published courtesy of @PaulieCartoons

Zwelethu Jolobe, a political science lecturer at the University of Cape Town, said most ANC lawmakers who do want Zuma to go early will wait until after the December leadership vote to try and oust him. And even if the vote to get rid of Zuma does succeed, that wouldn’t necessarily signal an end to the country’s leadership malaise, he said.

“The opposition parties have raised some substantive issues, but they are still heavily focused on getting rid of Zuma,” Jolobe said. “Should this happen, then who will succeed him? The ANC has no clear successor to Zuma. No-one knows what the consequences of such a motion would be.”

Source: Bloomberg

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