Max du Preez

Who will succeed Zuma?

2015-08-11 07:35

Max du Preez

The race for who is going to succeed Jacob Zuma as president of South Africa is now officially on, whether he survives the 2017 ANC elective conference or not and despite the expected denials by Luthuli House that there is in fact such a race.

Zuma’s successor should be a woman, the ANC Woman’s League declared at its national conference. Read: deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa should not be South Africa’s next president.

Zuma’s ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, is clearly the woman the league has in mind.

I would otherwise have found it unacceptable to refer to a female politician as the ex-wife of someone, but in this case it is very relevant.

There is little doubt that Dlamini-Zuma is her ex-husband’s choice to succeed him. This could give her a major advantage.

The impression I got from the Women’s League conference was that there was a bit of a love affair with Zuma going on.

Stark reality

Dlamini-Zuma has another advantage: she is Zulu-speaking. Again, I don’t like references to politicians’ ethnicity, but in this case it really is relevant.

Here’s the stark reality. In the general election of 1994 the ANC received 31.6% of the vote in Kwazulu-Natal. This increased to 65.3% in 2014 and today it is the single strongest block of support for the party. In all the other regions the ANC’s support had dwindled.

It’s no secret that there is a strong feeling among many Zulu-speakers in the ANC that the party should be led by another Zulu-speaker. The last Zulu-speaking ANC president before Zuma was Albert Luthuli, who died in office in 1967.

It’s a pity that Dlamini-Zuma’s previous marriage and her mother tongue are the two characteristics mentioned as reasons why she is a good presidential candidate.

She is a formidable politician in her own right. Where she’s perhaps short on charisma, she makes up with a strong intellect, a talent for strategic thinking and a famous work ethic.

Dlamini-Zuma, 66, qualified as a medical doctor in Britain. She has four children with Zuma. They divorced in 1998. She made many mistakes as minister of Health in Nelson Mandela’s Cabinet, but fared a lot better as minister of Foreign Affairs and really made her mark at Home Affairs after that. She became the African Union commission chairperson in 2012.

Don't underestimate Ramaphosa

I was told that when Zuma fell gravely ill early last year (after he was allegedly poisoned by one of his wives), there was a period of serious jockeying for power in the ANC. Zuma was told about this later and, I am told, has not forgiven those who took part.

Ramaphosa’s opponents will make a mistake if they underestimate him. Several mine bosses did that when he was still a trade union leader, and came to regret it. The National Party government underestimated him during the post-1990 negotiations and learnt its lesson.

In my view Ramaphosa towers head and shoulders above other members of Cabinet and indeed the ANC’s senior leadership. Put differently: he looks like the most presidential leader in the party.

I have asked some of Ramaphosa’s known enemies in the ANC how they planned to get rid of him. The answer was always vague: they will use his role in Lonmin and the Marikana Massacre and his “failures” to bring peace to South Sudan and Lesotho and to sort out Eskom. And they’ll throw in whispers about his massive personal wealth and buffalo buying.

My suspicion is that a campaign of gossip and dirty tricks would be launched against Ramaphosa when the time comes. Remember, the entire intelligence capacity of the state and much of the media are available to the Zuma camp.

A third contender?

But will Ramaphosa want to fight for the presidency? I always had the impression that he though it was his destiny to lead South Africa. At the same time, he’s shown that he doesn’t have the stomach for dirty fights. Perhaps he’ll pull out as soon as he is convinced that he might not make it and retire from politics.

If there’s going to be a serious contest between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa, the candidacy of a third contender to the throne, and one who had kept his nose clean so far, could become much stronger: ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize. Zuma has apparently given him the job to manage the very sensitive issue of his estranged wife, Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma.

But this could all change. Zuma’s problems with more than 700 criminal charges hanging over his head, and the results of next year’s local elections are among the variables that could change the picture drastically.

Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  nkosazana dlamaini-zuma  |  cyril ramaphosa
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