THEWORLDTODAY.ORG DECEMBER 2007
WILLIAM GUMEDEis Senior Associate and Oppenheimer Fellow ar St Antony’s College, Oxford University. The second edition of his book, Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC, Zed Books, was published last month. His forthcoming work, The Democracy Gap – Africa’s Wasted Years, Zed Books will be available in April.
However, the elders deemed that Mbeki, although not the most popular candidate, would best satisfy all the powerful interest groups: its exile bureaucracy, military, underground structures and the once imprisoned party elders. While Ramaphosa could capture the grassroots vote, the former trade unionist and domestic leader could not secure the support of the key power-brokers. The crucial difference in the battle to succeed Mbeki now is that ANC members demand a competitive election because their organisation is governing a ‘normal’ society, a constitutional democracy.
ROUGH RULES ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, the former Mbeki ally, is adroitly using popular sentiment to put his case for an electoral contest, which he believes he can win. Mbeki argues that South Africa and the ANC is in such a delicate political and economic situation, the new leader must be anointed as he was, not only to prevent the election turning into destabilising acrimony, but also to ensure that the ‘right’ leader gets elected to continue current centrist economic, social and political policies. The rules guiding the contest are unclear. It is based on unwritten ANC convention which is often manipulated. For example, candidates are not supposed to campaign openly. Yet, Mbeki as the incumbent, and Zuma as the challenger have been campaigning through proxies. Outside candidates, such as former Gauteng premier and now business tycoon, Tokyo Sexwale and Ramaphosa, have had to make sure they were not seen publicly campaigning, lest they be accused of careerism which is discouraged in the ANC. Candidates with the backing of leadership blocs in the ANC, or its political alliance, have a better chance than those who have popular grassroots support, but are officially frowned on, because of their perceived ability to shake up entrenched leadership or factional interests.
DIVISIVE The main immediate challenges for South Africa are maintaining high economic growth rates, cementing a quality constitutional democracy, and forging a new inclusive nation following centuries of division. As important, the country will have to patch up its fraying social fabric, left tattered following the apartheid years of internal conflict, which has led to a breakdown in values, morals, identity and crime. The country’s diversity means that its identity will have to be cobbled together on political grounds – shared democratic institutions, values and its admirable constitution. Yet, the succession race has already damaged many of those institutions, in what are increasingly seen as factional battles. The country is struggling to move from the undemocratic political cultures inherited from the apartheid past, to a new democratic one, where criticism and dissent are regarded as healthy, where there is public accountability and the values of the constitution guide everyday behaviour. During his trial last year, in which he was acquitted of the alleged rape of a
family friend, Zuma appallingly claimed that he could tell by the way a woman sat that she wanted to have sex and that Zulu culture determines that a man should oblige. Yet, the constitution enshrined gender equality. The leadership of the ANC’s left, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) strongly back Zuma’s presidential candidacy on the understanding that if he wins, he will adopt their policies. Zuma has previously never identified with the union movement, communists nor any group on the left. If Costau and the SACP are unsuccessful in championing Zuma, they may leave the ANC alliance. This means the succession battle could reconfigure the alliance with the unions and the communists which has existed formally since the 1950s, and informally from the 1920s. If Zuma and Mbeki are the main contestants, the fallout may paralyse government for some time. Mbeki cannot be re-elected president of South Africa – the constitution bars that. He has thrown his hat in mainly to derail a possible Zuma victory. Mbeki and his supporters reckon that if he is re-elected president of the ANC, he will be able to cherry-pick a centrist candidate to ensure his legacy in the country’s presidency in 2009. ANC leaders increasingly also talked of postponing the election for their president to some date before 2009. Mbeki would remain both ANC and South African president in-between. The problem is that the Zuma group opposes this with all its might. The earlier the election, the better it is for Zuma who may still be floored by an official investigation into his affairs. The country’s national prosecuting authority is still considering charging him with fraud and corruption following the imprisonment of his former financial advisor, Schabir Shaik in 2005. Zuma has adroitly exploited increasing worries that state institutions are being used to sideline critics of Mbeki, the ANC and government policies, by portraying himself as the victim of such abuses. He has also used to his advantage, the rising perception of poorer citizens that democracy is not producing economic or political dividends for the disadvantaged; but that only a few are really benefiting, mostly whites who reaped the benefits of apartheid and blacks privileged by virtue of connections to the ANC leadership or education.
SMEAR TACTICS In this acrimonious succession battle, state resources are routinely used to sideline opponents and smear tactics have become a most devastating weapon. The intelligence services are increasingly sucked into the conflict, former National Intelligence Agency boss, Billy Masetlha is fighting allegations in court that he manufactured intelligence. Civilian and democratic oversight over the intelligence services are waning, supposedly independent watchdog institutions are more frequently used in partisan ways. The head of the National Public Prosecutions Authority, Vusi Pikoli, was
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suspended by Mbeki for what the president called an ‘irretrievable breakdown’ between him and his nominal boss. The media, civil society and judiciary are also feeling the pressure with increasing calls by ANC leaders to ‘regulate’ the private media and judiciary. A commission of inquiry found that the public broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), blacklisted commentators – including this correspondent – seen as critical of the president.
ETHNIC GAME Zuma has been running a thinly disguised campaign of corralling Zulu-speaking support. Now that the mainly Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party is declining, many of its black middle class supporters who became prosperous under apartheid do not see it as the sole guarantor of their culture and tradition and have adopted Zuma as a new messiah. Even the party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi has warned that embracing Zuma’s presidential candidacy on the basis that it is now time for a Zulu to lead the country was a dangerous ethnic game.
COMPROMISE CANDIDATE Some ANC members are calling for a compromise candidate, who should neither be Mbeki nor Zuma. The organisation has an extraordinary reservoir of internal talent, but, how does it break through the archaic predemocracy election rules, the power of entrenched interest groups and the dirty tricks environment that has scared off some candidates, such as Ramaphosa? There is an immediate group of younger leaders a generation below Mbeki and Zuma, the most capable of whom is Ramaphosa. He has deep support among whites, blacks, the left and the ANC centrist mainstream. Sexwale is fighting a very public campaign, arguing for openness, transparency and accountability – to the irritation of the leadership, which may block his ascendancy because he is not following ‘tradition’. He lacks deep support on the left, although he is working at that, and the leadership thinks him too much of a glitzy modern politician. The ANC’s national chairperson, Mosiuoa Lekota, of the same generation as Ramaphosa and Sexwale has criticised fat cat party members, lambasted Zuma’s divisive campaign and reprimanded leaders with lax ethics. He is seen by Zuma as a credible threat. Mbeki supporters have nominated Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as deputy president on a leadership list of six top members. This means that if Mbeki remains president of the ANC, he could stand aside for her. She does not have widespread backing, but supporters of her former husband may turn to her, if he stumbles. The centrist head of the policy unit in Mbeki’s office, Joel Netshitenzhe, is another Mbeki favourite. Like Dlamini-Zuma he is not popular, and has the drawback
of a similar stiff style to his boss. Mbeki also favours the current Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. In her 40s, she of an even younger generation than Ramaphosa, Sexwale and Lekota. So far, the closest Mbeki has come to endorsing anybody was when he praised her early this year, as having all the credentials to become the next leader of South Africa. Influential Zuma supporters on the ANC’s left increasingly accept that their man may be popular but his election would just increase internal tension. They have suggested a compromise candidate, current ANC general secretary Kgalema Motlanthe, the former mine workers leader, who succeeded Ramaphosa in both that union and the ANC. The simple solution would be for both Mbeki and Zuma to step aside, and make way for either Ramaphosa or any other capable members of the younger generation. Even if Zuma or another potentially divisive leader gets elected, the country will not collapse. But it would mark a missed opportunity to rejuvenate democracy, to lift economic growth further, and step up efforts at nation-building and restoring the country’s social fabric. And it would also mean the failure to introduce new ideas, and a fresh sense of unity and purpose to galvanise the nation again as Mandela did when he became president in 1994.