By Wesley Seale
In the days when quoting William Shakespeare was fashionable, we were taught that famous quote from the Merchant of Venice: “All that glisters is not gold.” Often things are deceptive in their appealing look.
Such it is with South Africa’s fifth local government election results. To most commentators, the results were a blow to President Jacob Zuma and the “ANC of Zuma”. Calls for the resignation of the President and a grim outlook on the ANC are misplaced. The “dismal” results for the ANC is attributed to Nkandla, the fiasco at the SABC, the Guptas, among others. All fingers pointing to the Presidency.
Professor Adam Habib (Election setback proves that Zuma’s scandals do matter, August 7, 2016) suggests that the election result can be laid squarely at the feet of the President. He calls for the resignation or even worse the removal of the president. As if South Africa has not suffered enough trauma after the removal of a president before. Habib takes the populist road and is heading in the wrong direction.
If one were to take a closer look at the results, bar the Nkandla municipality, the Zuma team in the ANC, and therefore the NEC, did pretty well. On the other hand, the Mantashe grouping got smacked in their provinces and this is where the ANC suffered hard losses.
Founders of the so-called premier league Free State, Mpumalanga and North West scored 100% for the ANC in municipality gains. With the exception of a few wards in Ethekwini, run by the Zuma team, the ANC fared well. To the north of KwaZulu-Natal, we may rightfully predict that the Inkatha Freedom Party will win a few municipalities; even Nkandla being controlled by an IFP-coalition before. Therefore, at a glance, the premier league did well. In ANC circles, the logic goes, unity delivers at the polls.
The other side however suffered heavy losses. Most notable was Gauteng. While we are told that the Gauteng ANC leadership is capable of demanding their own premier and mayors, they seem not to be able to master enough support on the ground. Surely the insistence of Thoko Didiza as mayoral candidate in Tshwane affected the end result.
In Johannesburg, it seemed that the regional leadership sought rather, once again, to look to the past, in the person of Thabo Mbeki, than to the future. One expected much more from the ANC in Gauteng given that they are portrayed as the most sophisticated in the ANC. Instead we see the mainstream media playing the blame game on behalf of the Gauteng leadership.
At the same time, the predictable heavy losses in the Western Cape point to the way in which Derek Hanekom, a known Mantashe point person, managed the province as the coordinator of the National Executive deployees there, in the absence of provincial leadership. Together with Sue van der Merwe and Dipuo Letsatsi-Duba, the end result proved the lack of leadership shown by these national executive committee members. If there is anything wrong with NEC of the ANC then the group in the Western Cape personifies these problems. They are the weakest link.
Nelson Mandela Bay, the economic hub of the Eastern Cape, Mantashe’s home province, despite heavy campaigning fell to the Democratic Alliance. Mantashe big-weights such as Zizi Kodwa and Jackson Mthembu were deployed there to ensure that Mantashe-land was solid.
Unlike the Western Cape where 70 percent of voters reside in the metropole, it is a bit difficult to suggest that once the DA has Nelson Mandela Bay it will go for the province next. In the Western Cape, the DA win of Cape Town in 2006 almost became automatic in the DA’s winning of the province in 2009.
Enter the South African Communist Party; an ally of Mantashe. The wards that the ANC loss to some independents in Ethekwini were de facto won by the SACP. These independents are said to be SACP members whom the party has refused to expel. Even the ANC, it is now suggested, is thinking of working with these independents despite the constitution of the ANC spelling out exactly what should happen to members who run against those endorsed by the NEC.
Habib’s hype suggests that President Zuma suffered in this election. This is far from the truth. In fact, it solidified his support. The provinces in the ANC that support him have proven themselves beyond reasonable doubt at the polls.
Instead what is important for South Africans to understand is that what has happened in the ANC over the last few months and what will happen over the next few months as the ANC heads towards Midrand in 2017 will directly affect South African politics.
As appealing as these results were in being cast as anti-Zuma they were not in the ANC. When South Africans go to the polls they might say one thing but when the ANC goes to conference they sing a different tune altogether.
Wesley Seale teaches South African politics at the University Currently Known As Rhodes.