It is in the year 2017 that the African National Congress (ANC) will host yet another watershed 54th elective national conference post-Nelson Mandela’s death in 2013. Should Jacob Zuma not avail himself for a 3rd term of office as the President of the ANC; the much anticipated December 2017 national conference will produce his successor as the party leader and subsequently, the 1st citizen in case the electorate renew the mandate of the incumbent party. Hence, it is in the tradition of the ANC that its President should also serve as its candidate for the Presidency of the country. Regardless of this premise, it can be argued that tradition in the ANC or elsewhere is not naturally static. While it may be viewed as un-ANC for any member of the party to contest its sitting President as the potential candidate for the position of the head of government and state; such a development finds a true and honest expression in the spirit and letter of democracy. The premise that Zuma’s successor in the ANC would become the country’s President is conditional upon a number of factors. Among them, the ability of the ANC to regenerate itself before the year 2019 general elections so that it can retain its dominance of South Africa’s political landscape following shreds of electoral misfortunes during the 2016 local government polls.
There are some in the ANC and beyond who believe that this party’s recent electoral misfortunes in areas such as the City of Tshwane, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay Metropolitan municipalities is largely tied to the roughed moral fibre of its leadership. The Nkandla debacle, rampant corporate capture of state, the shenanigans in state owned enterprises such as South African Airways (SAA), South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), Eskom and cancerous political corruption is emblematic of the extent of the breakdown in the morality of Zuma led ANC. The cauldron of ills within the circles of the government presided by ANC’s Zuma has served as a fertile ground for widespread calls for him and to particular extent, the entire National Executive Committee (NEC) of the party to step down. The whipping of the NEC in certain circles should be understood within the context that for quite some time it has consistently demonstrated unwillingness or inability to act against Zuma, his family and allies’ misdemeanours. The perceived lack of political goodwill on the part of the ANC NEC to openly renounce obvious wrongdoings on the part of Zuma, friends and his political cronies is generally viewed as symptomatic of the arrogance of the national leadership of the party. However, the factional manner in which the Integrity Committee of the NEC is constituted renders it inconceivable for such a structure to effectively summon and discipline the sitting president of the ANC like Zuma.
Zuma’s scandals are believed by some in the ANC and outside as the epitome of some of the potential voters’ decision to stay away from the polls or cast their votes in favour of the alternative political opposition. Whether this argument is true or simply biased, it is openly dismissed by some prominent ANC leaders who are for “collective responsibility” approach in regard of the decline in electoral support of the ANC. The linear and unpopular narrative suggests that the challenges and problems facing the ANC are many and complex; and surely cannot be wholly attributed to an individual. The foregoing narrative has elements of truth in bits and parts. However, it hopelessly fails to underscore the reality of the centrality of perceptions in voting patterns in South Africa and Africa at large. This opinion and analysis piece’s take on the latter narrative is that its pioneers are fully conscious of the influence of perceptions in voting. But they opt to be economic with the truth in order to protect their personal and factional interests. This situation renders the current leadership of the ANC as a liability for saving the party from its self-prescribed political euthanasia. While Zuma is internally strong, politically smart and well-calculative in his own right; the fact that most NEC members are members of his cabinet implies that their fate is also tied to his presidency. This situation is a boon for his short term political survival and that of his henchmen. But it is argued that it also constitutes a threat to the dominance of the ANC in the long run.
If we are to fathom Zuma’s presidency as a catalyst for haemorrhagic degeneration of his party; what are the prospects of the ANC for self-correction and renewal? This is a political conundrum that all ANC members, supporters and sympathisers in South Africa and beyond must deeply interrogate against the backdrop of the recent electoral misfortunes. The correctness of the historic narrative from within the party that the ANC is like an ocean and it is capable of cleansing and regenerating itself seems to be cast in doubt on a daily basis; whenever the evidence of systemic state capture and related governance ills overflows in the public discourse. The narrative in question may be historically, philosophically and morally correct; but honest lessons from the 2016 local government elections have taught us that opposition forces are capable of successfully coalescing and dislodging the ANC from the mantle of power.
Dr Kgothatso Shai teaches Political Science at the University of Limpopo. He writes this article in his personal capacity