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I will get on to the weighty question of whether Jacob Zuma might retire before his term of office is completed momentarily, but first let me mention that I have been busy with what started as an idle rumination about the South African Communist Party.
But has turned, inevitably perhaps, to “become persistent and recurrent worrying or brooding” (from the third meaning for ‘rumination’ given in the link above.)
I am at a serious disadvantage when assessing the SACP. Unlike many of my readers I was always an admirer of the party – well, certainly in the bad old days of the struggle against apartheid.
Slightly more difficult to explain is that I am still moved by Billy Bragg singing The Red Flag, and the pleasure I once took at the same artist (or perhaps another, even Google can’t nail it for me) singing a song that went something like “Stalin wasn’t stalling, when he told the Beast of Berlin, that we’d never rest contented, till we’d driven him from the land.”
So I am hard wired, deep in my political DNA, to not think ill of the SACP – which is why the party riding Jacob Zuma to power, its dogged defence of the President’s most unsettling activity and much of the threatening sloganeering and bullying that gets published as Red Alerts on Umsebenzi Online have had me at a real analytical loss.
I have provisionally titled the post: “O SACP, SACP! wherefore art thou SACP?” It wanders around a bit, speculating wherefore, actually when you get right down to it, art the SACP? There are various asides of a semi-personal, even light hearted, nature – but the path of my meander has definitely darkened and right now I feel I am, metaphorically speaking, in a gloomy forest and the growing stench suggests there is a poisoned well somewhere up ahead.
So I have decided to take a bit more time and care on that.
Meanwhile here are some of my recent comments (sent to clients on the 3rd of this month) about the increasingly widely discussed matter of the future of Jacob Zuma.
Jacob Zuma – will he stay, will he go and does it matter?
My basic view of the question in the title is:
- Jacob Zuma is more likely to retire early that I have considered previously.
- There is wide variation in the quality of South African politics, administration and government, with awful, mediocre and excellent aspects. This variation will not be overwhelmed or overdetermined by whether Zuma stays or goes – although it would also be incorrect to suggest it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference.
- In general I would assert that Jacob Zuma is as much a symptom of the problems as he is a cause of them – although I would, if someone held a gun to my head, go with 60% symptom, 40% cause (I had it the other way around when I sent this out initially, but that was just my dyslexia playing havoc: Zuma is less the architect of history than history is the architect of Zuma – no Nkandla pun intended).
- Additionally, Jacob Zuma’s term of office would end in 2019 anyway and his replacement would be elected ANC President at the 2017 national conference. We are, at most, not much more than a year off knowing (or having a pretty strong idea) who the likely replacement of Jacob Zuma will be even if he (Zuma) serves out his full second term.
- However, unexpected transitions can be destabilising, especially if the incumbent has much to lose if he loses (like going to prison, losing some of his and his family’s accumulated assets and having his powerful political network’s continued asset accumulation threatened – just to take a few arbitrary and hypothetical example of why such a persons going might be a messy business).
However, I am of the opinion that the question is worth considering, but we need to get some of our methodology right first:
This is a future event and as such it is uncertain and unpredictable. There is no acceptable methodology (that I understand or can use) that can reliably (academically, empirically, scientifically) give a probability estimate as to the potential outcomes.
It is crucial to avoid the trap of predicting a particular outcome and then assembling the evidence to support it – and, further, attempting to defend the prediction over time as ‘the facts’ move against it.
We need an adequate reason to believe the outcome is important, not important or somewhere in between – or all of these things at once , with this last choice being the one I would probably go for.)
The past (Zuma’s survival against the odds up until now) is not a predictor that he will survive the confluence of events. If that argument held weight, then we should argue that nobody alive today will die because they haven’t died up until now – I attempt to fill-out this assertion under “Jacob Zuma, the survivor” below.
Normative reasoning is acceptable, but we need to be conscious of doing it when we do it. In this case my ‘normative’ assumption is that a successful and calm succession completed before Zuma’s term of office expires in 2019 would be a ‘good thing’, perhaps even a precondition for the reestablishment of political stability and financial market trust in the bona fides of government (and lower risk levels in the geography and assets administered by the South African state). However, as I mentioned previously, I think this is a necessary not sufficient condition for such improvements.
Jacob Zuma, the survivor
It is being argued repeatedly that Zuma is the quintessential survivor, that he has the ANC and its National Executive Committee wrapped up, that he demonstrated this again at Mangaung in December 2012 (see here for a persuasive example). I do not disagree with these assertions. But to accept that argument as complete we must establish that there are no new facts or new elements that might impact upon that assumed outcome.
Much has changed (both in fact and in my interpretation of the facts) over the last 18 months:
- The alliance of forces that backed and defended Zuma’s rise to power at Polokwane has disintegrated. Crucially Julius Malema is now heading a hostile opposition party energetically represented in parliament and Cosatu is undergoing an on-going collapse – and it’s biggest union Numsa is in the process of setting up a socialist political movement that has as one of its founding principles that Jacob Zuma is the epitome of the corrupt and disastrous leadership cadre that have hijacked the ANC and the country (this is Numsa’s – and Malema’s/EFF’s – oft expressed view, not mine.) These are the very people and institutions that where the centre of the campaign that brought Zuma to power. (The SACP is pretty much ‘the last man standing’, which is what has led me to look more closely at the whys and wherefores of that phenomenon.)
- I am under the impression, but am unable to ‘prove’, that key elements and individuals of Jacob Zuma’s support base in Kwazulu-Natal are starting to hedge their bets and keeping open the possibility of shifting their support to either Zweli Mkhize (ANC national treasurer and previous KZN premier) or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (Current AU chair with too many other credentials in SA politics and government to begin to list). Both these candidates would be acceptable to the powerful (dominant?) KZN ANC. I cannot be certain if this is “true”, but this is my impression.
- There are signs (rapid apparent weight loss, increased ‘time off’) and widespread speculation that Jacob Zuma’s health is an issue in play. Again I cannot ‘prove’ this – that would require his confidential medical records, amongst other things – but there are many circumstantial supporting elements that I have discussed several times elsewhere.
- The linked controversies around Jacob Zuma, the allegation that he has improperly allowed the Gupta brothers to capture important aspects of the state and government, that he has abused public finances to build his Nkandla home, the various allegations around the Arms Deal scandal, with reference to convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik, (and the attendant ‘spy tapes’ scandal), the infiltration and destruction of the National Prosecuting Authority, the similar damage and modality of damage done the various structures of national intelligence as well as crime intelligence – all apparently in an attempt to protect Zuma from the legal consequences of his actions are starting to cause serious strain for the ANC.
- The losses of 11% of voting support in the ANC’s most sophisticated middle class electoral constituency in the economic heartland of Gauteng in May this year and the serious worry by the Gauteng ANC that this damage might deepen in the 2016 local government election. The assumption (that I share) is that at least part of this is because of the myriad scandals surrounding Zuma.
- The noisy disruption of Parliament by the EFF in an attempt to get Zuma to account to the public and to Parliament for Nkandla expenditure … and the degree of national embarrassment that surrounds this.
- There has been a coup (which has now degenerated into a volatile stalemate) against the Lesotho government which had just issued the Gupta brothers with diplomatic passports. This both exposes the degree to which the Guptas have captured key political institutions in South and southern Africa, but also that that capturing is being exposed and challenged all over the place and the most significant person most publicly connected to the Gupta brothers is Jacob Zuma.
- Jacob Zuma has just visited Russia, alone and forlorn, and in a manner and context that appears to me that he is the supplicant – when logic dictates that Putin should have been the supplicant.
The future, scenarios and consequences
- Zuma may well survive to see out his term but the facts suggest that the possibility of outcomes different from that are rising, and must be seriously considered.
- Zuma’s health could deteriorate and he could be forced out of office (this is a risk with any leader at any time but is raised with regard to Jacob Zuma for the reasons discussed previously)
- The ANC, suffering the myriad consequences of Jacob Zuma’s myriad failings, might be finally moved to attempt to move him out. The ruling party could do this by promising him security in Nkandla and immunity from prosecution. It is by no means clear that the ANC could summon the leadership capacity to undertake such a manoeuvre and it is unlikely that the National Executive Committee of the ANC, for now completely beholden to Jacob Zuma for jobs, position and access, would be the instrument that could initiate such a manoeuvre. But just because I can’t come up with a mechanism which might bring about such a change does not mean that that change will not happen (although I do accept that the arguments here would be more interesting if I was able to give a plausible and new mechanism for such a change.)
- If there were a sudden ‘run’ on Zuma, if his apparent weakness suddenly became more visible, his supporters would vanish like the morning mist. There is no cadre of leaders and supporters waiting in the wings to set up a version of the Cope political party that Mbeki’s supporters established after Mbeki was fired.
- There are a number of potential successors to Jacob Zuma, the prospects of whom I have assessed on a number of different occasions. To the two I have mentioned earlier in this note, add Cyril Ramaphosa, Lindiwe Sisulu, Baleka Mbete – and, as a safe pair of hands, stalwart stand-in Kgalema Motlanthe. Any of these candidates would be acceptable to the electorate, to the ANC and to financial markets, although each group, and probably each individual within each group, might have his or her specific preference.
- Power vacuums and unexpected transitions can be destabilising and risky and can be accompanied by wild swings in financial markets. It is important to keep the possibility of this in mind. This is not the same as saying: ‘this is happening’ … or even: ‘this is more likely to happen than not’. It is purely saying this is more likely to happen than I previously thought and it is worth keeping in mind.
A useful critique of thinking around this issue was published by a senior ex-intelligence officer Andre Zaaiman a few days ago. Catch that here … you might be able to see that we spoke about the issue over a cup of coffee before either of us wrote about it.