Spotlight on Africa

ANC in crisis over pressure for Zuma to go

Audio 11:51
Demonstrations on 2 November in Pretoria
Demonstrations on 2 November in Pretoria REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

President Jacob Zuma controversial leadership of South Africa and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is a costly business, according to critics who want him out before his second term ends in 2019. But ANC supporters argue that the president is not the problem, the party needs an overhaul.


ANC crisis, calls for Zuma to leave

Will President Jacob Zuma last till 2019 considering the numerous scandals besetting his term in office?

He was first elected president in 2009 and the last seven years have been a bumpy ride, to say the least. But the “Teflon president” seems to survive all manner of scandals and 74-year-old “JZ” remains hugely popular among ANC grassroot supporters.

Recently, however, something unprecedented happened. Cabinet ministers tabled a motion at the ANC’s National Executive Committee in November to have Zuma recalled for misconduct. The move was defeated.

No confidence motions fail

Opposition parties have launched numerous motions of no confidence in Zuma in parliament, all unsuccessful.

In March, the Constitutional Court ruled that the president breached the constitution in failing to pay back public funds used to renovate his house in Nkandla.

In April, a High Court ruled that he should be charged with 783 counts of corruption.

A Public Protector’s report, released in November, implies that the president allowed the wealthy and influential Gupta family to influence cabinet appointments and called for a judicial inquiry commission. Zuma reacted with a legal challenge to the report.

Civil society groups campaign against president

Save South Africa is a civil society movement created on 2 November regrouping people from all walks of life. It has launched a petition on 23 November, "The people’s motion of no confidence in Jacob Zuma", calling for him to step down in the interest of South Africa.

Sipho Pityana, convenor of Save South Africa
Sipho Pityana, convenor of Save South Africa

The group's convenor, Sipho Pityana, a businessman and ANC member since the late 1970s, says that the petition attracted 30,000 signatures in just the week after its launch. The group intends to present the motion to parliament when it reopens in February.

“We are a country in deep political and economic crisis," Pityana says. "The People’s motion show that citizens saying, ‘Please, Mr President, step down’, are not isolated voices. Numbers count for political parties, if you do not listen to ordinary citizens, you stand the prospect of losing elections.”

The ANC will lose the 2019 general election if it does not act on the issues that concerns citizens, he argues. “One of those is the leadership of President Zuma. It is corruption that has gone crazy in our country. It is that pressure that will see the leadership … in parliament take the right decision to remove the president.”

'Flawed system' under fire

Movements such as Save South Africa, might not be strong enough to force Zuma to step down, according to political analyst Lesiba Teffo of the University of South Africa.

A flawed system and political opportunism are the main reasons why Zuma is still in power, he believes.

“The system is flawed because it is the political party that wins the election that has the right to appoint who should lead them rather than a direct representation system that will allow all ... South Africans to have the right to chose their own president. It is [then] up to five or 10 people who decide on behalf of the 53 million.”

Teffo added that the people who made sure Zuma was appointed are today saying “We are sorry we gave you this man, he doesn’t deserve to be in this office”. Too late for Teffo: “They … say Mea culpa, mea culpa. Then what! You still have to live with the man for another 10 years!”

Lesiba Teffo, politcal analyst, University of South Africa
Lesiba Teffo, politcal analyst, University of South Africa

The politics of the stomach, an expression used by Teffo, explains why a leader such as Zuma remains in power. Who will want to stand up and sack the man who made him or her minister? And 80 percent of the 80 members of the National Executive Committee are cabinet ministers appointed by Jacob Zuma, he says.

Local elections in August were a debacle, the ANC lost key cities.

Teffo thinks that the prospect of losing the 2019 general elections might just kickstart the survival instincts of the politicians.

“The longer the president stays in office, the more members of the ANC get convinced that they are going to lose power. They [will] have to confront themselves at one stage to say we can no longer pretend that this man is not costing us as an organisation.”

Calls to renew party

The ANC's future is at the heart of discussions between ANC Veterans and party leaders. They met for the third time this week.

Poet and writer Mongane Wally Serote is an ANC Veteran stalwart, who attended the meeting.

“The movement… is in crisis," he argues. "It has to resolve issues of corruption, factionalism. How do we renew the party to rid it of [these] problems; state capture, a dysfunctional electoral system, people being bought to do this or that? We are focusing on processes to salvage the party, renew it such that it can deal with modern issues.”

The ANC has engaged in a nationwide listening tour similar to what took place in the run up to debates on the constitution 20 years ago.

Its recommendations will be put to the party’s national consultative conference and then transferred to the policy conference. All this will take place before June next year according to the veterans.

The party has been accused of placing the interests of the ANC above that of the nation. Mongane Serote says that the two are not mutually exclusive.

Mongane Wally Serote: poet, writer & ANC Veteran stalwart
Mongane Wally Serote: poet, writer & ANC Veteran stalwart

“In order for us to ensure that our organisation is in touch with the people, we have to talk to the people. For us, ANC members, it is very important that we completely overhaul and renew the ANC," he declares.

Serote insists that being close to the people, serving the people is essential for the survival of the party.

So can he hear the voices across South Africa demanding that Zuma steps down? “We heard that but we hold a different view and in a democracy we are allowed to hold a different view."

The problems are bigger than Zuma, Serote argues. "We cannot set a precedent which says that every time something goes wrong within our ranks, we target individuals and recall them. It impacts very negatively on the unity of our organisation. We cannot afford that.”

Unemployment, discrimination, poverty are three very important issues the veteran says need to be thoroughly examined.

Professor Lesiba Teffo thinks that it is too late for the 105-year-old African National Congress to save itself and believes it needs a break from government for five or 10 years.

"Wrong people have joined the ANC, they see it as a vehicle to get rich quick, to get position of influence, rather than serving the people," he says. "You need it to be cleaned up, born again and transformed. Once it is out of power, the wrong people will go away and the right ones will remain and then they can rebuild the organisation.”

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