Every time JZ wins, the ANC loses
There’s no doubt DA leader Mmusi Maimane and the Economic Freedom Fighters’ Julius Malema woke up with huge headaches on Wednesday.
A moment they had long fought for, believing that it would finally provide the stage to get rid of President Jacob Zuma, had come and gone without providing results.
Of the eight motions of no confidence against Zuma, this was the one they were most bullish about.
But the Teflon president had once again prevailed through invoking the name of the ANC and taking advantage of the confusion among his rivals within his party on how best to tackle him. While the likes of Jackson Mthembu and Gwede Mantashe believe there is no point in pushing Zuma out when he is leaving anyway in December, clearly at least 30 ANC MPs viewed the secret ballot as an opportune moment to get rid of him immediately without awaiting the uncertainty of the December conference.
But while Zuma was once again the clear winner, the question is: Was the ANC the winner as well?
The ANC itself clearly believes it was. It argues that a successful motion would have deepened divisions in the ANC and left a vacuum, with Zuma supporters unlikely to agree to Cyril Ramaphosa taking over. Consequently, that danger was averted by standing by him against the opposition, the party reasons.
So, the party proceeds with that belief, deluding itself on this artificial and precarious unity.
The triumphant scenes on late Tuesday, with hundreds of ANC supporters being addressed by a jubilant and triumphant Zuma, reminds me very much of Zuma after winning the decisive Polokwane conference in 2007, as well as the Mangaung conference five years later. Even after the 2014 national elections, I remember Zuma mocking the opposition, saying they concentrated on complaining about him and his Nkandla home, instead of selling their programmes to the electorate.
What he was not talking about was that, each time he won, the ANC splintered. In 2007, his win was immediately followed by the formation of Congress of People by ANC members who believed that he did not possess the right values to be a leader of the ANC. Before he won in 2012 against his then deputy Kgalema Motlanthe, the party had purged a number of young leaders, again opening the way for the formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters. So, at all points when Zuma emerged the winner, the ANC was simultaneously shrinking.
His boasts in 2014 after winning the elections were soon followed by the devastating loss of support in 2016 at the local government elections. While campaigning in 2016, Zuma told a crowd in the Eastern Cape: “No other party can govern this country … not even a white party with stooges. The ANC must win back Cape Town and make sure transformation reaches that part as well.”
And so the attrition continues. As he defeated the motion of no confidence on Tuesday, it also emerged that, for the first time since 1994, ANC MPs had supported an opposition motion.
And not just a few MPs. Thirty ANC MPs. Of course aided by the secret ballot. So, every time Zuma wins, the heart of the party is ripped apart. He, of course, is not greatly tainted by this. He is benefiting from an old ANC refrain used over the years that, if you want to kill a snake, you aim at its head. This was a popular phrase during the presidencies of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. So, even now, many in the ANC believe that by blocking a motion of no confidence against Zuma, they are protecting the good name of the organisation. One is synonymous with the other. Time will tell if that is the correct strategy. Even before he came to office, the ANC and its alliance partners have been consumed with protecting the president. Many passionate supporters of that cause have since been thrown under the bus.
Ask Blade Nzimande, Malema, Zwelinzima Vavi, Senzo Mchunu, Bheki Cele, Zweli Mkhize and so on. But Zuma will not be a Teflon president forever. At some point, Zuma will wilt. And I shudder to imagine what state the ANC will be in then.