ANC boxed in the corner. Calland – ‘My gut feeling is Zuma’s days are numbered’

Professor Richard Calland is the author of The Zuma Years and an associate professor at the University of Cape Town. Hes an erudite academic who has also produced a political looking glass entitled Make or Break – How the next three years will shape South Africa’s next three decades. At a recent Cape Town Press Club briefing, he introduced the concept of ‘political gravity’, something which the governing African National Congress is defying at its peril. Cape Messenger editor Donwald Pressly compiled the below report. – Stuart Lowman

By Donwald Pressly*

My gut feeling is that his days are numbered. As his power declines, the bolder his moves are because he is in a corner.

Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.
Donwald Pressly, Cape Messenger editor.

This is Richard Calland’s response to just how much longer can South African President Jacob Zuma survive? It will probably take “one more big tipping point” to topple him. It could be a judgment in the constitutional court which says he must face 700 odd fraud charges, or it could be some event “that we haven’t anticipated” that would give Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, and others “to move decisively”.

But Calland believes that a more likely “base scenario” is that President Zuma will survive to December 2017 – to the next national elective conference of the governing African National Congress – when a new party president is elected. Calland said that he could go “the Putin route” – opt to be the power behind the throne and remain party president and seek a third term. This is a reference to Russian President Vladimir Putin who stood down a president of his country for a spell, taking on the post of Prime Minister before returning to the presidency.

That would be a jolly ironic outcome given that Zuma came to power as a consequence of a groundswell of resistance to President Thabo Mbeki seeking a third term as ANC party president in 2007 at Polokwane. Calland believes that there is only a 20 percent change “and no higher” of that happening. Meanwhile, the ANC leadership is seeking “working on a dream team… a compromise ticket… some way of achieving that”. The problem was that it appeared that there were only about 29 to 31 ANC national executive committee members out of 80 who were non-Zumarites at the moment. That was thick political glue for the president, but that too might change.

South Africa's President and ANC party president Jacob Zuma reacts as he attends the party's National Executive Committee (NEC) three-day meeting in Pretoria, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South Africa’s President and ANC party president Jacob Zuma reacts as he attends the party’s National Executive Committee (NEC) three-day meeting in Pretoria, March 18, 2016. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Stepping up to the plate

Calland said the ANC was trying to defy gravity. It needed to choose between upping its game “or does it start to cheat the system” fearing the loss of power. That is the fork in the road it is facing. Calland said he struggled to find someone who could step up to the plate and restore the dignity of the ANC.

Always missing the opportunity

Meanwhile Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president who has failed to get Cosatu’s nod as widely expected (but got the National Union of Mineworkers’ support instead), appeared to be the man for whom the aphorism of never missing an opportunity to miss an (political) opportunity… rings true. He doesn’t seem to have the ruthlessness and decisiveness that political leadership at the highest level requires. “I would be very happy for him to prove me wrong … because I do think he would be the best of the available leadership… he is a social democrat… a one nation leader… and his cv tells us that he understands the needs of the full range of social (society).. ” said Calland.

Read also: Donwald Pressly: Zuma ‘on notice’ – who would replace him?

The soundbite fox

Turning to the Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema, Calland said he had proved that he “thinks like a fox”. He is politically dexterous. He moved from a forceful presence in parliament on a Tuesday to a defender of the constitution on aThursday. He presented a powerful image and a person who was brilliant at crystallising complex political issues “into soundbites”. He was smart. But beneath all of that there were still questions about what exactly Malema and his party stood for. “The jury is out at the moment.” There were some who believed that he really did care about the constitution “and the country”. And there were those who viewed him as a fascist nationalist. “Take your pick.”

The great test would come at local government level where his party had kingmaker powers in the big cities – of Tshwane and Johannesburg (where the DA now rules). It had been “tactically wise” to not enter governing coalitions where he could have appeared weak and ineffectual. He had to be careful not to be seen to be “vandalising government” and being a cause of instability. The Democratic Alliance, however, was likely to be challenged in 2018 – in the run-up to the national election in 2019, when it presented budgets in those cities. “I expect him to cause a great deal of trouble… The DA will struggle to handle it,” Calland predicted. He said that Malema’s tactics in opposition in the big cities could potentially jeopardise the DA’s strategy to build an alternative government which delivered to voters and was efficient.

  • Donwald Pressly, editor, Cape Messenger
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