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Durban – The ANC is in a mess – and the party’s “last hope” for internal renewal lies in Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. This is the view of writer and political commentator William Gumede, who this week launched his latest book, Restless Nation – Making Sense of Troubled Times.
And, according to Gumede, ANC national executive committee (NEC) member and businessman Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential ambitions are “gone, beyond recovery” following the Marikana tragedy, while President Jacob Zuma, despite having lost the majority support in the ANC NEC will, more than likely, be re-elected as ANC president at Mangaung in December – albeit by a narrow margin.
In an interview this week, Gumede – a respected ANC-watcher and author of the influential book Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC – warned that another Zuma presidency would result in a “paralysis” of governance.
He also warned that the months leading up to the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung would be an “anxious and uncertain” time for ordinary South Africans during which effective governance would “stand still” and election rhetoric and populism hot up.
A central focus in the coming months would be Marikana, which Zuma’s opponents would do their utmost to project as a failure of Zuma’s leadership, Gumede added.
Describing Zuma’s presidency as one characterised by “crippling” inaction, indecisiveness and persistent attacks on democratic institutions, Gumede said part of the paralysis was the fear that any decision Zuma might make could result in his not being re-elected.
Gumede warned that a second Zuma term could make this paralysis even worse.
“The real danger is that the ANC is now so polarised between those who are for Zuma and those against him, that if he gets elected for a second term, his opponents will continue with their opposition within the ANC structures and government – and that is a recipe for paralysis.
“The country cannot afford this, given the internal developmental problems we face.”
On Zuma’s re-election chances, Gumede said despite waning support, Zuma would more than likely be re-elected by a small margin, mainly because of his strong support base in KwaZulu-Natal.
Gumede said it was crucial for the ANC to find a leader who spoke to the ANC and the country broadly.
Motlanthe – who had “disappeared” within the ANC bureaucracy – represented a “kind of a last chance” for the ANC’s renewal.
“He is the best option out of a small pool of talent. Here at least is somebody who wants to transform the ANC. Motlanthe has done some very innovative and groundbreaking things.”
Gumede said Motlanthe carried vast experience in “pushing through difficult transformations during difficult times” and had demonstrated a commitment to push for democratic consolidation within the ANC.
“He is the only person in the ANC NEC and among the top ANC ministers who has a view of what the ANC should look like in the next 10 years in terms of seeing it as a democratic organisation and as a governing party. The others are not in that space.”
Gumede said if Zuma was re-elected, “we will have, among the ANC support base, the strong feeling that things just won’t get better.
“His election will make people more desperate.
“Support for Motlanthe is spread more broadly across the South African demography. That for me is the key difference between the two.
“Motlanthe knows that if the organisation does not reform and open up, and become more democratic internally, to give members more of a voice, as well as become more accountable and more inclusive, the party may, over the medium- to long term, implode.
What may happen is that we will see a lot of ‘splinters’ coming out of the ANC constituency groups.
“What is clear is if the ANC stays on this course of a continuing disconnect between members and leaders, we will see this implosion.”
Zuma’s re-election would result in an increasing restlessness inside the ANC and in the country, and increased spontaneous protests.
“This will make it very difficult for him to govern effectively.”
Turning to Ramaphosa, Gumede said that, after Marikana, the business tycoon’s chances for the leadership of the ANC were “gone”.
“This is the same man, who, a few months ago, made the headlines when he bought a bull for R18 million.
“This highlights the inequality between the new black elite and ordinary miners who are struggling to live on an average of R10 000 a month. This public display of conspicuous wealth from a former general-secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers-turned tycoon won’t go down well among grassroots people struggling to make ends meet. It will be difficult for Ramaphosa to recover as his opponents will press the issue of well-off leaders compared to poor grassroots supporters.”
Gumede continued: “A few months ago, Zuma’s camp was speaking to Ramaphosa, with a view to his running as Zuma’s deputy.
“The talk was that Zuma felt he might lose in December and needed a ‘crutch’. They told Ramaphosa if he took the deputy president position, Zuma would withdraw after a year or so, to make way for Ramaphosa as president. That was the talk before Marikana, but, sadly for the country, that’s not going to happen.”
Gumede said he believed Housing Minister Tokyo Sexwale’s campaign would only kick in if Motlanthe withdrew from the “two-horse race” between Zuma and himself.
“That is how the campaign is quietly being run. The reality is that Motlanthe might withdraw at the last hurdle and those who are disappointed will go for Sexwale as an alternative to Zuma.”
On dynamics in Cosatu, Gumede said its forthcoming conference would be dominated by Marikana and by whether or not to support Zuma for a second term.
“The union movement is on the spot with Marikana. Leaders are accused of being part of the establishment and leaving ordinary members behind to struggle on their own.”
On Julius Malema: “Now that he’s been expelled, he can say all the things that opponents inside the ANC cannot say. He has an excellent vantage point. He will be a factor from outside until Mangaung – and potent in determining who gets elected.”
Gumede said many ANC members and supporters were “impatient for change”.
“A lot of people are convinced the party needs to be cleaned up from within. Many influential leaders are hearing the cries from the grassroots for better governance within the party itself as well as nationally, provincially and locally.
“These are increasingly influential voices, but they are being drowned by other voices. The opposition to modernisation of the party is strong, especially among those who benefit from corrupt practices and from the disarray of the ANC.
“So far, the organisation has not been agile enough to respond to these cries for change.
“Unless one modernises the party itself, by becoming less ideological, by bringing in competitive elections, making it more transparent and bringing in new talent and ideas, the impact will be felt at government level.
“Unless the party is cleaned up and modernised, the government will not change. That’s what Motlanthe can do.” – Sunday Tribune