The big Zuma question

President Jacob Zuma would argue it has been a good year for him.

He managed to travel the world and celebrate South Africa’s elevated place in world politics, especially following admission to the BRICS formation.

The campaign to get the African Union under South African leadership has done well and received widespread support. If home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma makes it as AU commission chairperson, it is believed the AU would be less limp-wristed and a repeat of Libya will be avoided.

The bright side

At home things went equally well. Zuma managed to all but get rid of the biggest obstacle in his way to a second presidential term, suspended ANCYL president Julius Malema.

To add to the good year Zuma has again managed to put the fear of god in his comrades who serve in top structures of the ANC and government, using the cabinet reshuffle, presidential proclamations that orders investigations and the taking over of provincial departments by national government.

Zuma knows his challengers within the ANC leadership currently are lightweights. Deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is a reluctant candidate, who may want the job but won’t play dirty to get it.

Human settlements minister Tokyo Sexwale may have some extra cash lying around that could fund his presidential campaign, but the lack of delivery on his government mandate will make people ask uncomfortable questions. And his opponents will never stop reminding ANC members of his stint as a wannabe Donald Trump in the South
African version of The Apprentice.


So does this leave our swashbuckling president sitting pretty until that glorious day in Mangaung when he gets re-elected? That might have been the case, had it not been for one bad choice.

Never has a single appointment caused as much havoc for Zuma as that of judge Willem Heath.

In an interview with City Press Heath said what every journalist has heard a million times from the Zuma camp. That they believe Mbeki felt threatened by Zuma. That Mbeki knew Zuma’s weakness for women and planted one to seduce him. (But they of course refuse to talk about how a veteran ex-intelligence chief like Zuma didn’t see it coming.)

And this is where things start to fall apart because it brings Zuma directly into battle with his great nemesis, Thabo Mbeki.

Mbeki’s ominous “Rumble in the jungle” open letter where he suggested that old wounds should be re-opened in an “appropriate forum”  like a court, should send shivers down Zuma’s spine.

Although Mbeki’s been good about keeping quiet post-Polokwane. He has been keeping his anger and frustration about how he is vilified by the Zuma administration at bay. He busied himself with Sudan and his leadership institute at the University of Pretoria to stave off the bitterness and resentment he must have felt.

But Heath hit a nerve when he threatened Mbeki’s reputation. And given how Mbeki was embarrassed by his eviction from the Union Buildings in 2008, he has very little to lose. And Zuma knows those make the worst enemies.

But now Zuma has played into his hands. Heath’s comments gave Mbeki a perfect excuse to re-open old wounds, and challenge Zuma to keep the ANC together during its yearlong centenary celebrations while the skeletons fall out of the closet. And try to run a presidential campaign in the midst of it all.

The question

I can’t imagine Mbeki would aim for a leadership position in the ANC again, even though the Youth League had thought about asking him to stand as national chairperson.
But he can become the poster boy for the anti-Zuma campaign, and the only one that could give Zuma sleepless nights in Mahlambandlophu.

Because this time Zuma does not have the means he had when he took Mbeki on the first time. He doesn’t have the widespread support in the alliance from anti-Mbekites because Zuma managed to create his own coalition of the wounded with reshuffles and investigations. He knows that the “Kill for Zuma” campaigns have died down.

Governance did not go well since 2009. Less houses are being built, corruption has skyrocketed to a point where government cannot account for billions of rands and the promised riches that the World Cup was to bring did not materialize.

So the question for this year will be: Can  the post-Polokwane Zuma beat the pre-Manguang Mbeki?
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