African National Congress followers gathered at the FNB stadium near Nasrec outside Johannesburg for their Siyanqoba Rally which is their last before the elections. 050414 Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

If the ANC gets more than 60 percent of the vote, President Jacob Zuma’s smile will be the biggest of all, says Max du Preez.

If Jacob Zuma were as good a president as he is a survivalist and political street fighter, South Africa would have been a much better place after his five years in the top job.

When the results of Wednesday’s election are made known and the ANC got more than 60 percent of the vote, his smile will be the biggest of all.

He will emerge as the biggest winner.

Wind back a month or three ago.

Zuma was the ANC’s biggest drawback, most people said. The Nkandla scandal was really hurting the party, commentators said, especially coming on top of other scandals like Guptagate.

There were even some in the ANC who quietly pondered whether the party wouldn’t be better off during the elections if Zuma’s face was not so prominent in the campaign.

That was enough to spark Number One’s survival instincts. You say I’m responsible for the Malema phenomenon now threatening to take votes away from the ANC? You think I’m an embarrassment? Let me show you, he said.

I was told that Zuma insisted that not only would his face remain on all the ANC posters and T-shirts, but that he would crisscross the country, be the main speaker at every rally and lead virtually all walkabouts in communities.

Zuma played the Nkandla scandal like a maestro. I’m the victim here, he told his constituency, the victim of vicious politicking, of racial prejudice, of anti-Zulu sentiment and of corrupt civil servants and contractors. My family and I deserve to have a decent home and we didn’t ask for all these upgrades – in fact, they were an inconvenience.

Zuma knew, as his sycophants said often, that in the end Nkandla wasn’t going to be a real issue among the vast majority of ANC supporters.

He knew that in his primary constituency outside the urban black middle class people thought he deserved a palace as the chief – the Number One.

If the ANC indeed gets 63 percent of the vote as opinion polls suggested, it would be a miracle and great achievement, one that Zuma will take much credit for.

It comes after five years of rampant corruption, gross inefficiency, abuse of power and privilege, massive enrichment of the Zuma clan, thousands of service delivery protests, the breakup of Cosatu, the Marikana massacre and other incidents of police brutality, the public dissidence of many ANC struggle heroes and the growth rather than reduction of inequality and unemployment. And yet, if the opinion surveys were correct, more than six out of 10 voters wanted Zuma and his party to stay in power. Even if this turns out to be 5.8 out of 10 voters it would be a miracle.

If Zuma emerged stronger than before the election, so would the SACP, the “security cluster” around him and the Zulu-speaking constituency in the ANC. This is not good news for South Africa and in the long run not good news for the ANC itself.

It is a temporary setback for those in Luthuli House who wanted to prepare for a Zuma exit in the next 18 months.

But if Zuma was really that much of a smart strategist and wasn’t blinded by his victory, he would still be a worried man.

Opinion surveys predicted a 5 to 8 percent vote for the Economic Freedom Fighters, mostly coming from voters who would otherwise have voted ANC. This probably cancelled out the Cope votes in the last election now returning to the ANC.

The EFF is probably the party with the greatest growth potential of all political parties, especially once they establish proper branches and structures all over the country.

The young vote is going to be crucial in 2019 with well over a third of voters born after 1994.

And a new party on the left is to be formed soon by Irvin Jim and others associated with the National Union of Metalworkers of SA.

The DA was also set to grow by more than 5 percent on Wednesday. Almost all the party’s growth in the last decade came from black South Africans.

As dynamic young black leaders like Mmusi Maimane and Lindiwe Mazibuko grow their influence in the party, it will become more attractive to the black middle class.

A more immediate threat to Zuma is the real possibility that the more than 700 criminal charges against him would be reinstated, something that could even happen this year.

It will almost certainly mean the end of his political career, if not his freedom.

Wednesday’s victory will raise citizens’ expectations for a better life significantly. The Zuma-ANC can’t meet those expectations. I’m still betting my bottom dollar that Zuma will be retiring at the ANC’s elective conference in 2017, if not long before that.

* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.