Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma being welcomed by ANC followers at the OR Tambo International Airport. Presidential candidate Dlamini Zuma is at odds with the technocratic leader we knew, says the writer. File picture: Itumeleng English/ANA
Gwede Mantashe is correct: there’s nothing untoward about Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma joining Parliament. Unlike Brian Molefe, she qualifies for the appointment. After her stint at the head of the AU, she’s currently without a job. It makes sense for her to rejoin Parliament.

The speculation that she may be headed for cabinet is probably true. That her former husband and father of her children would appoint her doesn’t make it nepotism either. Her 15-year unbroken service in cabinet warrants her return to the executive.

Apart from the ill-considered funding of a meaningless play about HIV/Aids, her service in cabinet was largely noteworthy. She turned around a hapless Department of Home Affairs and hoisted the South African flag quite high in global affairs as minister of Foreign Affairs.

Dlamini Zuma is a hard worker and team player. Any president who values diligence would want her in cabinet.

This time around, however, it’s highly possible that Dlamini Zuma’s appointment is not strictly about competence.

She’s a leading candidate in her party’s presidential race and the man who appointed her, Jacob Zuma, is her campaign manager. Expect her to use the cabinet post to aid her campaign.

Her former husband, who allocates tasks in cabinet, will ensure that Dlamini Zuma gains as much prominence as possible. He is determined to have her win the party’s presidency and has thrown all caution to the wind.

The brouhaha about Dlamini Zuma’s appointment, therefore, is not really about her competence. Her candidature is the cause of the consternation. It is at odds with her character. Dlamini Zuma is a technocratic leader, not a populist. She has an easy grasp of complex policy issues, is able to think through solutions and has the patience to follow through the process of implementation. That’s what made her and Thabo Mbeki click.

Like Mbeki, Dlamini Zuma shunned the limelight and was not prone to “claim easy victories”. She understood that results came through application and that complex problems were not solved by rhetoric. Policies that government adopts are not always best, but are what is possible at a given time. This means willingness to take flak for avoiding extreme policies that can only yield disastrous results.

Dlamini Zuma understood all this and showed it in her public conduct. She behaved in that manner, consistently for 15 years.

Presidential candidate Dlamini Zuma is at odds with the technocratic leader we knew. As a presidential candidate, she’s a populist who flaunts policies that have emotive appeal. There’s no way that government can expropriate private property without compensation and still avoid economic ruin. Zimbabwe is evidence of that. Dlamini Zuma knows this too, yet supports such ruinous policies.

“What happened to Nkosazana?” people repeatedly ask. This question is trite. The evidence is there. She wants to be president, stupid!

To achieve this objective, she has even re-invented her public persona as a populist. This persona possibly works for her among Zuma’s supporters, whom Zuma is courting on her behalf. This is not her traditional constituency in the ANC. She’s always been embraced by the moderate constituency in the party.

Dlamini Zuma, therefore, has switched sides to Zuma’s constituency. This constituency is supporting her on Zuma's say-so.

Her reinvention, as a populist, robs her candidature of authenticity. It’s not credible. What she presents herself to be and says is not what we’ve always known about her. The company she keeps worsens this credibility problem. Her campaign manager and chief campaigner, Zuma and Bathabile Dlamini, don’t rate high on public trust.

Zuma’s duplicity is legendary, while Dlamini’s mishandling of the administration of social grants painted her as incompetent and unreliable. It’s difficult not to believe that she’s not like them. After all, “you’re the company you keep”, as the saying goes.

Frankly, Dlamini Zuma is not believable. This doesn’t mean all she says is false. She’s correct, for instance, to remind us of her long competent service in cabinet. But, that competence was accompanied by an honest admission to problems. Dlamini Zuma never hid or tried to spin the problems at Home Affairs, for instance. She took us into her confidence, telling the public of all the problems that afflicted the department, while steadfastly working to turn it around.

You may recall, a little while ago, the unfortunate death of the young man who burnt himself because of frustrations from not getting an ID. That hardened Dlamini Zuma’s resolve to work even harder. She was visibly saddened by the tragedy. I remember that Dlamini Zuma with a great deal of admiration.

What Dlamini Zuma’s feign radicalism has also done is to diminish the historical significance of her candidature. She would be the first female president of the 105-year-old liberation movement, putting her in a good position to become the first female president of the republic. But, instead of rejoicing at this historic prospect, one feels we’re being hoodwinked. It shouldn’t be that her gender is the only reason that people vote for Dlamini Zuma. She must also be a credible, authentic woman.

But, what of her fellow contestants? Are they all what they claim to be? Are they not without blemish? After all, they all gave us the Zuma presidency.

Lindiwe Sisulu and Zweli Mkhize played a key role in Zuma’s victory at Polokwane and the subsequent irrational decision to withdraw the charges.

Cyril Ramaphosa legitimised his presidency in 2012.

All defended his misdemeanours in Parliament, until recently. They were selfish. That’s not unusual in politics. Even good people make decisions of which they’re not always proud just so that they may get a chance to do something worthwhile. Niccolo Machiavelli, the Italian political strategist, told us that back in the 16th century.

What is especially encouraging about these presidential candidates is that they want state capture probed. Ramaphosa and Sisulu have gone further to call for jail-time for all those found guilty and for the recovery of the stolen funds.

This promises a real possibility of dismantling the patron-client networks that Zuma has built throughout the public service. Their clean records, at least from what we know publicly, means they’re not beholden to anyone and thus can act freely to weed out corruption from the state.

The biggest problem though lies in the party. Party officials consider the public purse theirs. That is why tenders are decided at party offices. Party membership trumps competence. The result is shoddy work that requires repairs, which then leads to over-expenditure.

Money is taken from other needy areas. Because of this patronage, party officials are willing to kill for public office, as they‘re doing now in KwaZulu-Natal. Senzo Mchunu’s testimony at the Moerane Commission in KZN suggests great sensitivity to overhaul the party. He may just be the right secretary-general for this transformative task. These reformers, however, must be careful of the deals they make to get into office.

David Mabuza may have the numbers to push them over the finishing line, but he’s also been central in creating the patronage networks that feed off the state coffers. Will Mabuza walk away so that the party can be reborn, or will the reformers let him be for the sake of winning? If so, what then becomes the meaning of that victory?

* Mcebisi Ndletyana is an associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg.

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

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