On February 9, President Jacob Zuma will deliver South Africa’s annual State of the Nation speech in parliament. The substance of the speech is likely to be a mixture of policy stability with calls for “radical” transformation of ownership of the economy. Few expect that the speech will really break new ground or that it will presage “radical” change. Rather, his remarks will be shaped by concern for his legacy and the leadership succession fight within the governing African National Congress (ANC).
The ANC will choose a new party leader at its 54th National Conference in December. This will basically be a vote for the next president of South Africa. Zuma is unlikely to run for re-election, or, if he does so, he will likely fail. The South African president is elected by parliament, not directly by the electorate. As the ANC retains a huge parliamentary majority, the presidency is practically guaranteed to its party leader. Under South Africa’s system of parliamentary proportional representation and historical precedence, once Zuma is no longer party leader, the expectation is that he will resign the presidency of South Africa, though his term runs until 2019. (Technically, the ANC would “recall” him from the national presidency and thereby make his successor as ANC party leader also the chief of state.) Hence, Zuma must be personally concerned about whom the party chooses as his successor. Once, out of the presidency, he is liable to prosecution on hundreds of counts of corruption. Many of his critics see his ex-wife and mother of several of his children, Nkosanza Dlamini-Zuma, as his best insurance policy and hence his preferred candidate.
After Zuma speaks in parliament on February 9, he will proceed to Cape Town’s Grand Parade where he will address an ANC rally that may number up to 10,000. That speech will likely be more radical in tone than his parliamentary address and have a clearer partisan political dimension.
The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has threatened to disrupt the state of the nation speech, as it has done in the past when Zuma has spoken in parliament. The EFF argues that Zuma is “unfit” to deliver the address in light of the Constitutional Court’s 2016 decision that he improperly used public funds on his private estate, Nkandla. In response, Zuma has ordered the deployment of 440 members of the South African Defense Force (SADF) to supplement the police. As constitutional expert Pierre de Vos and numerous opposition spokesmen are arguing, such a deployment is almost certainly illegal. It is the police, not the military, who are charged with maintaining domestic order. Further, the activities of the police, let alone the military, within parliamentary precincts are strictly constrained by law. In defiance to the deployment of the SADF, the formal opposition, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the EFF are once again on the same side of an issue, even though they are at the polar ends of the South African political spectrum. The EFF’s radical rhetoric includes advocating the expropriation of white-owned property without compensation, while the DA firmly supports private property and popularly is still associated with the wealthy white minority. Nevertheless, the two parties are already coalition partners in some local government areas. Immediate opposition to the ANC and especially Jacob Zuma outweigh ideological differences. “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” And both want Zuma to go.