Who can unite us?

2008-10-21 00:00

Following the cataclysmic backlash of the ANC leadership’s abysmal blunder to force out former president Thabo Mbeki, the ANC family is now divided into three main camps.

The Zuma coalition is increasingly dividing into two camps, those who want Zuma as president of South Africa at all costs and those who desire a unifying president who can rally the ANC and the country at a time when the world is engulfed in its worst financial disaster since the Great Depression.

Those who want a more unifying leader are increasingly looking towards the calm reassurance and stability that President Kgalema Motlanthe may offer. Bitter supporters of Mbeki, who do not countenance leaving the ANC, are also warming up to Motlanthe. Some are also looking towards the ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa as an alternative compromise leader. Phosa, compared to Zuma during this crisis, has also been a steady hand.

The breakaway group led by former ANC national chairperson Mosiuoa “Terror” Lekota and former Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa represents the third faction.

The pro-Zuma ANC leadership is now mulling over the fact that there is a real possibility that having a divisive Zuma as the face of the ANC’s electoral campaign may cost the party valuable votes. It appears that the ANC is likely to fire up its grassroots base in next year’s elections only by nominating a compromise candidate. If not, significant numbers of ANC voters may stay away or vote for the breakaway group.

If the ANC’s voting percentage is lowered from the 62% it got in the 2004 elections, fewer Zuma supporters will be elected into office. This means having Zuma as the ANC’s candidate for president may have real financial disadvantages for many of his supporters. A reduced voting percentage for a Zuma-ANC party would also mean that it will have less power to implement the policies it wants.

Some ANC NEC leaders argue that one way to outwit the Lekota camp, and prevent a breakaway party from taking votes from the ANC, is to call a snap election. The not-yet-formed breakaway group will then be even less able to launch an effective counter-election strategy to the ANC. The ANC breakaway group has been basing its plans on the fact that elections will take place at the earliest in April, which is of course not enough time for a new party, but it is sufficient time to build a platform from which to launch a more effective electoral assault in the 2014 general elections.

Other ANC NEC members have cautioned that the ANC, paralysed by divisions over Zuma, is not ready to run an early election which may even lead to an electoral disaster for it. The problem for those in the ANC wanting to secure a compromise candidate of Motlanthe or Phosa, is that a number of key Zuma allies are insisting that they will never contemplate anyone else but Zuma for the South African presidency.

Similarly, militant Zuma supporters have also said that they won’t accept the outcome of a judiciary decision that goes against their hero. Zuma allies arguing this way have made putting Zuma into the South African presidency, no matter what, their personal quest. Those who argue in this manner include Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, South African Communist Party (SAC) general secretary Blade Nzimande and ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema. They appear to be resolutely opposed to suggestions of Zuma withdrawing his candidacy in favour of Motlanthe and Phosa, or any other compromise candidate to save the unity of the ANC.

Their main argument is that anyone who says that a large proportion of ANC members, non-members and South Africans are disillusioned with the direction, leadership and delivery record of the ANC, is daydreaming. They argue that if there is such large-scale disenchantment, it is directly because of Mbeki’s leadership, which is now removed.

Yet, to argue in such a way is only half right. Mbeki’s inept leadership is, of course, to blame. But Zuma, who was part of Mbeki’s inner circle until he was fired for corruption by Mbeki in 2005, is as much to blame. Of course, Lekota and his allies are equally guilty. Zuma, although himself morally compromised, in 2005 correctly analysed that the disenchantment with the ANC runs deeper than the problems with Mbeki. That is why his strategy to hitch his personal grievance with Mbeki to that of the disenchantment of the ANC’s rank-and-file over the ANC’s delivery record in the government, proved so successful.

Meanwhile, the Lekota group, even if they are compromised, have correctly analysed, just as Zuma did on another occasion, that the electorate wants a fundamental change in leadership and direction, and not just Mbeki replaced with another potentially inept leader such as Zuma.

A better solution remains — giving the leadership job to Motlanthe or Phosa, or another compromise candidate outside the Zuma-Mbeki camps, who is not as embroiled in the Mbeki and Zuma sagas, and giving them a fresh mandate to appoint a competent cabinet of all of the ANC and the country’s talents and to pursue a pro-poor agenda, including the immediate introduction of a basic income grant, deepening democracy, anti-corruption, improved service delivery and a more inclusive non-racial nation-building agenda.

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