Mondli Makhanya con­ducts a lit­mus test of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s sec­ond term and sees some ug­li­ness ahead

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The 100-day land­mark is never as big a deal in South Africa as it is in some de­vel­oped democ­ra­cies. This is largely due to the re­fusal by for­mer pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki’s team to buy into what they saw as USin­spired hype around this mile­stone. This has not stopped the op­po­si­tion us­ing the 100-day mark to lob stones at gov­ern­ment, us­ing it to point out mis­takes al­ready made by the gov­ern­ing party.

A few ANC pre­miers have also taken to brag­ging about their 100-day achieve­ments, but it has failed to catch on.

This is why the first 100 days of Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s sec­ond term at the end of Au­gust passed by with­out fan­fare. It hardly at­tracted any at­ten­tion. Even those op­po­si­tion lead­ers who were alert enough to is­sue state­ments on that day re­ceived scant me­dia men­tion.

This served Zuma very well as he has had a tor­rid sec­ond term so far and is likely to look back on this year as yet another an­nus hor­ri­bilis.

In the post-in­au­gu­ra­tion pe­riod, Zuma has been hounded out of Par­lia­ment, his le­gal team has suf­fered a hu­mil­i­at­ing Supreme Court of Ap­peals de­feat that saw its re­sis­tance to the re­lease of the “spy tapes” crum­ble, the na­tion is spec­u­lat­ing fever­ishly about his health, his per­sonal ar­chi­tect has turned on him, the con­trac­tors at his Nkandla res­i­dence have mounted a fight­back cam­paign and civil ser­vants in­volved in the up­grade are re­fus­ing to be scape­goats.

As if th­ese were not enough, he now faces new arms deal cor­rup­tion claims and a new bat­tle­front over pub­lic de­mands that gov­ern­ment ex­plain the co­in­ci­dence of his visit to Vladimir Putin in Moscow and the nu­clear deal signed by En­ergy Min­is­ter Tina Joe­mat-Pet­ters­son with Rus­sia last week.

While the ANC is pub­licly stand­ing by him, there are mur­murs in the party about the sense of cri­sis cre­ated by the plethora of scan­dals sur­round­ing Zuma. The scan­dals dur­ing his lame-duck sec­ond term make him vul­ner­a­ble to re­sent­ment, a sen­ti­ment that has seen his en­forcers in­creas­ing their stron­garm tac­tics in­ter­nally and ex­ter­nally.

Re­search by Me­dia Tenor (see graphic) il­lus­trates just how th­ese scan­dals have dented him and the party. Be­tween Jan­uary and Septem­ber this year, the ANC re­ceived the lion’s share of me­dia cov­er­age, prob­a­bly driven by its com­pre­hen­sive elec­tion cam­paign.

Me­dia Tenor found that “de­spite emerg­ing vic­to­ri­ous from the polls, me­dia sen­ti­ment quickly dipped back into neg­a­tive ter­ri­tory” after the elec­tions.

On the “tonal­ity” of cov­er­age of the top 10 ANC lead­ers, Me­dia Tenor noted that they “man­aged to achieve bal­anced me­dia pro­files”, in­di­cat­ing that the prob­lem did not lie with them.

Not so with the leader of their party. As the graph shows, cov­er­age briefly strayed into pos­i­tive cov­er­age ter­ri­tory in the pe­riod just after the June state of the na­tion ad­dress, only to dip back into deep wa­ter.

Me­dia Tenor said: “A head of state who wins an elec­tion can nor­mally ex­pect a boost in me­dia pro­file as a re­sult ... But even though we see a lift in Zuma’s tonal­ity around this year’s elec­tion, sen­ti­ment quickly re­turned to neg­a­tive ter­ri­tory.”

It is this neg­a­tive per­cep­tion of the pres­i­dent that is keep­ing the ANC per­ma­nently on the de­fen­sive, hav­ing to put out fires weekly. With lo­cal gov­ern­ment elec­tions less than 24 months away and more neg­a­tive cov­er­age of the pres­i­dent almost guar­an­teed dur­ing that pe­riod, talk of him be­ing a li­a­bil­ity is gain­ing mo­men­tum.

“It is not pos­si­ble to ad­mit, but we know it will have an im­pact. It al­ready had an im­pact in this year’s cam­paign, but we have to move ahead united. We can’t af­ford to weaken our­selves by lis­ten­ing to our en­e­mies,” said an ANC leader who is sym­pa­thetic to Zuma.

Zuma’s tight grip on the ANC’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee, which is dom­i­nated by peo­ple who were on his slate at the 2012 elec­tive con­fer­ence in Man­gaung and well man­aged by his clos­est al­lies, has pro­vided him with a pro­tec­tive cush­ion. Add to this the ab­sence of an ob­vi­ous chal­lenger around whom a po­ten­tial re­bel­lion could re­volve.

This is a com­fort Mbeki did not en­joy when he en­tered his sec­ond year of of­fice when those who wanted him out of of­fice ral­lied around Zuma.

This makes it easy for staunch Zuma sup­port­ers to in­voke the unity of the ANC when ral­ly­ing party mem­bers around him in the face of what they de­fine as ma­li­cious at­tacks on him.

They have de­fined a po­si­tion that says: “If you are not with the pres­i­dent, you are not with the ANC.” This is a stance that could very quickly lead South Africa to the precipice of a con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis.

In the com­ing months, the bat­tle over the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Pub­lic Pro­tec­tor’s find­ings on Nkandla is cer­tain to head to the courts. And so will the DA’s re­view of the Na­tional Prose­cut­ing Au­thor­ity’s decision to drop charges against Zuma. Th­ese will be ac­com­pa­nied by very pub­lic bat­tles that Nkandla’s ar­chi­tect, con­trac­tors and pub­lic works of­fi­cials will be wag­ing to save their skins. In the midst of all this, Zuma will be so con­sumed with fight­ing for sur­vival, he will be nom­i­nally in charge of the af­fairs of state.

The ANC will also be so pre­oc­cu­pied with dodg­ing the fall­ing de­bris and shield­ing its pres­i­dent that in­ter­nal ten­sions – hith­erto tightly man­aged through the con­trol of top struc­tures – will burst into the open.

There is some ug­li­ness ly­ing ahead.



FIRE If Pres­i­dent

Ja­cob Zuma’s first 100 days

are any­thing to go by, his gov­ern­ment is go­ing to

be re­mem­bered for all the

wrong rea­sons

Pres­i­dency100 dAys finder un­der siege

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