David Mabuza is now the second-most powerful man in the country after Cyril Ramaphosa, writes Makhosini Nkosi.
IT WAS always going to happen. If deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction had won the December ANC conference outright its first order of business was going to be to recall or force president Jacob Zuma out of office.
Alternatively, if Zuma’s preferred candidate Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had won, her faction would have asked him nicely to step down. Being the stubborn man that he is it would have taken Dlamini-Zuma’s people a few trips to Nkandla to make him feel important.
Both scripts were tossed out of the window by one David Mabuza, premier of Mpumalanga and provincial ANC chair. Mabuza ran on the unity ticket and further used the power of his base to force both factions into an awkward cohabitation arrangement.
With no faction having outright power it means that many decisions by the party’s national executive committee (NEC) will be consensus based. One of those has to be if, when and how Zuma leaves office. Many are so eager to see Zuma’s back there is no telling if he will still be at the Union Buildings by the time you read this.
It is up to the NEC to make the final call. However, if the views of the voters mattered, this would be a no-brainer really. Zuma is causing more harm to the ANC than any discernible good.
A Nation’s Voice survey recently conducted by Ask Afrika found that 63% of voters think the country is going in the wrong direction. More than two thirds of those not approving of the country’s trajectory blame the government in general, and Zuma in particular, for that.
Recently police minister and NEC member Fikile Mbalula was reported as saying that the ANC’s decline and problems had been attributable to Zuma as the president and not to the party. Mbalula had been a staunch Dlamini-Zuma surrogate and Zuma defender going to the December conference.
Only 7% of those polled were delighted with the performance of the government that Zuma is head of. Zuma himself performs even worse. As courts are increasingly called to adjudicate on disputes that involve government in general, and Zuma in particular, voters view the judiciary favourably.
The country’s courts are regarded the best in terms of performance as viewed by the voters. At the bottom end of that scale sits Zuma with only 6% of respondents being delighted with his performance.
The same survey found that the most troubling issue for the country’s citizens is corruption. The second issue is not joblessness, poor health care or even crime.. it is the impunity that is enjoyed by the corrupt. They blame Zuma for corruption and state capture.
What should be of greatest concern to Ramaphosa and his NEC as they prepare for the general elections next year is that 91% of those polled said corruption would either change how they vote or it would influence their choice.
Granted, we are a country that doesn’t pay too much attention to opinion polls. If we were Zuma would have long been in the club of former presidents. He has become the face of corruption and state capture in the country.
At a public relations level, it is easy to see why that is so. Since taking office Zuma has been dogged by scandal associated with corruption and he has done little or nothing to manage the attendant perceptions. He has been happy to execute his clever chess moves and outfox his opponents.
It appears there is another chess master more adept than him. Zuma was the biggest loser at the conference courtesy of Mabuza. Zuma’s base, KwaZulu-Natal, was divided between Dlamini-Zuma and Ramaphosa. Its illegitimate party provincial executive (PEC) complained bitterly after the conference that Mabuza had betrayed it.
The KZN PEC and the ANC Women’s League were aggrieved that they had mobilised their delegates to vote for Mabuza as he defeated human settlements minister and NEC member Lindiwe Sisulu for the position of ANC deputy president. Mabuza reportedly reneged on his agreement with Dlamini-Zuma’s supporters that he would have the Mpumalanga delegation vote for Dlamini-Zuma. Instead he allowed his docile delegates to vote with their conscience (read vote for Ramaphosa).
Having outfoxed Zuma’s supporters Mabuza is undoubtedly the second-most powerful man in the country after his boss Ramaphosa. This also means that he is only a heartbeat away from being president of the country.
If or when Zuma is removed from office his deputy Ramaphosa may be reluctant to step in as caretaker president.
There may be complications that may arise out of the country’s constitution limiting an individual to only two terms as president. Ramaphosa may want to serve as president until 2029.
There is also the propensity for South Africans to get tired of a president after several years which Ramaphosa must keep in mind. If he elects to start his own term next year it would mean that Mabuza is standing in pole position to finish Zuma’s term.
Not much is known about Mabuza. The Nation’s Voice survey revealed that residents of Mpumalanga are the most delighted with their provincial government, which he is heading. What is concerning though is that Mpumalanga stood out in the survey as having the highest number of residents who said they would not report corruption to authorities.
Mpumalanga is also the province where high profile whistle-blowers have been assassinated. Prior to the conference former ANC presidential candidate and former Mabuza ally Mathews Phosa accused his former protégé of having a gang of gun-wielding thugs that was doing Mabuza’s dirty work for him.
A few Nation’s Voice snap online surveys have consistently showed that Mabuza is viewed by voters with apprehension. It is difficult to foretell as to whether replacing Zuma with Mabuza would improve or worsen the ANC’s prospects in next year’s elections.
Certainly opposition parties would prefer Mabuza to take over from Zuma instead of Ramaphosa. Earlier last year Mabuza spoke kindly of EFF leader Julius Malema calling for him to return to the ANC. The EFF’s response was brutal. They called him a kleptomaniac and dismissed him out of hand. There was no discernible retort from Mabuza or any of his surrogates.
As the new NEC contemplates the future and where Zuma’s presidency fits into it, one thing is clear: keeping Zuma in office is the closest to a guarantee that the ANC will bleed votes in 2019.
Makhosini Nkosi is the founder of the Nation’s Voice campaign. Follow the campaign on Twitter @NationsVoiceZA and like the Facebook page NationsVoiceZA.