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Will President Jacob Zuma stay or go? That is the current discussion among “the chattering classes” – which according to the Collins dictionary is an informal, often derogatory, term referring to the educated sections of society.
But it was, apparently, coined by Auberon Waugh, the son of the more famous Evelyn Waugh of Brideshead Revisited and Scoop fame.
Auberon was also a novelist but in order not to carry unfavourable comparisons with his father, he focused on a career in journalism.
The term, chattering classes, is used by political commentators to refer to a politically active, socially concerned and educated section of the “metro middle class”, especially with media, political and academic connections.
The Cape Town chattering classes want to know if ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has a chance to snatch power?
Or is he whiling his time and keeping a deliberately low profile – except when he is denouncing the return to “Boer” rule or trying to buy a buffalo for millions of rand or urging tough action for dissenting miners at Lonmin?
Who is that fellow Zweli Mkhize, the treasurer-general, the man who has expensive tastes in hotels? Will the fact that he is isiZulu-speaking, like the president, help his political career?
Does African Union boss Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former wife of the president, have a chance of snatching the top office by default?
Is there some other woman, such as former deputy president Baleka Mbete, likely to step up to the slate? What will happen if the president doesn’t go?
These are just some of the questions which journalists, politicians and academics are throwing about the place.
It is an absolutely fascinating period, because it is quite clear that the president is in a bit of a political pickle.
The public protector is prying into the Nkandla compound. Although the final report is not out, questions (are asked) whether building a massive swimming pool, an entertainment centre, a visitor’s centre, a culvert and a chicken coop are necessary security arrangements.
Spending on the project has been about R250 million, not an inconsiderable sum. The president has told Parliament that there is nothing untoward, that his family has paid for the non-security side of the project.
Until we have the final report – the interim report has been leaked – of the public protector, we will not be able to say with any certainty that the president has put any foot wrong. We can only speculate until then.
But it is fair to say that the matter hasn’t done the president’s reputation much good. Even if he is cleared of any wrongdoing in the months ahead, a shadow has been cast over him.
The compound controversy also has been building up for years and is reaching a peak just before a scheduled national election – likely to be held by July. Zuma takes the ANC into an election with a few political minefields in his path.
The Guptagate affair, the Nkandla and the corruption charges, later dropped, have already coloured perceptions of him negatively – certainly among the chatterers.
Having witnessed the fall of former president Thabo Mbeki, I can’t imagine that Zuma will allow himself to face a similar fate. He came to power with the arms deal dramas swilling around.
He has survived remarkable odds to get to where he is today.
The chances are pretty good that he will, indeed, lead the ANC into the next election and begin his second and last term as the nation’s president.
If that is the case, the chances are strong that the governing party will lose votes, and probably quite a substantial number – dropping from near 66 percent in 2009 to possibly below 60 percent.
That will give the combined opposition 40 percent or more.
The ANC’s likely drop in support, while not threatening its hold on national power, could mean that it could lose the pivotal economic powerhouse of Gauteng.
But the chattering classes are not making any predictions about that just yet.