Analysis: ANC tries to save face in the House as members lose their appetite for Zuma

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With the first voter registration weekend for the 2019 general elections less than three weeks away, the ANC faces the prospect of uniting in the aftermath of the recall of former president Jacob Zuma, but at the same time it also has to save face after a decade of defending him.

In a document of speech notes used by ANC national executive committee members to explain the body’s decision to branch leaders in the various regions over the weekend, the party maps out its way forward.

“The ANC must now build on the foundation laid and the significant successes achieved under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma,” the document reads.

It lists these as:

  • The “massification of our antiretroviral rollout programme”;
  • The “significant success recorded in education, with expansion of access to education for the poorest of the poor;
  • “Year-on-year increases on (sic) the matric pass rate and the progressive implementation of fee-free higher education”;
  • South Africa’s “massive infrastructure investment programme”, which the party claims “helped to sustain growth during an economic downturn”, and
  • The National Development Plan.

This appears to be an attempt at saving some face after many years of the party ferociously supporting Zuma, as well as appeasing Zuma’s supporters. Some would argue that the success of most of these programmes was limited.

The rather extensive National Development Plan, for instance, remains largely on paper, while fee-free higher education was a recent, unilateral announcement by Zuma out of the blue, with the South African public only expecting to hear during the Budget Speech on Wednesday if and how the country could afford to do this.

As for education, despite claims of rolling it out to the “poorest of the poor” and improvements in the matric pass rate, the quality of education is still below standard compared to many other countries.

The document also makes mention of the aims stated by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address on Friday night around nation-building and fixing the things that Zuma broke.

It says the ANC must now focus on:

  • “Uniting all South Africans around a shared vision of fundamental transformation;
  • “Accelerating land redistribution and agricultural development;
  • “Progressively implementing fee-free higher education for the poor and working class;
  • “Confronting corruption and State Capture in all its forms; and
  • “Restoring the credibility of public institutions, State-owned Enterprises and law enforcement agencies.”

There are also a few housekeeping things the party should do, such as undertaking “a deliberate programme of organisational renewal that decisively addresses problems of division and dysfunction within the organisation”.

It also says the party should “work to restore the integrity and credibility of the ANC” and “bring the ANC closer to the people, building our branches as vibrant, dynamic units that take up the most pressing social and economic challenges in our communities”.

According to some insiders, even though Ramaphosa as the new national face of the party has made it attractive again for those who left after being repelled by Zuma’s leadership and alleged corrupt management, the party also has to be accessible on a local level for those who wanted to come back or join for the first time.

As far as could be established, most in the provinces accepted the NEC’s decision to recall Zuma, although in some regions the attendance of the report-back sessions was reported to have been poor.

Leaders from Zuma’s home region in KwaZulu-Natal, the Musa Dladla region, held a press conference on Monday to air some of the concerns it had about the report-back meeting it had in the Empangeni Town Hall.

In a statement, the region – with the second highest number of branches in KwaZulu-Natal – said it had some concerns “about the manner in which the transition in the organisation was handled” as well as what it called “divisive articulations” by some in the party. It’s clear that members in this region are among those who need to be appeased at this point.

“We wish to thank the people of South Africa for the continuous support to President Zuma,” the statement read. “President Zuma served the country with distinction and as a home region of President Zuma we wish to thank him for the continued support his foundation gave to the people of Nkandla during the festive season and we are hopeful that he will continue serving our poor people until his last breath.”

The region’s list of achievements under Zuma was much longer than the NEC’s list. It also promised that Zuma would join the province’s 2019 elections campaign for the ANC.

This is much milder than some of the unofficial statements coming out of the eThekwini region, where some leaders were calling for Zuma to run as KwaZulu-Natal chairperson.

Convener of the provincial task team, Mike Mabuyakhulu, however denied that those calling for this were in the majority – even though he wasn’t in the meeting himself.

According to an African News Agency report, he said: “I don’t know how you can take one of the senior leaders who has served in almost all of the senior positions and reduce him into a provincial leader. We regard that as the views of some comrades, but again, it was not a popular view. If it was said, it was said by one or two,” he said.

This deferral to Zuma’s legacy was, however, not all that apparent in Parliament on Monday, where any mention of Zuma’s name got loud jeers from the opposition that drowned out the lukewarm applause from the party caucus.

By the time DA chief whip John Steenhuisen told the SONA debate on Monday that, since last week, it’s not been possible to find one ANC MP who supported Zuma, none in the governing party caucus raised any objection to this, City Press reporter Andisiwe Makinana observed on Twitter.

Not only has the party realised that the mention of Zuma’s name isn’t really a vote magnet, campaigners and party faithful (outside KwaZulu-Natal), tired of a decade of defending the indefensible, seemed already to have lost their appetite for him too.

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