By RANJENI MUNUSAMY
Had this not been an election year, the conversation around President Jacob Zuma might have been markedly different within the ANC. Of course there would still be haranguing of those who challenge the party line and declarations of eternal loyalty from his devotees. The president’s stomping on the Constitution and allegations about his questionable relationship with the Gupta family are disastrous for the ANC’s image and election campaign. But the ANC has to beat down dissent and show some leg in Nelson Mandela Bay this weekend. But how long before the great deluge comes?
The ANC in Gauteng has been swimming against the tide for several years. If its national leadership had its way, Gauteng’s provincial executive committee (PEC) would have been dissolved after the 2014 election and a more compliant group would have been charged with the running of party structures. But that would have caused a rebellion from the branches and regions that the ANC could not afford. So it was no surprise that the Gauteng PEC bucked the trend and openly challenged President Jacob Zuma to “reflect deeply and do the right thing to resolve the unprecedented crisis that the ANC currently faces”.
Gauteng is so far the only provincial structure of the ANC that is challenging the line pronounced by the national leadership to accept Zuma’s “apology” after the Constitutional Court ruling that he violated the Constitution and let things be. Unlike most other ANC structures that either welcomed or applauded Zuma for apologising for the “frustration and confusion” over Nkandla, the Gauteng PEC said it “noted and accepted” the public apology. It went on to say: “However, the PEC believes that the apology is just the beginning of dealing with the political damage and mistrust caused by the mismanagement of the Nkandla matter.”
This means Gauteng does not want the matter to be left alone and believes some other action should ensue. When probed on this in various interviews this week, Gauteng’s leaders said this did not necessarily mean that Zuma should resign – although it would be one of the options on the table – but could also involve some form of disciplinary action or referral to the party’s integrity commission. It has undertaken to canvas the views of branches and regions to let ANC members decide the way forward.
In other words, it wants to roll the dice.
The statement from the Gauteng ANC led to other provinces trying to counter their move. The youth, women’s and veterans’ leagues in the province also sprang up to distance themselves from the PEC decision. The national leadership is now trying to keep a lid on the commotion, appealing to structures to exercise “discipline” and keep focus on the ANC’s manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth this weekend.
ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe told eNCA that the provinces had “no authority” to make public pronouncements on the Constitutional Court judgment. He said those provinces that were speaking out were jumping the gun.
“Many of these comrades are not appreciating the complexity of the matter we are dealing with,” said Mantashe. “That’s why they think we are in a beauty contest and they must compete in the media. There is no province that is a super province that must reprimand another province.”
But Gauteng leaders point out that the clampdown only came after their statement was issued. The ANC in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Free State, North West and Mpumalanga have all declared their unconditional support without being reprimanded.
While the ANC is trying to muzzle the provinces, more branches are speaking out. Joining branches in Johannesburg that called for Zuma to step down, three East London branches have reportedly broken ranks with their provincial leadership and called for the president to quit. The Daily Dispatch quoted Beacon Bay Ward 28 ANC branch chairman Zolile Mkatala as saying that a meeting on Monday resolved that the ANC must “release” Zuma as he “has shamed the organisation”.
The dilemma the ANC leadership has is that the national working committee meeting convened to discuss the Constitutional Court judgment undertook to “explain itself” to structures and also meet with those who had expressed concern about the president’s conduct. What they actually envisaged was a containment exercise to suppress rebellious structures and party veterans rather than a process of robust engagement. The idea was to postpone the conversation until after the manifesto launch and then go about fighting fires.
There is also the parallel process of the “state capture” investigation. The ANC asked members to bring information to Mantashe’s office about the illicit involvement of the Gupta family in government and party affairs. This was also to create a channel to process the wave of allegations about the Guptas, away from the public eye.
Because it is now in election mode, the ANC is desperate to shut down all these conversations and build hype around its campaign messaging. But that is not easy to do with the person at the centre of all the scandals also the president of the party and the face of their campaign. Unfortunately for the ANC, Zuma is the person who will have to present the party’s election manifesto to the nation on Saturday. Inasmuch as the ANC wants to bury the controversies, they follow the president wherever he goes.
Zuma joined the ANC campaign roadshow in the Eastern Cape on Thursday and immediately delivered some colourful quotes. According to TMG Digital, Zuma told people at the Uitenhage taxi rank: “We are here to ask for your votes. When you vote for the ANC you feel peaceful inside.”
He was apparently met with shouts from people saying: “Zuma‚ I’m hungry”‚ and “buy us baby formula‚ we are struggling‚ Zuma”.
According to The New Age online, Zuma said: “Anyone saying nothing has been done by government does not have a thinking capacity. Even a child does not grow in a day.”
Zuma’s every move will now be watched and it will be difficult for the ANC to detach from his compromised leadership. Zuma is facing a multiple onslaught with the opposition parties uniting to ensure action is taken against him and his leadership delegitimised.
His decisions and appointments in government will all be viewed with suspicion as nobody really believes that the Guptas relocating to Dubai would break the stranglehold they have over the president.
In the meantime, public sentiment continues to turn against Zuma with more organisations, veterans and prominent people in society calling for him to step down. This weekend also sees the start of “People’s Assemblies” in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, launched by civil society and religious organisations, to campaign for Zuma’s removal from office.
For this weekend’s manifesto launch, the ANC will pretend to be deaf to the cacophony of voices from inside and outside the party demanding accountability for Zuma’s actions. But they are effectively holding aloft a rotting corpse as the symbol of the party’s election campaign. At some point the stink will become overwhelming.
This is bound to be a turbulent election campaign as the opposition parties will continue to use Zuma’s disastrous leadership record, including his sabotage of the South African economy through Nhlanhla Nene’s firing, as their main campaign tool. It is now impossible to separate Zuma’s failings from that of the ANC as the party has wilfully participated and claimed ownership of the president’s scandals and rejection of accountability.
The ANC in Gauteng rang the alarm bells because they know they will pay the price at the polls. The ANC nationally remains infinitely optimistic that its liberation history, its delivery record since 1994 and the benevolence of South Africans will carry the party to another election victory.
But once the election is over, the deluge of negative sentiment will be even harder to contain. The campaign roadshow will be over, the T-shirts will be washed out and the costs will be counted. Someone will have to bear the brunt of the losses the ANC is bound to suffer due to reputational damage and disillusionment in some of its constituencies.
For now, it’s party time. That is, until the music stops.
- Daily Maverick