Zuma's re-election as ANC president may prove to be pyrrhic victory
Analysis:That African National Congress unity was the central theme to the victory speech delivered by Jacob Zuma after his re-election as leader of South Africa’s ruling party recently reveals a lot about the state of the 100-year-old former liberation movement.
The ANC president hammered the only challenger, his former deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, at the party’s conference in Bloemfontein on December 18th, securing 75.1 per cent of the votes cast by 3,977 delegates.
But his overriding concern after this triumph was to ensure the result did not lead to further factionalism within the party, a malaise threatening to reduce its dominant position in South Africa.
While Zuma has a strong following among the rural poor and his own Zulu ethnic group, South Africa’s biggest, the result shows a sizable faction within the ANC who would rather see him gone.
Insiders say that if Motlanthe’s campaign for the ANC presidency had not been so lacklustre, the contest might have been much closer.
The perception among Zuma’s detractors is that he is indecisive and too populist to tackle mounting social and economic problems. Moreover, his authority has been tainted by corruption and sex scandals.
Ultimately, his critics consider him responsible for endemic corruption within the ANC as he has been its president since 2007.
Zuma’s standing among the public is also on shaky ground. A TNS public research poll, published shortly before ANC delegates voted, showed Zuma’s approval rating stood at just 51 per cent among those surveyed, compared to Motlanthe’s 70 per cent.
Frank Chikane, a former South African presidency director general, warned that the ANC may lose voters if it fails to heal divisions following the national conference, Business Day reported on the day of the presidential poll.
From here all eyes will turn to 2014 when South Africa next holds a general election. But a cursory look at what happened after the ANC’s 2007 elective conference reveals exactly why the 70-year-old uttered his consolatory words following his most recent victory.
After Zuma beat the ANC’s then-incumbent president Thabo Mbeki five years ago, a large group of the latter’s supporters made the unprecedented move of breaking away from the party and forming their own movement, the Congress of the People (Cope).
With only a few months to prepare for 2009 general election Cope went on to secure 7 per cent of the vote. Although the party has since imploded due to power struggles between its leaders, its brief moment in the sun shows there can be life outside ANC structures.
If another faction were to breakaway, the ANC’s domination of national politics could come under serious threat. At this stage it is unclear whether any anti-Zuma people within the ANC will jump ship in the run-up to 2014 to form a new political party.
But such a move is not such a far-fetched thought. Especially considering those ANC members who stood against Zuma and his preferred options for the party’s top six positions were voted off the national executive committee (NEC) by delegates at the end of December’s conference.
The NEC has now been purged of most of its anti-Zuma voices, leaving a group of senior party members languishing outside the decision-making process.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has not been wasting time in capitalising on Zuma’s re-election either. Within minutes of hearing the poll’s result the DA launched its own recruitment drive to enlist traditional ANC supporters disillusioned by the outcome.
Also interesting about the election was the appointment of Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC deputy president.
Many within the party and wider business community hope the trade unionist turned multi-millionaire can use his business acumen to shape policies that can kick-start the country’s stalled economy and create employment.
* Bill Corcoran reports for The Irish Times from South Africa