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Dec 16, 2011

Will Mangaung spell the end of the Zuma moment?

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Aubrey Matshiqi speaks about the realignment of South African politics. Camera & editing: Darlene Creamer.
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In 2012, the focus will be on policy and leadership battles in the African National Congress (ANC). But something seems to be happening in opposition ranks. Perhaps, the policy and leadership battles will not only climax at the Mangaung conference of the ANC but also coincide with the realignment of opposition forces in 2012.

Is the Mangaung conference of the ANC going to spell the end of the Jacob Zuma moment, or are its outcomes going to usher in a new phase of the Zuma moment? What is the Zuma moment?

The Zuma moment is constituted by political events from June 2005 and the impact they have had on internal ANC politics, opposition politics, civil society and the State. The Zuma moment coincides with the Julius Malema moment, a political phenomenon that is part of the Zuma moment and is, in part, a by-product of that moment.

The Zuma moment must itself be seen as part of the process of internal decline that started peaking during the Presidency of Thabo Mbeki and is, therefore, itself a by-product of that decline. During this moment, we saw the decline of opposition parties that seek to embed themselves among black voters. And it is a moment during which minorities, even those who have been voting ANC, abandoned the ruling party and the Democratic Alliance redesigned itself as a party of struggle icons and symbolism, the nectar that is supposed to attract swarms of black voters.

Finally, the Zuma moment coincides with a contest for the soul of liberalism, an ideology that, in our political setting, wears a conservative white mask. What we are likely to see, therefore, in the months leading up to the twentieth anniversary of democracy, in 2014, are attempts at internal realignment in the ANC and within the opposition. These attempts will also develop an external dimension through which both opposition forces and the ruling party will try to influence the content of the balance of forces in the South African political landscape to their advantage. In other words, the ANC will try to make sure that internal realignment occurs at the expense of the realignment of opposition forces since it may be to the detriment of its dominant position in our political landscape.

The ruling party will also try to contain what is now a resurgent civil society, a resurgence I believe is largely a response to the perceived or real democratic deficits that have become associated with the Zuma moment. The ANC is probably worried about political activity within the civil society sector and its potential to unite progressive and conservative forces in campaigns that may become a tributary of opposition politics beyond the narrow confines of party political opposition politics.

Who will succeed: the ANC or the opposition? The outcome of the local government elections has caused a shift in the interests of the dominant actors in opposition politics. There was a time when the Democratic Alliance (DA) seemed to be at the centre of a project aimed at uniting all opposition parties under its leadership. This is a strategy that makes perfect sense, given the parlous state of most opposition parties. This idea is probably not as attractive to DA leader Helen Zille as it was prior to the 2011 local government elections. Given interpretations of the results which suggest that the DA made significant gains among black voters, it may be the view of some that the DA can improve its performance among black voters without the assistance of opposition parties that seem to get thinner with each election. Some of them are so unstable that there is a possibility they may cause collateral damage to the DA.

Further, the election of Lindiwe Mazibuko as Parliamentary leader of the DA signals, at face value, an intended change in direction, which should at least deliver the black middle class vote in case working class township support fails to materialise. The DA will, however, have to contend with three challenges, one of which is the perception that its flirtation with struggle symbolism and messaging is nothing but a ruse. The second challenge is possible internal resistance to attempts by people such as Wilmot James to shed liberalism, as preached by DA proponents, of its conservatism and white complexion, while the third is obviating the emergence of tensions between the DA and its Independent Democrats component, since this may lead to the destruction of the realignment project.

For the ANC, the challenge is to resolve the tension between the values of politics and the values of delivery. The values of politics privilege the narrow interests of factions and individuals over the needs of citizens, while the values of delivery seek to enhance State capacity, stabilise the ANC and root out tendencies such as corruption, self-aggrandisement and arrogance from the political culture of the ruling party.

Edited by: Martin Zhuwakinyu
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