By Imraan Buccus
The ANC would garner considerably more public support if it focused on governance rather than staying in power. This weeks cabinet re-shuffle is another attempt by Zuma to cling on to the benefits of the public purse.
In making their case for the leadership, none of the contenders have come out with a campaign manifesto that says their election will be qualitatively better for the country than the current administration.
Their fixation is on the grip on power. There can be no excuses for this lapse.
The ANC has been in power for 23 years. It is not learning the ropes about government. Instead, ANC members who will vote in December’s elective conference are given a slate of arguments as to why an individual is preferred. Worse still in this negative campaigning we are told more about why the opposing candidate is unsuitable. Credit must go to the ANC KwaZulu-Natal chairperson Sihle Zikalala for calling his regional leadership to order for their attacks on Cyril Ramaphosa. While Zikalala evidently has his own preference for the new leadership, he has consistently demonstrated a unifying spirit and political maturity well beyond his years.
The fact that this period of campaigning down to the wire is going to get dirtier is plain to see. Each presents themselves as some kind of messiah with a case to make about the gravity of their candidacy. There is also no shortage of evangelical disciples with their own interests in who stays in power or comes to power. The weakest of these arguments is that the ANC should have a woman leader. Taken at face value that makes a great deal of sense. The ANC has a good track record of promoting gender parity especially in its parliamentary representation. It is well ahead of many of the world’s parliaments in this tally. In ministerial appointments too, women enjoy prominence. The quality of that leadership however leaves much to be desired.
The widely held perception is that ability is not the criteria for appointment. This is demonstrated through the disastrous tenures of among others the minister of social development, Bathabile Dlamini and erstwhile communications minister Faith Muthambi. Ineptitude on the part of such prominent women taints an otherwise seemingly noble intent of promoting gender parity. It erodes the steady work in building the women’s movement in the ANC over the decades.
In the late 1950s Oliver Tambo had the foresight to recommend defined constitutional powers for the ANC Women’s League when he was tasked with revising the constitution.
The new flagbearer of women’s empowerment is the unlikely Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Suspicion abounds that she was parachuted from her African Union job in Addis Ababa to fill a particular objective of shoring up the sitting president. Her track record at the AU was nothing short of unspectacular. Her critics highlight startling omissions from the crises in South Sudan to the eastern Congo to the boatloads of refugees leaving the shores of Libya as her failures in securing peace and stability on the African continent. It is also asserted that she spent more time at home embroiled in factional battles to defend the interests of her former husband than she did in her continental governance job – a case of being more interested in staying in power rather than good governance.
In continental politics it is not unusual that leaders are prevailed upon by their peers to stay on for a second term. In Dlamini-Zuma’s case there was no such call. She also spared herself probable embarrassment by packing her bags at the end of her tenure and not hinting at wanting to stay in Addis. While her campaign looks like it has run out of steam she is still the nose out in front if one believes the rumour that the branch votes in the larger regions are stacked in her favour.
The millstone of Marikana notwithstanding, Cyril Ramaphosa has pulled new reserves of energy to keep his campaign chugging along. His camp’s argument that he is the anointed one is no stronger than those pushing for a woman president in Dlamini-Zuma. He is an immensely talented man who cut his teeth in the trade union movement, marched in the mass democratic movement and breathed life into our remarkable constitution. He has also the right credentials for the job save that he too finds himself in the straitjacket of chasing power rather than making a case for governance. Ramaphosa has said a great deal about what is wrong in the country.
He has correctly focused on corruption but has not capitalised on the governance opening that has created. He should be putting forward an agenda that says that the ANC continuing on its current trajectory is sure to lead to its demise and that a fresh vision of governance is what the country requires. For as long as he is singled-minded about the grip on power as opposed to governance, there is nothing that sets him apart from the rest.
Lindiwe Sisulu’s political pedigree is unassailable both in her parentage and her contribution in the freedom struggle. At this fraught juncture that regrettably counts for very little. She has mounted no real campaign and is probably hedging her bets on one of the minor placings. The prospect that she could throw in lot with either the Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa camps is a real possibility. The ANC Women’s League has already had knives out for her. She is in the odd position of being neither likely to strengthen the Dlamini-Zuma camp nor dilute it. Were she to hitch her wagon to Ramaphosa she might have to wait a while before her number is called. Neither Jeff Hadebe, Baleka Mbete nor Matthews Phosa have mounted anything that comes close to a campaign nor do they have footholds of any significance in any of the regions or branches.
Phosa has been effectively counterpointed by David Mabuza who is biding his time with his onward political aspirations. Mabuza is likely to spring a surprise by throwing his weight behind Zweli Mkhize who is chomping at the bit for the top job.
Suggestions that Mkhize is a Jacob Zuma proxy is useful propoganda but should not detract from the fact that he represents an energetic and eager generation. Mkhize has demonstrated that he is a safe pair of hands both in his erstwhile roles as KZN premier and ANC treasurer-general. He is a self-assured and affable politician. If he can shift gears by putting on the table an agenda for good governance that moves the ANC beyond the fear of losing power he might just be the one to beat this December.
Imraan Buccus is Al Qalam editor , research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad program on political transformation. He promotes #Reading Revolution via Books@Antique at Antique Café in Morningside, Durban.