Battlelines for the post-zuma clash
One of the unsung political successes in the era of Jacob Zuma has been Parliament TV, which broadcasts debates live from the national assembly in Cape Town. At first, its audience was in the tens of thousands – mostly middle-class politics nerds. Now the viewers are in the tens of millions, in the townships as well as the leafy suburbs. Some South Africans see parliamentary debates as a power struggle, one that could transform their lives. Others enjoy watching the mayhem as Julius Malema and his allies from the Economic Freedom Fighters in their red boiler suits and hard hats clash with security guards, turning parliament into a reality TV show. Politics in South Africa is a bloodsport, especially this year. There is the national battle focusing on chipping away at the dominance of the African National Congress. From the left, Malema and his militants are winning over the poor, the landless and the dispossessed of apartheid. From the right, the Democratic Alliance, dark suits and sensible shoes, have boosted their votes under Mmusi Maimane’s leadership. Caught in the middle is the governing party, its factions jockeying for votes ahead of the December leadership contest. For many ANC loyalists the party is at a fork in the road: will it reassert its stated commitment to social and economic justice, or will it increasingly come under the control of a narrow cabal maintaining dominance through patronage? Behind that choice is concern that South Africa’s current political economy cannot meet the ANC’S aspirations: a low-growth economy, dominated by rentiers and monopolists, will not produce the millions of well-paid, modern sector jobs that people demand. The danger is that those big strategic questions will be lost in a highly personal battle to control the party. Sycophants and chancers group around the wounded king as he tries to designate his heir. Rebel barons rattle their sabres. Turbulent priests, jesters and poets all demand their place on the stage. Everyone claims a stake in the party of Nelson Mandela, and the drama is coming to a TV screen near you.