Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The ANC's Zuma dilemma
As I had thought, Zuma was found not guilty yesterday. I won't comment much on the verdict, as it seemed to have been widely expected, but rather on the "what now" of this story.

Firstly, it is important to note that this is a two-piece drama, with Zuma's graft trial commencing in July. He is likely to garner similar visible support at that trial, especially since his support has been emboldened by this one, and this presents perhaps a more dangerous note for the Mbeki-ites within the ANC. During the recent rape trial, the focus of the mob's hate was an individual, but during the graft trial, that focus will lie squarely on the Mbeki cabal and the alleged "conspiracy" to oust Zuma. This could prove to be a very, very difficult time for the current ANC leadership, and threatens to further enunciate the split within the ANC. Moreover, it will further extend Zuma's legend within his populist support, and should he be found not guilty, it will undoubtedly push him on a wave of sentiment at a presidential attempt.

Secondly, there now exists a huge dilemma for the ANC. Zuma was sacked as deputy president after the announcement of the Shaik verdict. They have today invited him to 'discuss' his future with the ANC, but I will imagine that little will happen until the verdict of his graft trial. The ANC leadership is really struggling at the moment to know how far to distance themselves from Zuma. It's like a game of poker; they can't be seen to be aloof, as that adds credence to the 'conspiracy' note, and they can't be seen as being too close, lest he is indeed found guilty of corruption.

And what of Zuma himself. His political ambitions undoubtedly rest with the ANC rank-and-file, not the elite, who have already washed their hands of him. I have no way of knowing at this stage what effect the rape trial has had on the perceptions of the rank-and-file. Hopefully, they would have at least seen his views on women and seeming ignorance about AIDS as worrying factors, but this may not be the case. His power base in KZN seems not to have been concerned at all, but the rest of the country is an unknown factor. It will be very interesting to see some research out of Markinor or Research Surveys to test this. What is known however, is that this is definitely a victory for Zuma in his presidential quest, and is the the first stage of "recovery" for him from a number of political set-backs. He must be emboldened by the support outside of the courthouse, and would probably feel that he still has a shot at the ANC leadership, and thus, the presidency.

Many have written off Zuma's chances off the back of these two trials, but I'm not so sure. This is a man that is clearly not being judged by his populist support on his Western-style leadership credentials, but rather on the fact that he is "their man". If he comes through these two trials unscathed, he may not count on the elite's votes, but I would imagine he would still have much of his populist support intact.

I will follow his graft trial with interest, because Zuma as a president is not something I would like to see.