Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Zuma makes headway as succession battle boils over

The ANC succession battle is reaching its peak.

All the indications are that Jacob Zuma is set to become ANC president. That assertion is important with implications that reverberate widely. A powerful lobby has built up in the ANC against the current top leadership and - according to Mac Maharaj - against the dominant style and politics in the party. Indeed the sentiments and attitudes concerned have become a mighty force. Zuma benefits from the changing mood - but he has also demonstrated political skill in welding various interests groups in the movement into a coherent grouping.

The mobilisation for a new leadership arrangement, one that distinguishes itself from the dominant and closely knit group around President Thabo Mbeki, has taken place over a long period of time. It reached a high water mark at the ANC's National General Council last year when official plans to suspend Zuma as an ANC Deputy President were scuttled by the broader ANC leadership.

The following key points need to be made:

- Initially the flurry of support for Jacob Zuma could be characterised as mainly a reaction to Mbeki and his core team. This has now changed; the initial groundswell has been built into a substantive political platform with a defined agenda and with intensive support for Jacob Zuma as a leader per se. The support for Zuma has thus been transformed from from shallow to deep.

- Many in the Mbeki camp are now taking Jacob Zuma and his chances to ascend to power very seriously. This means that we are likely to see additional erosion of support from Mbeki to Zuma. Indeed the recent voting at provincial level shows how the Zuma camp is benefiting from the gradual shifts that are currently taking place. In the days to come, undecided voters and some Mbeki supporters are more likely to "jump ship" into the Zuma camp. Needless to say, it seems that many emergent ANC leaders would rather be in the winning group than be in the wilderness and lose out on government positions when the Zuma camp ascends to political power. In this regard, large dollops of personal interests must be factored into the moves and positioning of leaders at branch level and upwards.

- Personal interest and ambition must also be taken into account when trying to understand why the ANC Women's League, in its nomination vote, dumped Mbeki as candidate in favour of Jacob Zuma. In making its decision, the League left many in the Mbeki camp "shocked". Its nomination decision also caused consternation among feminist and women's organisations, many of which have been highly critical of Jacob Zuma especially after certain comments that Zuma made during the rape trial (in which he was acquitted).

- There is likely to be feverish and intensive lobbying on the day before the actual voting at the ANC's December elective conference. Indications are that offers - positions, rewards and incentives - will form part of the maneuvering, discussion and horse-trading. So one should always remain open to some surprises and changes in the precise strength of support for either Zuma or Mbeki. However, all the signs are that such shifts will be "too little, too late" to change the main patterns of support that obtain presently.

- The Zuma camp is clearly brimming with confidence. It has already begun addressing how it will structure itself and what it will be required to rule the country. Its organising teams have been extending their campaign work to include the task of sourcing support, resources and expertise that would be required to constitute an effective Zuma presidency.

- The policy directions being punted by the Zuma camp include greater government interaction with civil society, a more meaningful role for the tripartite alliance, a clearer emphasis on a developmental state (an emphasis in recent years shared by the Mbeki group) and greater transparency regarding the use of state agencies to clamp down on ANC leaders.

In addition to all of the above, there are also rumours that a group of Cabinet Ministers (who are generally viewed as part of the Mbeki camp) have approached Zuma to clear the air and to present themselves as neutral. "What have we done to make you view us your enemy?" the group asked Zuma as they pleaded for him to accept that they are not opposed to him. These leaders clearly want Zuma to note their willingness (eagerness?) to assist him and work with him should he come to power. By extension, they are declaring their openness to being wooed by the Zuma camp ahead of the crucial December leadership vote.

The Zuma camp must now work feverishly to repackage Zuma to make him more acceptable to sceptical audiences outside the ANC and internationally. Their challenge is to change the primary associations that spring to mind when the wider public think of Zuma -- to change the dominant mental picture from Zuma the person involved in corruption and the man with question marks about his views of women to Zuma to the leader with important strengths to lead the country into its next phase of development. Not an easy task by any means. Zuma has consequently launched a major charm offensive. He is devoting a great deal of time to engage key interest groups locally and has, for example, travelled abroad in the last week as part of a process of "selling" his leadership and vision further afield.

Given the array of forces within the ANC supporting Jacob Zuma to assume the role of president of the ANC, the Zuma train won't be derailed before December and is well on its way to its destination.

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