As the ANC heads to its 54th National Congress to elect new leadership and Jacob Zuma’s term as ANC President comes to an end, the current state of the party brings forth the question of what legacy does the man leave behind as the leader of the ruling party.
From his victory at Polokwane in 2007, the man from Nkandla took over the party as a controversial and divisive figure in stark contrast to the view that he was the unifier within the ANC. Those that were perceived to be aligned to his predecessor Thabo Mbeki were isolated within the party and purged from government. Some could not take being led by Jacob Zuma and went to form a breakaway party, while others stopped being active and went on to pursue other ventures. It is often said that it is at that point that the ANC lost its intellectual capacity and moral high ground, as those who were left were simply concerned with lining their pockets.
Although the ANC went on to win the general elections comfortably in 2009, it did so with less majority than the 2004 elections. Going into the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung 2012, there was growing discontent from some party members around the leadership of Jacob Zuma and how the party was perceived. The ANC Youth League under the leadership Julius Malema was disbanded and replaced with a youth desk. Gauteng Province under Paul Mashatile expressed regret at his leadership and advocated for Kgalema Motlanthe to replace him. The man often touted for his political acumen successfully negotiated the conference and emerged victorious with a significant margin, which cemented his grip on the party even further. As with Thabo Mbeki after Polokwane 2007, Mangaung 2012 effectively meant the end of Kgalema Motlanthe within the party structures.
Julius Malema was expelled from the ANC and went on to form his own party called the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which based its principles on Marxism and the freedom charter. The EFF has found resonance amongst young black South Africans, who seemingly feel distant from what the ANC currently represents.
With the growing discontent with the ANC by voters, opposition parties were the main beneficiaries of the municipal elections in August 2016, which resulted in the party losing control and governance of 3 major metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay. Prior to the election, president Jacob Zuma lashed out at so called ‘clever blacks’ who were very critical of the ANC and had forgotten what it did for them during the apartheid struggle. His attitude reflected the disconnect of the ANC to ordinary South Africans on the ground, who were growing more frustrated with the lack of service delivery and growing levels of corruption within government. Such is the disconnect with the ANC, that the South African Communist Party (SACP) went against its alliance partner at the recent by-election in Metsimaholo, where the ANC failed to obtain an outright majority and may need to enter into a coalition to govern the municipality.
Frustration experienced by ANC supporters with Jacob Zuma has cascaded up to some senior party leaders, who have become increasingly vocal against his leadership. Nevertheless, the man still enjoys support/following within the party, as he has survived numerous attempts to oust him as the country’s number one citizen. It has been suggested that the man has used patronage and manipulation to instil a sense of loyalty amongst those who still hold him in high regard.
In what has been termed a desperate move to preserve his non-existent legacy, president Jacob Zuma has over the course of this year touted the idea of Radical Economic Transformation, lamenting the fact that the economy is still very much in the hands of the few. The idea has gained great traction amongst members of the ANC and resulted in the topic becoming a subject of debate at the recent policy conference. Subsequently Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is in the running for the presidency of the ANC has taken the baton on the issue and is using it as part of her election campaign.
Based on what has been written so far, it can be summed up that the legacy of Jacob Zuma come January 2018 will be that of a man that has presided over: a party that has lost its moral and intellectual high ground; a party that has lost touch with people on the ground; a party that is highly divided amongst itself, even resulting in 3 political parties being formed as a result and a highly fractured tripartite alliance. His name has become and will forever be synonymous with corruption, state capture, high unemployment and an economy in decline.