Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, October 11, 2004

Zuma: Damaged Goods?
The ubiquitous Shabir Shaik trial gets underway this morning, and he'll be in the dock with Zuma's reputation sitting firmly on his shoulders. To be honest, I don't have much interest in Shaik's ultimate guilt or innocence, I find my interest more focussed in the consquences on the Presidential succession debates.

Zuma has long been touted, above likely candidates Nkosazana-Zuma and Trevor Manuel, as Mbeki's natural successor, a factor which many suggest has embroiled him in the arms scandal under the shadowy world of power politics. His standing within the ANC party leadership is strong, and he has many supporters in high places. This is undoubtedly a reason behind the substantial power battles that went on behind the scenes in the wake of his naming in the arms scandal as well as the debacle with Bulelani Ncuka, and is also the probable reason behind him not being directly brought to trial in this matter.

What I'm interested in though, is what this has done to Zuma's Presidential aspirations. A report released by Markinor over the weekend, which was subject to some highly questionable reporting, gives some marginal insight into the general population's mood. Markinor states that 34% of South Africans believe that Zuma is innocent, but an additional 45% percent of those polled were unable to offer an opinion. I would extrapolate that the majority of those 45% either knew so little about the Zuma issue, or effected no interest in its outcome, that the actual outcome of the Shaik trial would not have any impact on almost 80% of those polled.

This would consequentially infer that the ANC party structure would be able to make their suggestions on the succession without a particular mandate from the ANC voting population about Zuma, as they would be largely non-committal about his perceived guilt. But what of within the ANC party? Smuts Ngonyama, head of the ANC presidency, said: “As the ANC we have confidence in the Deputy President, and have no reason to doubt his integrity. We have full confidence that the [court] process will vindicate the Deputy President’s position.” That belies much of the internal battles that occur within the powerful upper echelons of the ANC, and much could be made after the commencement of the succession debates about Zuma's linkage with the arms scandal, and we could perhaps experience the first real bit of 'dirty' electioneering in the ANC's short post-Apartheid history.

The real challenge though, will no doubt come from outside the party's borders, from the opposition. One can see Tony Leon and other opposition leaders wringing their hands at the prospect of a messy Shaik trial, and it is patently obvious that the opposition will not miss a beat in leveraging the scandal in the likely event of Zuma being involved in the succession debates. However, in this current ANC dominated parliment, this pressure may be difficult to transfer into a striking of Zuma's name from the candidates.

It seems to me that the current muddying of Zuma's name will have little real effect on his chances for Presidential succession amongst the greater voting population, and within the ANC itself. It gives an easy platform for his rivals to plant themselves, but it by no means pushes him out of the set of hopefuls.

The Shabir Shaik trial will no doubt hold much mud-slinging, especially with Zuma in mind, and it will be very interesting for Markinor to conduct their recent poll in a few months (or years...) after judgement in the trial, to ascertain the public's mood once more. The apparent 'ease' of the last two years of Zuma's involvement in the scandal will largely be tested in the coming months, and the succession question will only be truly concluded then, but I would imagine that Zuma's involvement means little to the majority of South Africans, who are not concurrent with political affairs.