Mhambi has been redeployed.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Mbeki pole-axed at Polekwane?

All week dark clouds have gathered around Johannesburg. It was cold and miserable. And then today, alas, the sun broke through.

But in the posh coffee shops of Parktown the mood is somber.

As the Polekwane leadership contest for the ANC's top job (and perhaps the countries) nears, all indications are that the much reviled Jacob Zuma will win.

Zuma, you might remember, has fallen out with many: Not only Mbeki's cronies, but also the champagne socialialists, as well as polite middleclass South African society in general.

Mhambi is more sanguine: I'm on record saying that Zuma can not be worse than Mbeki and that he might be better.

A more open ANC?

Something else that many people seem to miss is how remarkable the situation is, particularly in an African context. A party kicks out the incumbent President by way of its branch membership. That is very rare.

Is this revolution only an example of banal factionalism, or a sign of the ANC as an organisation's inherently mature democratic core?

That will depend on how the ANC treats the loosers. Whether the party and government becomes beset by a Stalinist kind of control freakery and stifles debate as it did a few years ago during Mbeki's zenith of power.

In the mean time I'm enjoying the sun shine.

Sphere: Related Content


Mike said...

Wessel, I'm glad to hear you're in the country and enjoying some sunshine!

I suspect Zuma will be more aggressive on crime (street-level stuff, but corruption?), health issues, etc. In that sense he may be better than Mbeki.

However, what is very worrying for me is the degree to which he is being supported as a populist. Yes, he has recently made some statements regarding some policy matters. However, he's supported as a personality, not someone representing well-grounded and thought-through policies.

The policy comments (rather than statements) he utter tend to lean towards simplistic conservatism - rather than pragmatism. Reconsider the death sentence, harsher sentences, etc. Not to mention his past utterances reflecting, amongst other things, homophobic tendencies.

He may end up being a better president, I concede that. But my take is that his probable election to ANC president should be viewed within the context of shallow electioneering and populism, rather than healthy democracy at work. The ANC's structure for electing a president, at least the way its playing out at present, does not allow for candidates to openly campaign ON THE BASIS OF POLICY.

Stating with (fake) humility that you will serve if the ANC requests you to do so is very different from saying "If you elect me I will pursue the following goals and policies - this is what I stand for".

Yes, it is good that Mbeki's authoritarian tendencies are challenged. But I fear a choice for Zuma represents a choice for the lesser of two evils (perhaps...). I do believe there could have been better compromise candidates. We're seeing power politics and factionism, not intellectual debate leading to informed decisions.

Wessel said...

Its been quite overcast! A bad omen perhaps Mike?

You make interesting points.

Will Zuma feel beholden to the Trade Union body, Cosatu, and their policies?

I hope so, as they were his loyal and primary backers. For instance, will Zuma be anti Mugabe as Cosatu is? But he might very well ignore them once he has power.

Else, as you state, we don't have any real idea what his policies will be (except perhaps more pro poor) and whether he will be swayed by populist opinion.

(Mbeki has not be an anti-corruption politician by any stretch of the imagination. The only reason why he acted on Zuma was that he was an opponent, but I must concede that Zuma does not inspire confidence in this regard.)

Mike said...

A bad omen? I hope not :-)

Yes, his warm relationship with Cosatu does create the expectation of him being more 'pro poor'. In principle that's great. But it's not something that can be addressed in any sustainable manner if one tends to do what's the most popular for the poorly educated working class masses. (I need to qualify that Cosatu's policies seem to mostly be backed by quality research, but it does off-course lean towards the preferences of its members).

It will be interesting to see whether Zuma, once in power, sticks close to Cosatu's policies or whether he follows the money... as he seems to have done in the past (he has not yet been convicted on any such count but the evidence in the Schabir Shaik trial was damning). Any change in policy will hopefully have to be adopted by the ANC first, which -as I read it- is what gives a lot of people in the financial sector some hope.

I don't think the world will come to an end if (when?) Zuma get's elected as president of the ANC. But we could have had a better outcome. What would be interesting is what happens if Zuma does get charged for corruption again - before, during or after the ANC Conference.

The tack that Zuma will take on Mugabe will also be very interesting. I think Zuma has, to some degree at least, shown himself to be relatively traditional in terms of Zulu cultural positions - at least when it suited him.The topics of sex and homophobia come to mind. While I bristle at the Afro-pessimism often creeping into comments on Africa's future, I do fear that Zuma may display some worrying 'traditional' tendencies. What will his position be on a revered (thoroughly corrupted) African statesmen and liberation hero, who still enjoys a lot of respect amongst working class South Africans? I suspect that when it comes to Robert Mugabe, Cosatu represents the views of trade union leaders - not the broad membership... (maybe I'm wrong :-) ). I will not be surprised to see Zuma keep a safe distance on the Zimbabwe issue.

Be it as it may - we're in for an interesting ride!