2019 Election: ANC's chances Dwindle

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Jacob Zuma came to power as President of the African National Congress in 2007, and as President of the Republic of South Africa in 2009. These were divisive and polarising events, causing a split in the ruling party, with the losing faction breaking away to form the Congress of the People (COPE)

. President Zuma, a rural-born traditionalist with four wives, continued to have episodic sex and financial scandals hovering over him. These culminated in what journalists dubbed “Nkandlagate”. This is in reference to the alleged misuse of some ZAR 246 million ($18m) of public funds to upgrade his country seat in Nkandla, allegedly needed for security upgrades. A horrified new minister and deputy minister of public works (who both hold dual membership in the Communist Party) discovered that this was due to vastly inflated invoices. The real value of building work actually carried out was less than one-twentieth this sum. There were also other types of bill padding. For example, the builders constructed a highly-publicised swimming pool, yet President Zuma and his wives, like all South Africans who come from working-class childhoods, never had the opportunity to learn to swim. South Africa has its version of the spoils system, called cadre deployment. But during Zuma’s two terms as President, the consequences of this started deteriorating. First, it became ever-more widespread, reaching down into the civil service hierarchy, and with inappropriate appointments made. Politicians with no policing experience were three times in a row appointed as operational as well as political heads of police. This posting is a hot potato in a country with high rates of crime, including violent crimes such as mugging, armed housebreaking, and car hijacking. The inevitable results were the humiliation of the cadres, who had to be replaced, plus reputational damage to the ANC as governing party. Second, we came to have an ever-faster revolving door of cabinet ministers, deputy ministers, directors-general and deputy directors-general of government departments, chairs & boards of parastatals. Each wave of new appointments brought with it the suspension or end of umpteen projects, which had to begin anew. One department has had five directors-general in five years. The 23 years of democracy have seen nine ministers responsible for the energy portfolio. One by one, the parastatals started showing signs of distress - or worse. The Land Bank collapsed in bankruptcy due to its directors giving themselves and their friends loans. It had to be directly taken over by the Treasury to recover. Next, more and more contracts stopped being awarded to the lowest bidder, but instead went to what the Communist Party named “tenderpreneurs”, who would in turn donate kickbacks to the ruling party. As kleptocracy bit, tenders were increasingly awarded to middlemen who creamed off significant cuts. Worse still, the railways awarded a major tender for locomotives to a middleman who had them built by a Spanish company – and which were too tall to be used on most South African railway lines. Similarly, the Treasury had to fight hard to block a middleman from getting a cut to raise a loan for the perpetually loss-making South African Airways. Recent battles fought by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs)s include the outsourcing of the payment of 17 million social grants to eleven million beneficiaries. The NGOs sought court orders preventing the company concerned from making these payments without consent deductions to these most vulnerable persons. The minister of social development used every tactic in the book to prolong the contract of the company concerned. An investigative magazine, Noseweek, alleges this is because the company concerned donates the funds for Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential election campaign bid. Donors constantly offered gifts to the president as they obtained public sector contracts; Such practice came to a head with the Gupta family, who also employ one of his wives, and one of his sons. South Africans were dumbfounded when it was revealed that the family had told more than one politician that they would be appointed cabinet minister before the President himself had told them. The inference is that the president confides affairs of state to business friends who hold no state office. The Gupta family next moved from inside knowledge to offering politicians cabinet posts on condition that they implemented the business instructions of the family. They offered the ANC MP Vygie Mentor a cabinet post on condition that she instructs South African Airways to hand over the route to India to an airline they would specify. Front page headlines exposed that the Guptas offered the then Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, promotion to minister, on condition he dismissed top Treasury officials. They offered him on the spot cash of ZAR 600 000, plus ZAR 600m after he delivered. The Guptas said that they were making ZAR 4bn from the state, and wished to raise this to ZAR. 6bn. Jonas refused, following which the President dismissed both him and the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Two reasons are widely thought to explain the President’s dismissal of Gordhan, notwithstanding that his relationship with Zuma dates back to their pre-1990 years together in the ANC underground. First, Pravin Gordhan (with dual membership in the Communist Party) sought to combat the increasing corruption in the awarding of state tenders by centralizing tender adjudication in the Treasury. This was a high-risk strategy instead of confronting corruption head-on wherever it occurred, for it raised the stakes to control the Treasury by appointing a minister pliant to kleptocrats. Second, Zuma fired both Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan in turn as finance ministers after they resisted allocating the budgets to start the President’s wish to build 9 600 megawatts of nuclear power stations. Environmentalists had opposed this project for decades because they say it is dangerous, and incurring the responsibility for permanent storage of high-level radioactive wastes. In recent years opposition to new nuclear power stations mushroomed as it became clear its costs were far higher than solar, wind, and imported gas options to generate more electricity. The nuclear gravy train has started to roll. The Guptas bought a uranium mine, renamed Shiva, in anticipation of orders. Eskom, the power parastatal, awarded a ZAR 174m consultancy on how it should procure power to a firm with political connections. As the extent of the Government’s atomic ambitions became spelt out (“not merely nuclear power stations, but a nuclear programme!”), the projected costs, including a uranium enrichment factory, and a fuel element factory are calculated at a staggering one trillion rand. Borrowing capital has again rocketed after a previous finance minister, Trevor Manuel, paid back all state debt by 2008. The recent downgrading of South African bonds to junk status by ratings agencies will raise debt servicing burdens higher. Outrage ranges from repeated parliamentary motions of no confidence in the President to the largest street demonstrations since South Africa became a democracy in 1994. The latest demonstration attracted around 100,000 protesters in the two capitals, Tshwane (Pretoria) and Cape Town, plus Durban, Nelson Mandela Metropole, and many other towns. An unprecedented seven opposition parties formed a tactical coalition to demand the President’s resignation. These include the Democratic Alliance, which is the official opposition (Westminster terminology for the 2nd-largest parliamentary party), the Economic Freedom Fighters (the 3rd-largest party), the Inkatha Freedom Party (the 4th largest party), plus the smaller United Democratic Movement, Congress of the People, African Christian Democratic Party, and African People’s Convention. (The UDM and COPE both started as ANC breakaways). Clearly, they will again form coalitions after the next elections in 2019. Millions of voters who supported the ANC in the 2014 general elections felt demoralised enough by incessant corruption scandals to abstain during the 2016 local government elections. South Africa’s proportional representation electoral system is more sensitive than any other to asymmetrical abstentions, and this showed. The ruling ANC’s proportion of the vote declined from 63% to 54%, the lowest since democracy was won in 1994. Simultaneously, the Democratic Alliance’s share of the vote rose from 22% to 27%. The DA formed local coalitions with smaller parties, such as the UDM, COPE, and ANCP, which enabled them to govern in Nelson Mandela Metropole (Port Elizabeth). Inside the ANC, President Zuma is now left with a shrinking core of hardline supporters. Given his ability to outvote, outflank, and outmanoeuvre his opponents and rivals, it is quite possible that he will retain his position as President of the ANC until his term ends in December. He might even hold onto the job as President of the country which would, under normal circumstances, end after a general election scheduled for 2019. Zuma was swept into power in 2007 by a coalition led by the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Now both have called on him to resign. The SACP explicitly denounced the fact that: “Increasingly our country is being ruled not from the Union Buildings, but from the Gupta family compound.” The third highest ranking ANC officer, Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe also said in public: “We can’t be happy because we think the finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, was a hard worker. The process made me a little jittery and uncomfortable, our views on that list counted for nought.” In short, they were informed, not consulted. Mantashe also commented: “We were given a list that was complete - in my view, the list has been developed somewhere else; was given to us to legitimise it.” Everyone will infer he meant the Gupta brothers handed the list to Zuma. The Guptas stand accused of having captured the South African government. Democracy works by voters rewarding or punishing political parties. South Africans are watching to see if the ANC will recall Zuma as it recalled President Mbeki, and tackle its kleptocrats. If not, voters may shift their loyalties by the time the 2019 general election looms. Already, the DA has launched its 2019 election campaign in Gauteng Province, the most urbanized of all. The ANC cannot try to buy votes. Due to the secret ballot, voters may happily accept all gifts offered, and then secretly vote for whom they intended all along. Keith Gottschalk writes from South Africa for Africa Link. Photo President Jacob Zuma by Metro