William Gumede: Whoever cleans up the ANC won’t survive it

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA – JULY 01: Delegates during the African National Congress (ANC) 5th national policy conference at the Nasrec Expo Centre on July 01, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The conference is a gathering of about 3500 delegates from branches across the country to discuss the party’s policies going into the elective conference in December, where changes and new policies will be ratified. (Photo by Gallo Images / City Press / Muntu Vilakazi)

The future of the country may be determined during the course of the next few months, but the future of the ANC have already been determined during Jacob Zuma’s presidency, says Prof William Gumede.

There are several threats already hanging over the ANC’s elective conference in December. How could this influence its outcomes?

There’s a really good chance that the conference will break up or the results will be challenged in court, as has happened in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC has already broken its own rules ahead of the conference. According to its constitution the provinces had to have a proper conference 3 months ahead of the national conference. Now the court has thrown out the current leaders of KZN, which means any member of the ANC can now actually during or after the conference challenge the outcome and make the argument that the conference wasn’t properly constituted. So from an ANC point of view – everyone’s looking toward the conference thinking that a new leadership can resolve the problems, but we may not have a new leadership.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s supporters such as the Communist Party and the trade unionists have already said they think that he has overwhelming support, so if he doesn’t get the job it would be because of some sort of corruption. They would then consider going on their own and contesting the 2019 election separately. So there’s the one threat hanging over the conference already.

The second threat is the Zuma threat. People ask why, one NEC meeting after the other, there’s a vote of no confidence and he survives? It happens because Zuma threatens them.

He tells them, if you kick me out, I walk, form my own party and we’ll see who votes for you.

Surely the ANC has enough support on the ground without Zuma to survive him leaving?

Zuma leaving the ANC is a real threat because the constituency of the ANC has changed in a way that plays politically into his hands.

The middle class has left the ANC and are unlikely to return. They’ve gone to the DA, some to the EFF and so on. The other really big constituency of the ANC is the young, black youth. They’ve also left and joined the EFF. What is left? The working class of blue collar workers who are part of the unions. They, in turn, split when Cosatu split and Vavi starting Saftu. Those who remain in Cosatu are also not sure about Zuma. If Dlamini-Zuma is elected as a proxy for Zuma, they’re gone.

Now Zuma tells his NEC every time when it comes to voting, who’s left? The rural voters remain and he’s got them. Urban voters may never return to ANC. If Zuma’s gone and he takes the rural voters with him, what is left of the ANC?

So inadvertently everything he’s done to damage the party has played into his own hands?

Exactly, and that is just evidence of the cunning and cynical politician that he is. Clearly it shows that he’s not interested in the unity of the ANC, but in his own self-preservation. But that’s just the nature of human beings, because remember, during his rise to the top he has stepped on other people and those people can’t wait for the day he’s out of the presidency to go after him. There are many influential people in the ANC who want to see him in jail.

How would the last two years of his presidency ideally play out for him?

Ideally for him Dlamini-Zuma wins and he sits it out. He leaves in the beginning of 2019 and during that period they close all the gaps and appoint likeminded people.

What happens to the ANC?

That’s the tragedy. With every scandal linked to Zuma, the ANC loses more voters. I don’t think it can get more than 50% of votes in 2019. Even when you look at the ANC’s own internal surveys there are two scenarios.

The first is, the ANC gets under 50%, but more than 45% and so still wins but needs the smaller opposition parties. That is the Ramaphosa scenario. This means even if Ramaphosa wins, the damage Zuma has done is so big that he would just about carry the ANC into a majority.

The second scenario is Dlamini-Zuma wins and the ANC drops under 40% or 45% and then needs a bigger opposition party for a coalition to govern.

How real is the possibility of the second scenario?

It’s very real. Society has changed, and more specifically, the black society and ANC constituency have changed. People are really struggling. With the economy struggling, the black middle class, who’s been the bedrock of the ANC, is in trouble.

That black middle class status has always been vulnerable, because most people started at ground zero post-1994 and had to make debt to get ahead. Then the state failed, which people didn’t anticipate. The middle class really feels state failure in their pockets. You can’t send your child to a public school, because the education is too poor and so you go to a private school and that’s a cost you didn’t calculate. You also have to pay for private hospitals and have extra security at your home. These are all additional costs that the black middle class didn’t think of when they started out.

So this group is really strained and have already left the ANC, because if they were ideology driven before, by the mere fact that they are struggling to survive they have no more choices. Ideology is a luxury. They just need a party that can fix the state and reduce their costs.

What about the workers?

The black working class have always been solidly behind the ANC. If you work in the state you get a nice little social compact, your job is for life. You’re part of the ANC, part of the unions, and you can go on. But if you’re working class black in the private sector, once the economy goes where it is now, you’re really in trouble. Where are you going to get a job? You don’t have the skills, you can’t compete.

The unions have moved from being mainly based in the mining/manufacturing sectors to being in the public service. So the remainder of Cosatu’s members are public service unions. Those in the manufacturing and mining sectors have lost their jobs, because the economy isn’t performing. There’s no way those people are going to vote for the ANC.

So the last bit of people the ANC could’ve had are the young black people. Most young black people come from public schools, are not skilled for the economy and are immediately unemployed. You’re angry, resentful and become radical. The ANC of the past used to get these votes, but the EFF has captured them.

This paints a bleak picture for the ANC?

Whoever wins in December, they’ve lost. The bulk of the ANC is gone. They will preside over the death of the ANC. If it’s Dlamini-Zuma the death will be quicker. If it’s Ramaphosa it will be over a longer period but it will still take place.

Is there a way someone like Ramaphosa can still turn it around?

The difficulty is that Zuma has allowed his allies like the premiers and local city bosses to do whatever they want to do as long as they support him and don’t loot whatever he wants to loot. Send a journalist to Limpopo or Mpumalanga, North West or the Free State … they’re bankrupt.

For a decade the ANC has been run by these mafias. If Ramaphosa becomes president they’re not going to roll over and lose all their assets. He’ll try to be pragmatic, play a long game and allow them to go on as always while he goes for the low hanging fruit, but keep the system intact, so in the public eye it looks like he’s cleaning up.

In the first year he can’t do much in the provinces anyway, because there’s an upcoming national election. As former president Kgalema Mothlante said previously in an interview, if you really want to clean the ANC you have to drop it, cut everything off and there’s going to be blood on the floor.

Essentially the person who cleans up the ANC is not going to survive it. They’ll have to keep their eye on the prize and say history will remember them, but they’re not going to survive it.

– William Gumede is Associate Professor at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand and Executive Chairperson of Democracy Works.

(Photo credit: Gallo Images / City Press / Muntu Vilakazi)