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Goodbye Zuma

It is clear that the country is entering a period of political uncertainty.

The ANC is working on an exit strategy for Zuma as it is likely that the spy tapes (due for release this week), the Public Protector’s Nkandla report and the leadership crisis at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) make it likely that the president of the country may end up in court or at least will be facing more and more threats of court cases.

His health will be used as an excuse, as was predicted before the election.

The ANC leadership has learnt that it may not  rule till “Jesus comes”. Gauteng has made that clear. The disgust with the Zuma shenanigans, and the connivance of top ANC leaders, raises the very real possibility of the ruling party losing Gauteng’s three biggest cities come 2016. It does not want such a shock, so Zuma will have to go. He will look for protection against actions taken against him after his departure, but it is beyond difficult to see how that can effectively be done – if it cannot be done while he is in office.

Cyril Ramaphosa, as deputy-president, would normally be a shoo-in. Except that the biggest ANC province, KZN, might push one of its own to the fore, or even Kgalema Motlanthe, as Mr Clean, is taken out of mothballs as an interim president. Cyril is on the inside track,  but look for a period of uncertainty.

ANC faces unhappy future

Seldom does a political scene change dramatically. Rather, it shifts over time. If the shifts are consistently in the same direction they’re worth watching closely. That is the main message from the 2014 South African national and provincial election. Briefly: the ANC is on a slow decline, the combined opposition is rising, the ANC continues to lose support faster at  provincial than at the national level while the main metropolitan centres may see ANC support fall below 50% at the 2016 municipal elections. Looking for coalition partners to maintain or take power is beginning to become the next focus.

We have to get rid of some illusions. This is not a race between two big parties which in the long run will alternate in the seat of power. Rather it will  be shifting set of coalitions  – quite likely with different coalition partners at different levels of government. Thus, the ANC may need the more radical EFF  to hold on to power in Gauteng in future. But the DA may also be able to cobble together a coalition with a number of smaller parties. Thus also in the main cities. And in many smaller towns too  – as is already happening.

The electoral system of proportional representation usually makes for two biggish parties  – each with around 40% support, a third party at around 10% and half-a-dozen small parties sharing the remaining 10%. It is not an immutable law and exceptions are possible but it does provide a broad background against which one must judge the shifts.

The results underline the big a shifts  – the ANC down from 70% in 2004 to 62% in 2014, the DA climbing from 12% in 2004 to 22% this year, the third parties falling away and a new one appearing  - COPE replaced the IFP last time around, this year it is the turn of the Economic Freedom Fighters, based on anger and a redistributive policy.

Note, by the way, the DA is the most non-racial party and the second biggest black one.

The next election battle has begun  – for 2016 the focus will be on Pretoria, Johannesburg and Port Elizabeth. All three may go to a DA coalition.   In 2019 all eyes will be on Gauteng, the economic heart of the country,  and the large and empty Northern Cape. The ANC lost support in all provinces, except KwaZulu-Natal, so further surprises are not impossible. The ANC at national level? If present trends continue it should still hold on to power. At worst, although it is unlikely, can still do it in coalition with a smaller party or two.

The holy grail of South Africa is the constitution. Its major part can only be changed with  a two-thirds majority  – as the ANC and EFF can muster. For EFF policies to be implemented, drastic changes will be necessary. Such a coalition is theoretically possible but has three counts against it: the deep loathing in the ANC against EFF leader Malema,  that the ANC has had a two-thirds majority before and did not change the constitution and the fact that it  was a strong driver in writing the constitution in the Nineties.

But, then, the word “never” does not exist in politics.

The real place to watch is the left of the ANC. There is the EFF, which has  started modifying its loud restributive noises as the reality of its new role sinks in. The metalworkers union, NUMSA, has already said it will start a socialist party, and when and if it does, expect the EFF to be subsumed in it.

The important development  is that the Socialists are unlikely to just replace the ANC  but might take enough votes away on the left while the DA on the right will keep on chipping away  – which may, but not need not, mean that the ANC loses enough on its flanks to fall to just below 50%. But as explained above, this does not mean the party has to give up power, but matters wll change significantly as it will have to share power.

What does all of this mean?

One has to look beyond the rhetoric. There is a real battle of words going on between EFF and ANC and it will attract a great deal of media attention. But, remember, none of these radical promises  (redistributing land , interfering with ownership rights, expanding state holdings in  mineral and energy fields, and more) can pass must muster in the Constitutional Court as the constitution simply does not allow it.

In any case, the National Development Plan is official ANC policy and was reaffirmed by president Zuma a day after the election. Yet there is more than one interpretation of the document possible and Zuma has to balance competing strands of economic approaches under one roof. Also, does the party go clearly and unequivocally  for the NDP part which allows more space for the private sector knowing that the political space on its left is being closed down.

Fact is,  the ANC may find itself in a position now where movement to the left has been pre-empted and it may just return more clearly to the more free market approach it espoused in the Nineties.  It does realise it needs economic growth to address poverty, inequlity and unemployment  – and it increasingly accepts it needs the private sector and has to make life easier for it rather than more difficult.

Don’t expect big public announcements, though. Keep an eye on who gets Treasury, what happens at the Reserve Bank, Trade and Industry, the new SMME ministry, under whom  does the NDP fall.

And the ANC? It has to watch both flanks now. As South Africa urbanises  – and it does so very rapidly – so the ANC base shrinks. As does the belief that it was the sole liberation force   – there are the trade unions, the UDF, the black consciousness movements, the National Party which  voted itself out of power, the old security establishment,  sanctions, diplomatic pressure  – a real “soup of liberation forces”. This means it must govern effectively, not ideologically, to be able to stay top of the log.

It must mean internal divisions will come to the fore, both on matters of economic policy and that other bugbear  – who gets what job, tender, which spoils. The ANC future will be an uhappy one. And interesting, what with a communist party in the ruling alliance threatened on the left by a new Socialist Party and a supporting trade union movement relooking its relationship with the ANC.

And then there is Zuma and Nkandla  – which will not go away and will eat at the party’s credibility.

There will be many and loud noises about ridding the country of corruption and nepotism. But these may have become so systemic that it will take  harsh and consistent action and not just expressions of a desire for change.

In short, look beyond the rhetoric: the ANC, over time, gradually losing support to the left and right, possibly sharing power in a coalition to stay in power, sounding left but fiddling in the middle. But: no revolution in economic or political terms. South Africa is really quite a surprisingly conservative country.



High noon for Zuma

The Public Protector didn’t say it outright but her damning report is clear: Jacob Zuma, in terms of article 89, is guilty of serious misconduct and/or in serious violation of the constitution. Possible impeachment is the next parliamentary step. Problem: the ANC speaker must reconvene parliament. Will he? Possibly not as he might try an earlier approach: the matter can come to the floor when parliament meets after the election.

Also, a two-thirds majority is needed to impeach. The opposition doesn’t have the firing power.

For the ANC the Nkandla Report is a  BIG problem. It seriously further undermines the stature and credibility of the president. He basically stole public money for his own advantage. It will cost the ruling party several percentage points in the election and several MPs. So, what to do? It is too close to the election to get rid of Zuma,  so you stick with him and blame him afterwards for the electoral regression and then kick him out  – after ensuring as much of a safety net for him and his closest collaborators.

Difficult thing to do as political parties and civil society may turn to the courts. If he is found guilty of a criminal act, he is out anyway. But you can hardly be president if you’re in court!

Fact is: Nkandla is a very serious blow for the ANC and it will slide noticeably further down the popularity stakes.

* By the way , Thuli, thanks for clearing up that uncertainty: a fire pool is in fact a swimming pool.

* Also, the fact that we can have the Nkandla Report is a great compliment for our democracy.

Knives are out for Thuli

No longer able to change the constitution because it has fallen way below a two-thirds majority, the ruling ANC is skirting around the independent  public institutions, those that “embarrass” it by making public what the party does in the dark. The Judicial Service Commission, which selects judges, is more political than independent, the Scorpions have lost their sting to the Hawaks who fly so high they see no evil, the office of the Public Protector has been tampered with.

Jacob Zuma in particular and those  around him, are almost safe. Except for that dastardly lady, the Public Protector.

But not for long, if the Zumaites have their way.

Look at the signals: Sipho Seepe, adviser to the Minister of Public Service and Administration  – she who flies often at the public’s expense, in a plane hired just for her-  warns in a newspaper article that Thuli Madonsela might be inept and possibly the Public Protector Act might have to be changed; Gwede Mantsahse says when the Nkandla Report is published this week it will be ignored as it just political; the Minister of Agriculture is going to court to overturn a damning report on her before the President has even said anything about it.

And so it goes on. Interesting is that when she is negative about Julius Malema and Bheki Cele, the ANC says nothing. But as she gets closer Zuma, so the noise level rises and rises.

Getting rid of her, at least by challenging her credibility and then possibly through a parliamentary vore, is clearly what this is all about. All to protect Zuma from political and even legal fall-out.

What should be worrying for all South Africans is that the public institutions on which the constitution is fundamentally founded, are being undermined. Even outgoing minister Trevor Manuel warned over the weekend: respect these institutions. Just to be lambasted by  ANC hatchetman Mantashe.

Fortunately, the ANC’s electoral slide will be confirmed on May 7. But all good men and women and true, should be concerned and raise their voices.



The ANC’ s slide continues

Thabo Mbeki made Yeats a household name by quoting fromThe Second Coming:…”Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..”. He wasn’t thinking of South African politics today when he read out parts of  the poem, but it is an apt description of the situation the ruling party faces.

The ANC’s slide continuous with its suppport base under attack from the left, centre and the right. From a high of 70% support in 2004, to 66% in 2009, to 62% in 2011 (albeit in municipal elections) and now a  possible slip to the mid-fifties in the coming general election  – plus the real possibility of not regaining the Western Cape, losing the Northern Cape, maybe even Gauteng, given a fright in the Eastern Cape and North West.

Indeed, the centre cannot hold.

True, Agang’s  measured walk towards its goal of  being taken seriously became a stumble when it  botched the liaison  with the DA,  but the UDM and Cope ( from their much diminshed support bases) are showing signs of life. Even the IFP and FF+ might hold steady, even show minimal growth.

Some maths: the DA gets to its hoped-for 25%, UDM gets 3%, Cope steadies at 4%, Agang reaches 2%, IFP 4% and the FF + gets to 2% – that’s  4o%! So, OK, possibly they won’t quite get there. Let’s take 1% off each  – that still leaves 34% for the major opposition groupings. That’s real weight in a system of proportional representation.

Add in the below-one percent parties, and we’re back close to 40% again.

Of course, all might do slightly better. Then the ANC is in real trouble.

There may be some voters who will switch between these opposition parties, but the major growth will come from ANC dissidents, the no-shows of the last election plus some of those first-time voters.

On the left, out of the growing in-fighting in Cosatu and Numsa turning its back on the ANC, comes a hard left movement, a Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) and now Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). A poll six months ago predicted 25% of those between 18 and 34 will back the EFF. That should really worry the ANC because that will eat into its support base and draw in dissident voters who have stayed away during the last election.

Put overly simply: the EFF, at a stretch, gets 10% (together with the WASP) and suddenly the ANC faces a drop to below 50%.

Except it is highly unlikely, never mind what the opinion poll says. The heavy guns will soon move in and WASP and EFF will find it difficult to survive – in appreciable numbers – harsh, personal  and continuous bombardment.

Fact is, the centre cannot hold, even if all of the above figures are too optimistic from an opposition point of view – the ANC slide continuous, slipping below 60%, maybe even touching 55% and , very far-fetched, skirting around 50%. The important point is that the ANC is consistently trending downward.

And then there is Jacob Zuma, a growing embarrassment .

For the ANC, it ought to begin to feel like the vultures are circling…..


Our government is spying on you!

Just when you were getting excited about those dastardly Brits spying on our dear government, here is a reminder: first, though, it is wrong for governments to spy on other governments  – but, hey, it happens all over the world and here is hoping our government is also spying on other governments.

Don’t know if they have time,though, because we have the General Intelligence Laws Amendment Bill and the Protectionof State Information Bill – looming, but making it easy to spy on foreigners and you, and try to hide as much government activity (like corruption, maladministration, kickbacks and real secrets) from you. OK, that’s cynical  – but possible.

Sure you’ve forgotten, but you’ve registered your sim card some years back  – remember?  Remember Rica? It is the quick and easy way to listen in when you talk, check your e-mails, websites, and so on. It is not being done all the time, but when you write stuff like this, you’ll probably go into some memory tank which will then automatically switch on when you talk, mail, read or possible think anything.

An exaggeration? A little. But best be beware  – and not be  too holy about the Brits spying on our government.


Worries about post-Mandela era

South Africa  – and the world – is keeping an eye on Nelson Mandela’s health, concerned that the icon who rose above racial divides may this time not  leave the hospital. There is no politicking around his health and possible death – everybody is respectful.

Yet there are two issues to keep in mind: one is that the ANC today is marching to a different drum than when Mandela was president. It is now more overtly racial, no longer inclusive, open to all  – which simply means that the major part of  “The Miracle of ’94″ is gone. No wonder the world is less interested.

There is another: Mandela is not using the public health sector. He is in a private hospital  – because he can. But it does tell us what to make of the public hospitals. Some do excellent work but the genaral story is the opposite. Billions are being spent in the next decade on ramping up the system but there is no indication of improvement yet. Pity the poor and dependent who have no choice but to use these facilities..

In the wider background this speaks to the growing encroachment of the state in the economy and the ANC-government looking on the private sector as an opponent rather than embracing it as a partner.

These two developments should concern all South Africans who value Mandela’s contribution to our history.

Malema tapping into left-wing anger

He’s lost his millions, been kicked out of the ANC and now he is fighting back  – Julius Malema is on the warpath, warning aginst the “right-wing” ANC, shaping up to start his own political party. He’ll soon find out you need more than a loud character and big voice – a whole lot of money, organisational ability, lots of foot-soldiers, offices. That sounds like a cry too far.

Oh, yes, and a policy!

But he is a symbol of a slowly gathering radicalisation of our politics. To the left of the ANC is a wide-open and empty field. The ANC, Cosatu, the SACP by now have midlle-class instincts, although that is not their constituency. Their electoral base is the rural poor and shack dwellers  – the latter rise in anger against the ANC all over the country three times a day and have done so for three years. Not exactly the kind of testimony one wants from your supporters!

So now we have AMCU(ousting the venerable and previously influential NUM), the Transport Workers Front, elements among the semi-employed farm workers in the Western Cape  – all unhappy with the ruling elite, feeling left out and getting ready to do their own thing.

Julius may have bitten off too much, but the political space to the left of the ANC is becoming more and more interesting. Already there is a Workers and Socialist Party (WASP) which is demanding the nationalisation of land and the mines – without compensation. Sounds like a Julius-cry. But WASP has already said they’re not interest in Malema.

But it’s early days and a lot of sorting out on the hard Left has just begun.Not bad news for the DA, but potentially so for the embattled ANC.

Zuma does it again – and will maybe again

Our president has managed to negotiate R800 a month rent for his Nkandla  establishment worth well over R200 million. Clearly, not a man to be underestimated. This comes after being promised a new plane for his increasing foreign journneys  – at a time when trouble in SA mounts! 

One thing he should hope for is that his and other well-known names do not appear on the list of the UK’s Financial Reporting Council, which has promised to name those bribed by BAE Systems. That might just wake up the  Seriti Commission – best known for NOT investigating the arms scandal, although it is its job.

But, possibly, if a man can organise low rentals for luxury accommodation, Zuma can also build in enough distance  not to be mentioned up front when lists start circulating. 


Media changes to imperil freedom?

The  media in South Africa is free and openly critical of the government of the day – which naturally irritates those in power. So it is worth watching what is happening to the two English media giants which are in the process of being sold. Not that the ANC as ANC is involved but watch  this: the state owns all of the SABC and if you’re still watching some of its programmes, you will know that the ANC government is on the inside lane. Then there is the New Age of unknown circulation but strong state advertising support  –  owned by those people whose plane landed at an airbase with the people who were on their way to a wedding, the Guptas. If you’ve ever read it, you will know it is more than solidly on the side of the ANC. The state, through the Government Employment Fund, already owns almost a fifth of the Times Media Group – Sunday Times, Business Day, and so on. Now, the same Fund wants to take a  25% holding in the Independent Group – Star, Cape Times, Mercury, and others – which is being taken over by Sekunjalo, child of Igbal Surve, who is close to the ANC.

Will the media now become more aligned with the ANC?  Let’s wait and see.