Ralph Mathekga

Why Mkhize might be the best candidate for those suffering from 'Zuma fatigue'

2017-10-16 08:17
Baleka Mbete (L) talks with ANC Treasury General Zweli Mkhize (R) at the party's policy conference on June 30, 2017, in Johannesburg. (AFP)

Baleka Mbete (L) talks with ANC Treasury General Zweli Mkhize (R) at the party's policy conference on June 30, 2017, in Johannesburg. (AFP)

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The ANC leadership contest has taken another strange twist with Dr. Zweli Mkhize emerging as a third frontrunner barely two months before the conference is held in December.

It is not surprising that Mkhize, the ANC’s treasurer-general, has become emboldened to state that he is available to lead the party, despite earlier being openly associated with Cyril Ramaphosa’s campaign, which seeks to dismantle President Jacob Zuma’s legacy.

It has been my view earlier that the two frontrunners in this campaign, Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, are respectively weak candidates who seem unable to consolidate their positions. If the two were able to do this successfully there would be no room for the third candidate to emerge at this point, so close to the conference.

Some utterances that were attributed to Mkhize also show that he does not see the two camps that exist as sufficiently strong for him to join either before first attempting to challenge them by proposing the third way.

Mkhize is reported to have stated that his position as a candidate is neither for nor against Zuma’s preferred camp. Ramaphosa’s candidature is based primarily on anti-Zuma sentiments while Dlamini-Zuma is understood to be propelled by his allies.

Zuma has openly endorsed Dlamini-Zuma’s bid for the party presidency. Ramaphosa’s camp, in turn, has attacked her, driving the idea that her presidency will be an extension of the corruption and maladministration that have characterised her ex-husband’s leadership.

These are the two camps that Mkhize has had to choose between to guarantee his political survival. Earlier in the campaign, he was closely associated with Ramaphosa’s camp although fell shy of making a clear commitment. Mkhize can be non-committal and cryptic in his statements.

But his statement that he is available to contest the party leadership in his own right and wishes not to be associated with either camp is a clear indication that he believes he could make it by distancing himself from what both camps stand for.

He wants to push a campaign that has no reference point to Zuma. If it gains grounds, Mkhize’s campaign is potentially interesting.

He seeks to attract those who want to take the party beyond the current impasse of pro- and anti-Zuma sentiments. From this point of view, Mkhize would be an attractive candidate for anyone experiencing “Zuma fatigue”.

For anyone who can’t stand Zuma or is tired of making noise about him Mkhize is forging a political option. To those who support Zuma yet find it uncomfortable to have to openly defend his controversial decisions Mkhize is also extending a hand.   

Zweli Mkhize is a leader who does not want to waste time as to where he stands in relation to Zuma, yet he sufficiently distances himself from the president and Ramaphosa at the same time. However, he is willing to accept support from the moderates from both dominant camps.

By saying he is not anti-Zuma, Mkhize is nearly attacking the anti-Zuma camp, particularly its exaggeration as to how different they are from Jacob Zuma. By stating that he is not a Zuma compromise candidate, he is hinting at credibility problems he sees in the Zuma factions.

The question is whether Mkhize can sustain this middle ground position and unite the party. Well, that is a difficult task given that the divisions within the ANC have intensified.

What Mkhize can achieve however is to cut the lifeline of both pro-Zuma and anti-Zuma camps within the ANC by refusing to endorse either. How to tell if Mkhize is not trying to negotiate a better position from either camp by firstly challenging them and then accepting a deal from either side?

He is also a politician; a profession of highly talented people when it comes to hiding their intentions from the people. Mkhize is testing the waters, and the situation seems to agree with him.

Dlamini-Zuma can be offered a face saving deal to become deputy president under President Mkhize. I doubt Ramaphosa will be a deal-taker in this regard, he seems more resolute to try to ascend to the highest office. Being a deputy for the second time is just not going to work for him. 

- Ralph Mathekga is a Fellow at the SARChI Chair: African Diplomacy and Foreign Policy at the University of Johannesburg and author of When Zuma Goes. 

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Read more on:    zweli mkhize  |  anc leadership race  |  anc  |  sa politics


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