Why Jacob Zuma is popular in the tripartite alliance by the UDM President (20 September 2006)

Thank you for the invitation to share my views on why Jacob Zuma is popular in the Tripartite Alliance.

Firstly, Zuma has been popular in the ANC and its associate structures long before the current fracas and succession campaign. Secondly, Zuma has been popular with the ANC leadership; for instance he was long known to be close to Mbeki during the exile years, and many people in the ANC viewed them as close friends.

Thirdly, it must be remembered that Zuma is highly regarded in the security structures of the country, because of his previous role as senior member of MK and Head of ANC Intelligence in exile. He was directly responsible for deploying cadres to fight the Apartheid regime. His job required him to spend much time with grassroots structures, either deploying them or receiving their report-backs on missions and operations. He was also responsible, by virtue of position, for the protection and safety of senior leaders and commanders. It was also he that had to make the decision on whether the ANC could trust the NP Government when the first approaches were made to usher in negotiations, and later had to make the call on whether it was safe to return to South Africa.

His regular and widespread contact with ANC structures during the exile years and directly afterwards required Zuma to act as a sort of welfare officer, and also compelled him to deal with many different people and situations. He often saw to the security and other physical and emotional needs of cadres under his command during a very uncertain time in our history. This is the reason why he is often referred to as having the "common touch".

Zuma was in this sense never a populist, but a trusted and popular leader for many people. Any person who thinks that he is a mere populist is making a big mistake and seriously underestimating him.

Nor should people make the mistake of thinking that it is only COSATU, SACP and the ANC Youth League that are campaigning for Zuma. There are heavyweights within the ANC who are also involved and many more who are considering on which side their bread is - and will be - buttered. Most of; Zuma's former Cabinet colleagues know that Mbeki is on the way out and they are surely thinking of their own futures. The question of loyalty to one particular leader becomes flexible. The influence of Mbeki is on the wane as the end of his term approaches, and with that his ability to reward people or secure their futures also declines.

Many people in the Tripartite Alliance dismissed the Arms Deal allegations when they first emerged, in the process they stuck their heads in sand and went into a state of denial. Gradually however the media exposed the names of senior ANC leaders who received illicit benefits or were involved in questionable dealings. The Daimler Chrysler was discovered as having given discounted vehicles to more than 30 VIPs, of course thus far only one of them has been punished by a court of law.

Following these events, the then Head of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was alleged to have given off-the-record briefings to certain editors which called into question Zuma's leadership qualities. This later emerged after Ngcuka's infamous "prima facie" public comments that Zuma had a corruption case to answer but that it was not a winnable case.

This raised questions about why Zuma was not being prosecuted; was he being protected? Was he being persecuted? The style of the ANC and Government made matters worse. Whereas in previous years Mandela would have commented quickly and resolved such a crisis and remove any uncertainty, the silence from Mbeki's Government was deafening. The Office of the Presidency was conspicuous in its silence when the allegations against Zuma first emerged. This left a vacuum which the SACP, COSATU and the ANC Youth League saw as an opportunity to rescue a leader who was being persecuted by the technocrats in Government.

Perhaps if the Presidency had taken ownership of the matter at the outset, then matters would have turned out differently because they left the distinct impression that Zuma was no longer wanted by his own boss.

Then the Shaik trial judgement seemed to indirectly find Zuma guilty of the very thing that Ngcuka had previously said could not be proved beyond reasonable doubt in court. This further heightened the suspicion of many that Zuma was being persecuted.

To make matters worse, President Mbeki then fired Zuma from his Government position, and contrary to previous Government claims Zuma was promptly charged with corruption. The COSATU leadership and other Alliance structures were angry, arguing that Mbeki was wrong in removing Zuma. They tended to equate the position of Zuma with that of an ordinary civil servant or union member, where you wait for a trial and guilty verdict before firing somebody. Unfortunately they forgot - chose to ignore - that Zuma was a political appointee and it is quite correctly the President's prerogative to hire and fire political appointees. That is why COSATU and others to this day continue to call for the reinstatement of Zuma in his position as if he was an ordinary worker wrongfully dismissed.

Whilst Zuma himself may be no mere populist many of those who now support him - for their own ends - are populists and use populist tactics. The frustrations of these people and structures, in particular COSATU and the SACP, are well-documented. They have been at loggerheads with the ANC Government on policy issues, particularly economic policy. Vavi and Madisha - who are now reportedly in conflict amongst themselves - had even been insulted when they campaigned against GEAR and their struggle credentials and patriotism was questioned. This is not a hidden campaign; it is no secret that many people in the ANC and broader Alliance are unhappy with the policy direction taken under Mbeki's leadership.

What is being kept hidden is that the motivation for this internal conflict runs deeper than simple policy issues; this is because the ANC and the Alliance are desperate to protect the myth of themselves as a "broad church" that provides a home for disparate and even contradictory political movements. We have said before that the changing socio-political order in South Africa indicates that there will be discernible political shifts along interest group divides distinguished by common concerns and aspirations and not along racial lines as we witnessed before. This process will move towards the crystallisation of two major political streams, which express the ethos of the beneficiaries of the established order on the one hand, and the aspirations of the emerging major social groupings that are marginalised on the other hand. These divisions can only be resolved if the voters were allowed a say. The ANC and the Alliance cannot avoid being affected by - and reflecting - this emergence in society of two major and essentially opposing political streams.

When allegations such as "zulu-boy won't be President" arose, certain structures broke away from the well-known ANC tradition of anointed leaders being chosen and then sold to the public. They have since campaigned openly for Zuma and against the standard ANC approach in defiance of the ANC leadership. The architects of this campaign have seized the initiative and forced the ANC leadership for the first time in its history to publish a document (authored by Joel Netshitenze and others) on how the succession process will proceed.

The effect of this campaign and Zuma's popularity within the ANC as possible successor to Mbeki, will only be measured when the ANC opens its mouth on the issue. The last word will be said by the ANC structures, and only then will it be known whether they agree with the leadership of COSATU, SACP and the ANC Youth League.

However in the meantime there are signs that the people opposing Zuma have not been sitting by idly. Already there are definite indications of a dirty tricks campaign sowing division among the leaders of COSATU and calls from certain unions that COSATU must not lose focus of the needs of the workers.

The important question is thus not about Zuma's popularity, but about the expectations of his supporters and why no other ANC leader has come forward to address these same expectations and concerns. Indeed, it highlights the need for the electoral laws to be amended to give all South African voters an opportunity to directly elect the leader of their choice instead of being at the mercy of the whims and factional contests of the ruling party.
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