The succession mess we’re in is all the ANC’s own fault
The party has long known it must sort out its timing issues. It has done nothing.
It is tempting to feel some sympathy for the African National Congress these days. Since December 20 last year the party’s scandal-soaked former leader, Jacob Zuma, has been sitting malevolently in the Union Buildings, thinking up ways to defy and derail his successor in the party and cling on to state power. The party’s new leadership, wracked with divisions, has been unable to articulate a clear view of how it intends to deal with the elephant in the room: Zuma.
There is no need to feel sorry for the ANC, though. It is responsible for the mess it finds itself in. For 20 years many inside and outside the party have argued that the period between the ANC’s five-yearly conferences and national elections is too long. Our next set of national and provincial elections is in about 17 months – meaning that a leader who has been ousted or has seen out his two terms in the party, as Zuma has, now sits in state leadership while his putative successor waits around gagging to get on the horse.This situation was fine when the ANC had leaders like Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki. When Mbeki became ANC president in December 1997, the period between his ascension to party power and his election to state president in 1999 was smooth and handled without rancour. That was partly due to Mandela’s deft hand at transition plus the maturity that prevailed in large parts of the ANC. One could say it was still nominally a party of principle, not one dominated by the politics of the stomach as personified by Zuma and his acolytes.
The transition from Mbeki to Zuma showed how urgent it was to align ANC conferences to national elections. Mbeki lost elections in December 2007 in an acrimonious battle, and eight months later he was booted out unceremoniously by Zuma. The “recall” happened nine months before his term officially came to an end.
At this point, or even at the 2002 conference, the ANC should have adopted a resolution to move its conference closer to the national election. A new ANC leader would then move straight from winning the party contest to rolling out an election campaign. The most prudent solution would be to hold ANC conferences about six or eight months before national elections.
All this assumes, of course, that the ANC stays in power in future. That is, however, not guaranteed given the party’s poor delivery record and electoral showing over the past 10 years.
That is beside the point for now, though. This new ANC timeline would mean a potential new leader has a job to do – electioneering – instead of kicking their heels, getting up to no good by trying to engineer an ejection of their predecessor.This was clear in 2007 with the Mbeki-Zuma fiasco and the instability it unleashed. That is what we are going through now. By failing to adopt and implement a resolution that aligned party and national elections, the ANC created the current “two centres of power” impasse.
It cannot be that every thrusting new ANC leader pushes out their predecessor. It leads to instability, uncertainty and disrupts implementation of key programmes. Kgalema Motlanthe was a good man and upstanding leader, but his caretaker presidency in 2008-2009 was a time of stasis. He kept the ship steady, but he could implement nothing while we waited for the new man. Add those lost nine months to the eight months in which Mbeki was in office but not in power as Zuma and his supporters at the time, like Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula, taunted him.We cannot afford these long periods of stasis. Our people are unemployed, our economy is stagnating, our society is unravelling. There is just no time to waste.
Zuma is a goner, of course. The next 17 months are crucial. It may be tempting to talk about “unity” and “healing the ANC” in an attempt to install Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as caretaker president. That would be disastrous as it would mean Zuma was still in charge.
The ANC should not waste time with a caretaker president. Ramaphosa must take over immediately and begin the reform process the country needs. He must also fix the ANC’s transition timings and mechanism.