The question for South Africa in 2017 is not whether President Jacob Zuma will fall. He is on his way out, even if the timing is not finalised.
Of more interest is the fate of the ANC. Zuma is not the only problem: he is a symptom of an ailing organisation. The core issue is whether the ANC can fix itself sufficiently to hold on to power in the 2019 elections.
Right now, the party looks set to continue its downward spiral, having lost three metros in last year’s local government elections. Hype surrounding the ANC’s imminent January 8 anniversary statement, under the hashtags #UnityInAction and #ANC105, won’t change the trajectory.
Celebrations to mark 105 years of existence won’t be enough to ensure future health. The body is rotten. The slogan “Unity in Action” is wishful thinking. The ANC is divided. It is dragged down by corruption and by a lack of internal democracy, especially in its leadership selection processes.
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In 2017, the party will hold a “mid-year” consultative conference, plus a June policy conference and a December national conference, where leaders will be elected. Not one of the contenders offers hope of healing the organisation. Certainly not Zuma’s ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Hampered by connections to him, she won’t be able to take the organisation in a new direction.
ANC chair Baleka Mbete, recipient of a purported R25 million Gold Fields bribe and staunch defender of Zuma, is too tainted to lift the ANC out of its predicament.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has been quiet for too long. Although nominally a friend of business, he is compromised on several fronts. Lack of leadership when the situation demands moral courage is one example. And he’ll not escape the ghosts of Marikana.
Of course, it is possible for leaders to prove critics wrong by radically changing course after taking office. Former president FW de Klerk did so 27 years ago when he unbanned political organisations and freed their imprisoned members. And the once-invincible National Party which he led has disappeared.
Could the ANC, too, choose a leader who would surprise everyone? And would they survive?
We could trawl through lists of candidates, listing their weaknesses. The point is, in its present format and under outdated traditions which frown upon open campaigning for party positions, the ANC is incapable of renewal.
It is trapped by its own practices. While this is bad news for the party, it is encouraging for the opposition. Change is inevitable. Whoever is best prepared and who works smartest will reap the benefits of the ANC’s decline.
The DA, newly in control of coalitions in Joburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, should be in position to take advantage, even if some parties try to prevent the blue team from extending its record of good governance.
Bereft of ideas and cut off from local government sources of corrupt patronage, the ANC has been using negative spoiling tactics against DA administrations. That pattern is likely to continue, even as the ANC devours itself. For non-ANC councillors, it’ll be tough. But we shall prevail.