Look at them now
What changes in fortune we have seen on the political front this past year
IT is truly amazing how quickly things change in politics. A year ago, Kgalema Motlanthe was still politically relevant. He was a contender for the top job in the ANC — even though he did not want to be — and the media tracked his every move and utterance, trying to interpret his intentions.
This week, Motlanthe was on a threeday working visit to Canada, talking up South Africa’s mining sector. The visit had the briefest of mentions in some newspapers.
This time last year, there was a buzz of expectation about the ANC’s national conference at Mangaung. There were stories about how the “forces of change” were operating in stealth in the provinces, backing President Jacob Zuma’s second term, and speculation of a surprise outcome of the leadership elections at the ANC conference.
Also around this time last year, eight opposition parties, led by the Democratic Alliance, were trying to table a motion of no confidence in Zuma.
The reasons they gave for wanting to vote Zuma out of office were, among other things, the Marikana massacre, the Nkandlagate scandal, government’s failure to deliver textbooks in Limpopo, the downgrading of South Africa’s credit rating by two major ratings agencies, the undermining of the judiciary, rising unemployment and corruption in the public service.
The opposition parties were unable to get the motion before the National Assembly and then failed in a court bid to force the debate. Now all these attempts to unseat Zuma seem feeble.
The Zuma camp made a clean sweep at Mangaung, defeating all the candidates who stood on the forces of change ticket. The motion of no confidence was never going to fly, even if it made it before the House.
Opposition MPs are outnumbered by the ANC, and the assumption that some ruling party MPs would secretly vote against Zuma was simply wishful thinking.
Despite running a controversyplagued administration, and even more scandals emerging over the past year, Zuma is sailing towards a second term.
A year ago, Julius Malema appeared in the Polokwane Magistrate’s Court on charges of fraud, money laundering and racketeering.
He had been expelled from the ANC and was in political noman’s land. He was also in trouble with the tax department, and his halfbuilt mansion in Sandton was auctioned off to help pay his tax bill. It looked like Malema might go down flames.
And look at him now. Malema has launched his Economic Freedom Fighters party, which is catching on like wildfire. The red berets are the most soughtafter political accessory and Malema’s leftwing rhetoric is hitting the right notes for large numbers of people fed up with the ANC.
While a handful of people turned up to support him at his court appearances last year, Malema’s rockstar status has returned — as was evident by his two recent appearances in the Polokwane Magistrate’s Court. His political fortunes seem to be the exact opposite to those of Zwelinzima Vavi.
Vavi was still riding high last year, reelected as Cosatu general secretary and uncontested as the most prominent civil society voice in the country. Now Vavi’s political future looks tenuous. He was suspended following a sex scandal and is facing multiple protracted investigations by the federation relating to financial impropriety. He is battling to clear his name, and the strategy of his allies to call a special Cosatu congress to rescue him is being frustrated.
Vavi is a sitting duck until the congress takes place or he is cleared through a disciplinary process. Cosatu is caught up in turbulence and there is a real possibility of the metalworkers’ union Numsa charting a new political course.
The next year might see political fortunes change even more dramatically, with big issues and new players in the national elections.
The only thing certain is you should never bet on what will happen next. • Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. • email@example.com