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Dlamini-Zuma could be ANC's Hillary

South Africans will reject any attempt at extending one family’s hold on the Union Buildings, especially if it is suspected that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be there to protect the father of her children, says the writer. File picture: Antoine de Ras

South Africans will reject any attempt at extending one family’s hold on the Union Buildings, especially if it is suspected that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be there to protect the father of her children, says the writer. File picture: Antoine de Ras

Published Dec 18, 2016

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Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma could repel voters the way Bill Clinton's wife did, writes Xolela Mangcu.

There is nothing quite like the benefit of what Americans call “Monday night quarterbacking”. Lately, some Americans have been voicing what they dared not say during the campaign, which is that notwithstanding the historical nature of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she came with a great deal of baggage.

To put it crisply, she could not extricate herself from Bill Clinton. To be sure, Clinton is one of the most popular presidents in American history. But there was also a sense that the family was having a second bite at the cake.

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True, the Bush family has had a father and son in the White House - George Herbert Walker and George W (also known as Dubya) the least ranked president in American history.

If anything, that should be a salutary lesson that leadership qualities are not necessarily passed from father to son.

But the idea of a former spouse returning to the White House, especially of one not shy to express his views like Clinton, may have been one step too far. One of Donald Trump’s most effective shots may have been the one about not allowing Bill Clinton back into the East Wing of the White House.

The very same people who have been doing the second-guessing have also been suggesting that Joe Biden might have performed better against Trump, especially the working-class whites in his home state of Pennsylvania, where Joe is still called “Joe”. But if you ask me, I am not even sure that “Joe’s” home advantage would have withstood the tsunami of white nationalism that propelled Trump across the finish line.

Bernie Sanders supporters have been telling themselves they would have beaten Trump, but I suspect that’s also delusional.

Trump put the woes of ordinary white Americans on Jewish bankers such as Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen, Goldman Sachs’s Lloyd Blankenfein and George Soros - with their faces in his television ads. For those bankers, Trump would only have to substitute other dangerous Marxists .

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In a clear case of blaming the victim, there are those who are now blaming the politics of identity for the loss, as if to suggest that the sleeping dog of white nationalism should just have been left to lie.

It was Trump who sustained his campaign on the worst form of identity politics - by insulting every group under the sun, from Mexicans to Muslims and African Americans. And that is exactly what made his campaign work as well as it did.

Racism is so dangerous that white nationalists are embracing Vladimir Putin as their best hope against the rest of the darker people in the world - and that’s all because he is white.

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They could not care less about his ideology.

Anyway, unless progressives draw a clear line of demarcation between themselves and Trump’s vision, then white nationalism will restore itself by stealth throughout the US and Europe. Interestingly, and rather ironically, Germany’s Angela Merkel, is about the only European leader standing as a bulwark against the resurgent racism in the West.

South Africans would be part of that bulwark and international voice if we had a leadership that anybody took seriously around the world.

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And that brings me to some striking parallels between the Clintons’ desire to return to the White House and the campaign to elect Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma into the Union Buildings. But just as the American people rejected the attempt to recycle the White House through a spouse through the back door, South Africans will reject any attempt at extending one family’s hold on the Union Buildings, especially if it is suspected that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma would be there to protect the father of her children.

I personally don’t think Dlamini-Zuma would necessarily provide a watertight protection for her ex-husband, but in politics perceptions are everything in more ways than can possibly be enunciated in this article.

Above and beyond the necessity to go beyond the influence of one family, we need to go beyond the rule of the very same people who have run this country into the ground.

The last time I checked, Dlamini-Zuma was in the ANC leadership and a senior cabinet member at the height of Mbeki’s HIV/Aids denial and the corruption of the arms deal - the very corruption that gave us Jacob Zuma.

I seem to remember her support for Mbeki’s silent diplomacy by loudly proclaiming that she would not condemn Robert Mugabe, even as Mugabe’s jackboot rule was sending millions of Zimbabweans fleeing into South Africa.

I am not sure how long - if ever - it is going to take for our country to recover from the social damage of the Mbeki years.

What I know for sure is that it is complete bunkum to separate the harvest of the Zuma presidency from what was sown in the Mbeki years. Dlamini-Zuma was one of those who were doing the sowing.

However, by 2016 South Africans, especially black South Africans, have had enough. So where is the intelligence in making someone with such a track record the candidate for the 2019 elections?

The fact of the matter is that it is absurd to have the same group of people run the country for three decades, and expect any turnaround. As Trump often said to great effect against Clinton, what is it that Dlamini-Zuma and her cabinet can do that she could not do in the 30 years she has been in the leadership of the ruling party?

I am sure many people will be as annoyed by that question as I was by Trump posing it against Clinton. But it worked in the minds of ordinary people, and it will work when Julius Malema or Bantu Holomisa raises it in 2019.

But even as you react with annoyance, remember that four months ago black people in the urban areas voted in large numbers for opposition parties. The result is that the most important economic centres in the country are not in the hands of the majority party.

The majority party thinks it can counter that by increasing its base in the rural areas. But urbanisation is irreversible, which means you are tying your fortunes to a declining base over time. Urbanisation also means that as increasing numbers of people flock to the cities they also acquire independent sources of living, including the patronage that is now in the hands of the opposition parties. To give up on the cities is also to misunderstand their centrality in the generation of public opinion.

But then does that make Cyril Ramaphosa the Joe Biden of the ANC, if it wants to stop its current bleeding? Yes, but in drawing that parallel we would have to bring into the analysis both the pros and cons of what a Biden candidacy might have presented.

The most obvious parallel is that Ramaphosa still has the Everyman identity, especially among his former comrades in the trade union movement, despite his being insanely rich. Like Biden, Ramaphosa is a part of the ANC establishment, although he can argue that he was not there alongside Mbeki as he was denying treatment to children dying of HIV/Aids or defending Mugabe or presiding over the arms deal.

But the only thing that Ramaphosa could do is stop the bleeding. The ANC would have to present a completely new, younger, smarter leadershipto compete with the younger leadership in the DA and the EFF, if they want to attract the majority of voters - young people. There is no point in relying on your political dinosaurs

* Mangcu is the Harry Oppenheimer Fellow, Hutchins Center, Harvard University, and the Emeka Anyaoku Visiting Chair of Commonwealth Studies, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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