from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s Zuma Sweeps ANC Convention, but Fundamental Dilemmas Unresolved

December 18, 2012

Blog Post

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Sub-Saharan Africa

Politics and Government

South Africa

Elections and Voting


Jacob Zuma was re-elected as the African National Congress (ANC) party president and Cyril Ramaphosa the deputy president. They won by large margins. So, too, did Executive Committee candidates who supported Zuma. Zuma’s chief rival, current Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe received only 991 votes to Zuma’s 2,983. As voting in South Africa largely remains a racial census, at least on the national level, Zuma will almost certainly be re-elected president of South Africa in 2014.

Coming into the convention this week, Zuma already had a delegate lead based on non-binding primaries in the ANC heartlands KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape. However, the convention balloting was secret. Motlanthe’s supporters had hoped many delegates would abandon Zuma in the aftermath of Marikana mining massacre. They did not. In a party political system increasingly based on patronage and clientage, few delegates could afford to oppose the clear favorite.

The sky is not entirely blue for Zuma, however. He is personally associated with corruption and still faces charges in court. South Africa’s free press regularly documents his excesses, such as the use of public money to embellish his private "Versailles" in his native Nkandla (underground bunkers, tennis courts, etc.) and, in general, living beyond his means. (There are disturbing echoes of Congo’s Mobutu, even if still faint.) His administration, not known for its political skill, faces huge domestic challenges related to slow economic growth, the persistence of poverty, and racial inequality. Township residents are increasingly impatient with ANC operatives’ failure to deliver services because of corruption, even if they have not yet turned against the party.

The ANC remains firmly identified with Nelson Mandela, who is ninety-four and currently ill. He continues to be the national icon of liberation and reconciliation. Accordingly, the South African media is obsessed with the state of his health. But the other heroes of the anti-apartheid movement seem to be distancing themselves from Zuma’s ANC. Archbishop Tutu’s criticism of the party and the South African government has been harsh. So, too, has been that of Mamphela Ramphele, a founder of the Black Consciousness Movement, later vice chancellor (president) of the University of Cape Town, and a managing director of the World Bank. According to the New York Times, Trevor Manuel and Jeremy Cronin, both known for their personal integrity and perennials in ANC governments, declined to accept nomination for the ANC executive committee.

The ANC continues to struggle to change from a liberation movement into a party of government. Many South Africans are concerned about the identification of the ANC, as the current ruling party, with the national government as a whole. Hence, when four white right wing fanatics tried to blow up the ANC convention, they were charged with “treason” rather than, say, attempted murder. Yet South Africa is far from being a one-party state. At local and provincial levels, voting behavior is not necessarily determined by race, and the Democratic Alliance (DA) now governs the Western Cape and the city of Cape Town. The DA has its sights set on capturing the city government of Johannesburg and the provincial government of Gauteng, the wealthiest part of the country. It is a credible goal. The Western Cape and Gauteng are the most developed parts of South Africa with the most favorable social statistics.