Why NDZ will probably win

Douglas Gibson says Jacob Zuma's rural support base likely to give her the edge

Some enthusiasts refer to the ANC as the “glorious movement.” Every time I hear the phrase I think of what happens when one has a few teaspoons of castor oil.  If it ever was that, it is now a very ordinary political party that is heading for the scrap heap because it has become an instrument for looting and self-aggrandisement and spends its time on internal squabbles, quite forgetting the people who put it into power.

Pravin Gordhan says Cyril Ramaphosa is the only leader who can save the ANC.  Most voters want to save South Africa rather than saving the ANC, but let’s accept that Mr Gordhan thinks Cyril Ramaphosa would be good for both the ANC and South Africa.

The reverse argument is that the other real aspirant for leadership, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma (NDZ), would not.  This is despite the argument of some powerful groupings in the ANC that it needs a woman at the helm. The qualities needed seem less important than her gender. When one mentions that there are other women who are at least as competent and experienced, such as Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, the eyes of zealots glaze over; the owners stress that NDZ is an accomplished person and a doctor in her own right with three successful ministerial terms behind her as well as a term as chairperson the AU Council.  This sets her apart, they say, and counts for far more than being one of the ex-wives, the mother of around 20% of the Zuma children, and a stepmother of all the others, like Duduzane Zuma, the Gupta millionaire.

NDZ’s problem is that she is all these things, with the advantage and the disadvantage of Jacob Zuma’s backing.  That automatically qualifies her for the support of JZ’s loyal followers – and there are still many of those – as well as the outright rejection of his opponents.

The number of the opponents is said to be growing;  with the endless revelation of ever more government scandals the blessing of Jacob Zuma’s support may well become a curse.  NDZ may yet rue support from that quarter and may wish she had adopted a more independent approach to some of the ridiculous policy positions that she has adopted: “Land, Land, land;” “ownership of the Reserve Bank;” and “breaking the monopoly of the banks” are puerile and designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator.  They ill- become an intelligent and sophisticated politician like NDZ.

That said, informed opinion within the ANC is that despite the enmity of most of the Cyril Ramaphosa media, NKZ has a good chance of succeeding in being elected as president of the ANC, with an excellent chance of following Jacob Zuma as the president of South Africa if he steps down early or when his term ends in 2019.

What a tragedy it is that a woman of her intelligence, innate ability and accomplishment, with a good deal of charm and a delightful sense of humour, has allowed herself to become Zumaed and Gupterised.  People have forgotten that when President Mbeki lost the presidency of the ANC to Jacob Zuma, NKZ was on Mbeki’s ticket and not that of her ex-husband.  That commendable independence of thought and action would have stood her in good stead now.  She has become the target of anyone who abhors the Zuma presidency and opposes state capture, corruption, wholesale looting of public assets and the stealing without compensation of the land of private owners.

Despite all the negatives surrounding NKZ, senior ANC sources suggest that Jacob Zuma’s support base, especially in the rural areas, will give her the edge over Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa has many positives.  One of these is that he is so rich that he does not have to steal the peoples’ money. He also has only one wife, so the public will not have the burden of carrying a bevy of First Ladies.  And his wife, Dr Tshepo Motsepe, sister of the billionaire, is herself much richer than is Cyril. They have only four children instead of twenty or so, like the current president.

Ramaphosa is also urbane, charming, intelligent and well educated.  He knows how to behave and would not disgrace the party. Most people who do not support the ANC would welcome him with open arms, not only as a person who has merit, but also because he is not Jacob Zuma. That does not mean they would vote for him in an election.

The position with those who generally vote for the ANC may well be different.  There is an inverse proportion between how opposition voters see government leaders and the way government voters see their own leaders. The more popular they are with the opposition, the less popular they are with the government. 

That is Ramaphosa’s problem.  Another is that if he succeeds to the throne in the ANC, he will be so constrained by his indebtedness to large numbers of looters, crooks, and the morally compromised who have switched to his side, that he will be quite unable to clean out the rubbish as he should. A further problem is that he has sat quiet in cabinet, knowing what was going on, and therefore becoming complicit in some of the most egregious examples of state capture by many colleagues – not just President Zuma.

On balance, it seems at this stage at least that NKZ is likely to be elected as leader of her party.  Without a doubt, this will lead to a significant split in the ANC.  Many of them now hate each other far more than they hate the members of the DA. When that happens, the political landscape of South Africa will change dramatically.  The new coalition government in 2019 might them consist of much of the current opposition, together with the Ramaphosa party, leaving NDZ as the new leader of the opposition.

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand.

This article first appeared in The Star.