IMAGINE this: a soccer fanatic is at the stadium shouting the slogans of his team and the nickname of his favourite player — Mkhuluwa. The soccer fan is wearing a colourful makarapa (a hard hat painted in the colours of his team) and a flowing gown in colours that are the same as those of the makarapa and his vuvuzela.
When the stadium gates opened that morning he was there already and it is now late in the afternoon. The referee and his linesmen have just entered the stadium. The soccer fan goes wild, his body gyrating in anticipation of his team entering the field to win the highly awaited derby.
An hour later, the referee abandons the match. The soccer fan leaves the stadium in disappointment. His team did not pitch up.
Is this the misfortune that is about to befall the Anything But Zuma campaign and other supporters of Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe? Should they not accept that President Jacob Zuma will probably be re-elected at the national conference of the African National Congress (ANC) at Mangaung in December?
Increasingly, it seems Motlanthe is not going to pitch up for the presidential race, and if he does, it will probably be too late.
There are many ways in which we can analyse the balance of support in the ANC. If Motlanthe has presidential ambitions, has his orientation towards the leadership battle been strategic?
There are two possibilities: first, Motlanthe’s reticence can be explained in terms of a commitment to principle and a refusal to act outside ANC decisions. It is possible that he wants to wait until the internal ANC nomination process is concluded and only thereafter accept or decline the nominations of those in the ANC who want him to run against Zuma.
Second, there are reports that suggest that Motlanthe is refusing to be part of any slate. A slate is a list of the candidates for the top leadership positions and each faction in the ANC has compiled a slate of preferred leaders. Where there are points of divergence in leadership preferences, these will be sorted out through a process of lobbying and horse trading. The outcome will, obviously, be determined by the balance of forces and calculations of the balance of support by the dominant factions.
It is, therefore, possible that Motlanthe wants to win the battle by positioning himself above factional battles. The problem with this strategy, however, is that it is akin to that of one who wants to win a mud wrestling match in a white suit.
But the real problem is that Motlanthe’s reticence has left the Anything But Zuma campaign without a candidate. In addition, Motlanthe may be undermined by the perception that he wants to gain the presidency of the ANC and that of the country without suffering any pain.
On the other hand, the Anything But Zuma lobbyists may be guilty of confusing their ambitions with those of the deputy president. They must be open to the possibility that Motlanthe does not want to be ANC president, or does not want the position if he must risk humiliation in Mangaung.
Alternatively, he does not want to contest the position in Mangaung when he can possibly be elected unopposed in 2017. In this scenario, all he has to do is to remain deputy president of the party until 2017 in return for winning the support of Zuma supporters in the ANC, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) at the 54th national conference of the ANC in 2017.
Another challenge facing the anti-Zuma camp is the fact that it is a hotchpotch of disparate forces that, beyond their antipathy towards Zuma, have so far failed to posit an alternative vision for the ANC and the country. More importantly, the anti-Zuma campaign is being compromised by its perceived proximity to former ANC Youth League president, Julius Malema.
The undignified manner in which Malema and Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula have been hurling insults at the president is not going to help their cause. The insults feed into the perception of a correspondence between the campaign to unseat Zuma and the battle to reinstate Malema as a member of the ANC. The anti-Zuma campaign runs the risk of being undermined by fears that the election of Motlanthe would be damaging to the ANC to the extent that it would result in Malema’s reinstatement.
Another way of looking at the balance of forces and support in the ANC is through the prism of provincial support. The advantage for the Zuma camp is that it is supported by Cosatu and the SACP. Furthermore, unlike the Anything But Zuma lobby, the Zuma camp can count on overwhelming support in at least three provinces, while in all the provinces in which Motlanthe has some support there is a split between Zuma and Motlanthe supporters.
Contrary to the conventional wisdom reigning at the time of the ANC policy conference in June, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo are too divided to be a decisive factor in the balance of support for the president. Put differently, even in provinces where Zuma has lost ground since Polokwane there is no guarantee that what he has lost will be enough to tip the balance to his disadvantage.
But it is Zuma’s supporters in Cosatu that have been the most astute. The fact that, at its congress last month, Cosatu opted for a strategy that sought to either neutralise or contain factors around which divisions would have emerged may have been a turning point in the ANC leadership battle. By calling for the re-election of the Cosatu top leadership unopposed, Zuma’s supporters in the labour federation not only succeeded in neutralising the anti-Zuma camp but succeeded also in giving effect to the principles of continuity and stability.
In effect, Cosatu has reshaped the internal ANC conversation about leadership.
Because the Anything But Zuma campaign remains without a candidate, the continuity and stability argument has given Zuma’s presidential ambitions the appearance of commitment to good governance when, in actual fact, it is a ploy intended to lend credence to the idea of a second term. The Zuma camp has effectively set the terms of engagement for the conversation about leadership. If the strategy of the Zuma camp wins the day, the Mangaung conference will defy the expectation of chaos and violence.
The idea of continuity and stability must be read as a call for a ceasefire in Mangaung. It is through such a ceasefire that the Mangaung conference will most probably deliver a Zuma victory.
Unfortunately for us as citizens, and assuming that the affiliates of the Anything But Zuma Campaign will remain in the ANC if Zuma wins, a ceasefire might deliver a set of compromises that will consign the policy framework of the next republic to the realm of nothingness. This policy nothingness will, in turn, deliver continuity at another level.
Policy change after Mangaung will not occur outside the present policy paradigm, and the promise of radical change will be trapped in a cocoon of left-wing rhetoric.
So, what about Mangaung will deliver change? Who knows?
• Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.
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