In the media, increasingly, commentators are looking tentatively to Mangaung. Not with a great deal of enthusiasm, mark you, but they are saying, essentially, “Look, the ANC is having a conference, perhaps something good will come of it, perhaps they will get rid of Zuma and replace him with someone of whom we, or rather our employers and masters, approve”. Vaguely, the ruling class is aware that something is wrong, and they are looking to the electoral politics of the ANC to set it right. Since they have themselves played a big role in distorting, corrupting and ruining the electoral politics of the ANC, this is rather like the U.S. government expecting the gangsters they installed in Benghazi to defend the U.S. Embassy.
The salvation which is sought is to be rescued from Jacob Zuma. The prevalent error in this — not only among the ruling class, though they clearly suffer from it — is that Zuma is not a man alone. He, rather, is a part of a cabal, and that cabal in turn represents a broad corrupting tendency within the ANC which has always been there and which has simply been given complete authority to do as it pleases under Zuma. As frequently pointed out here (though in few other places) getting rid of Zuma is not the solution.
Nevertheless, since it is a part of the solution, it is worth asking whether Zuma can be got rid of at Mangaung.
Let’s see – COSATU has just had its Congress at which it decided to back Zuma. This is quite important, because before the Congress a lot of COSATU people opposed Zuma on excellent grounds. However, as the Congress came closer, more and more COSATU affiliates suddenly backed away from their previous statements and proclaimed their undying adoration for Zuma – Vavi and the Metal Workers Union being two prominent examples of this. That the head of the Metal Workers Union, Irwin Jim, decided to follow his union’s general leadership and back Zuma is no surprise – Jim Saves Skin, should be the appropriate headline.
This, however, makes for a very different ball-game; after all, the past month has seen a sequence of bungles and disasters for Zuma. Almost the only smart thing he has done has been to refuse to endorse the American occupation of Afghanistan (as the local media demands he do with their calls for him to condemn the killing of a crowd of South Africans working for the occupation in Kabul). You’d think he would be on the run. Instead he’s looking like the Comeback Kid.
Does COSATU alone make a difference? Perhaps. That makes two pillars of the Tripartite Alliance which are now backing him. As for the support inside the ANC, the ANC Youth League appears likely to oppose Zuma, but the Women’s League is spinelessly backing him and has done so for the last eight years, so these two cancel each other out. (Actually the ANCYL might be split rather than solid.) As for the provinces, Limpopo is certainly anti-Zuma and the Eastern Cape probably so, but KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are solidly for Zuma. If we consider that the North-West and Free State are split, the Western Cape and Northern Cape are weak, and Gauteng is almost certainly leaning towards Zuma, the conclusion appears to be that Zuma’s support is thin.
But while this is true after a fashion, it also means that the support for any challenger to Zuma is thin. One solid province, one or two partial provinces and some fragments of the other provinces, does not make a majority.
The real situation, however, is far worse than this. What would it actually mean, to get rid of Zuma? Zuma commands a great deal of support from the Communist Party, for Zuma’s generosity is the only possible route for Nzimande to gain the Presidency for which he is wholly unfit. Therefore, the SACP would have to be purged from leadership; Mantashe out of the top tier of the NEC, Cronin and Nzimande out of the Cabinet, and this would very possibly weaken Nzimande’s position within the Party. Meanwhile, all the people whom Zuma has appointed essentially because they are Zulus would have to go, since they are not only unfit for office but are potential threats to any successor to Zuma. This means that a goodly chunk of the Cabinet would have to go, and be replaced by people who were sworn supporters of whoever replaces Zuma.
Then again, the provinces which supported Zuma would have to be purged of their current leadership. Replacements for those leaders would have to be found. Indeed, Zuma supporters in other provinces might well have to be purged, partly because so many of them are such deadbeats that they are unstable in their positions without Zuma – would John Block be able to hang in there without the backing of Zuma, for instance? What about the squabbling Xhosa and Coloured factions in the Western Cape? Where does the powerful Alexandra Mafia in Gauteng stand, if Zuma goes – even though many of them have opposed him in the past?
The simple fact is that if Zuma goes, at best, there will be a huge political bloodbath at least as destructive as the one which led up to Mbeki’s removal from office – and that provoked the biggest split in the ANC’s history. It would, furthermore, be tempting for almost everyone to exploit such a bloodbath to settle scores with old enemies. So, not only would a large number of people – not all of them clearly-identified ANC supporters – face the loss of their positions, but the ensuing conflict could lead to the ANC tearing itself apart.
It is thus hardly surprising that people are backing away from this. It is simply not clear that Zuma can be successfully challenged at Mangaung. It is, however, quite clear that a successful challenge, however good it might be in the long run for the country and even for the ANC, would be a short-term disaster for most of the ANC’s current leadership. So people face the certainty of a horribly rough ride, for if they lose, Zuma would certainly use his totalitarian powers to crush all those who challenged him at Mangaung, regardless of his destructive that would be – exactly as he behaved after Polokwane.
So this is surely why people are backing away from challenging Zuma. It is all very well to mouth off about how awful Zuma is. Notice that outside the ANC Youth League, not a single one of the people around Zuma has dared to risk his or her career over the matter. This is hardly surprising – the whole Zuma campaign has focussed on luring time-servers to their side and then promoting time-serving attitudes. Time-servers are not people likely to make a revolution. They are the kind of people who flourished under Hussein and Assad, the keystones of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and Syria, and who flourish today under the American puppet regimes in the Middle East.
One can understand this. Unfortunately, to understand is not to forgive. Now that they can plainly see the disaster they have wrought, the Pirates of Polokwane had just enough capacity to briefly appeal to the public gallery that they were not really responsible. Zwelenzima Vavi whimpered that he was just following along on peer pressure when he and the rest of COSATU backed Zuma, like a Dachau guard proclaiming that he was just doing what he was told to do.
But they don’t have the guts to set the situation straight. We cannot expect anything from Mangaung. We cannot expect a broken ANC to somehow leap together and fasten its pieces into a coherent whole with imaginary political glue. All that we can do is try to band together and generate an alternative to the whole Tripartite Alliance – otherwise, we must face the disaster which five more years of Zuma, and the ensuing calamity of SACP dominance, will bring us.