A litmus test of Zuma’s second term

2014-10-07 06:45

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Mondli Makhanya conducts a litmus test of President Jacob Zuma’s second term and sees some ugliness ahead

The 100-day landmark is never as big a deal in South Africa as it is in some developed democracies. This is largely due to the refusal by former president Thabo Mbeki’s team to buy into what they saw as US- inspired hype around this milestone.

This has not stopped the opposition using the 100-day mark to lob stones at government, using it to point out mistakes already made by the governing party.

A few ANC premiers have also taken to bragging about their 100-day achievements, but it has failed to catch on.

If President Jacob Zuma’s first 100 days are anything to go by, his government is going to be remembered for all the wrong reasons . Picture: Elizabeth
Sejake/City Press

This is why the first 100 days of President Jacob Zuma’s second term at the end of August passed by without fanfare. It hardly attracted any attention. Even those opposition leaders who were alert enough to issue statements on that day received scant media mention.

This served Zuma very well as he has had a torrid second term so far and is likely to look back on this year as yet another annus horribilis.

In the post-inauguration period, Zuma has been hounded out of Parliament, his legal team has suffered a humiliating Supreme Court of Appeals defeat that saw its resistance to the release of the “spy tapes” crumble, the nation is speculating feverishly about his health, his personal architect has turned on him, the contractors at his Nkandla residence have mounted a fightback campaign and civil servants involved in the upgrade are refusing to be scapegoats.

As if these were not enough, he now faces new arms deal corruption claims and a new battlefront over public demands that government explain the coincidence of his visit to Vladimir Putin in Moscow and the nuclear deal signed by Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson with Russia last week.

While the ANC is publicly standing by him, there are murmurs in the party about the sense of crisis created by the plethora of scandals surrounding Zuma.

The scandals during his lame-duck second term make him vulnerable to resentment, a sentiment that has seen his enforcers increasing their strong-arm tactics internally and externally.

Research by Media Tenor illustrates just how these scandals have dented him and the party. Between January and September this year, the ANC received the lion’s share of media coverage, probably driven by its comprehensive election campaign.

Media Tenor found that “despite emerging victorious from the polls, media sentiment quickly dipped back into negative territory” after the elections.

On the “tonality” of coverage of the top 10 ANC leaders, Media Tenor noted that they “managed to achieve balanced media profiles”, indicating that the problem did not lie with them.

Not so with the leader of their party. As the graph shows, coverage briefly strayed into positive coverage territory in the period just after the June state of the nation address, only to dip back into deep water.

Media Tenor said: “A head of state who wins an election can normally expect a boost in media profile as a result?...?But even though we see a lift in Zuma’s tonality around this year’s election, sentiment quickly returned to negative territory.”

It is this negative perception of the president that is keeping the ANC permanently on the defensive, having to put out fires weekly.

With local government elections less than 24 months away and more negative coverage of the president almost guaranteed during that period, talk of him being a liability is gaining momentum.

“It is not possible to admit, but we know it will have an impact. It already had an impact in this year’s campaign, but we have to move ahead united. We can’t afford to weaken ourselves by listening to our enemies,” said an ANC leader who is sympathetic to Zuma.

Zuma’s tight grip on the ANC’s national executive committee, which is dominated by people who were on his slate at the 2012 elective conference in Mangaung and well managed by his closest allies, has provided him with a protective cushion.

Add to this the absence of an obvious challenger around whom a potential rebellion could revolve.

This is a comfort Mbeki did not enjoy when he entered his second year of office when those who wanted him out of office rallied around Zuma.

This makes it easy for staunch Zuma supporters to invoke the unity of the ANC when rallying party members around him in the face of what they define as malicious attacks on him.

They have defined a position that says: “If you are not with the president, you are not with the ANC.” This is a stance that could very quickly lead South Africa to the precipice of a constitutional crisis.

In the coming months, the battle over the implementation of the Public Protector’s findings on Nkandla is certain to head to the courts.

And so will the DA’s review of the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to drop charges against Zuma.

These will be accompanied by very public battles that Nkandla’s architect, contractors and public works officials will be waging to save their skins. In the midst of all this, Zuma will be so consumed with fighting for survival, he will be nominally in charge of the affairs of state.

The ANC will also be so preoccupied with dodging the falling debris and shielding its president that internal tensions?–?hitherto tightly managed through the control of top structures?–?will burst into the open.

There is some ugliness lying ahead.

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