This is the first in a series of new political updates from leading Independent Political Analyst & Keynote Speaker, Daniel Silke. All comments may be used in press reports with appropriate credits.

South Africa: 23 November 2009

The end of Thabo Mbeki did not mean the end of ANC infighting

Somehow, the expectation of a clear run for President Jacob Zuma after his election victory never quite materialised. President Zuma did not even enjoy a ‘honeymoon’ period after taking office. Service delivery protests, corruption scandals, high-profile trials and the ANC’s own political infighting has left a President grappling to get his hands firmly on the reins of power. With the end of 2009 approaching, the President has been severely weakened by all these issues. They are increasingly debilitating and require a very strong handle on power and on wayward personalities. President Zuma will need to ratchet up his own personal level of authority within the party which, if it happens, may result in him alienating one or other key component element of the very organizations that supported his quest for the Presidency and therefore put him in office. The irony of Jacob Zuma at the end of 2009 is that by steering an undefined and messy middle-ground, he is doing himself no favours. Leadership means strength and Zuma’s history of appeasement might win him friends on the personal level, but in the world of politics, it means others take advantage. This is the period in which we find ourselves and represents a continuation of the ANC’s internal power struggles of which the seed was sown in the early years of the Mbeki administration.

Julius Malema is raising issues – but not doing them any justice

Every week (or more often), Julius Malema is acting like a de facto president-in-waiting. And, he is making a name for himself by raising critical policy issues in public. His profile building is impressive thanks to a veracious press keen to report controversy. Malema reads his opportunities well….but perhaps, he is overplaying his hand. It’s fair to debate key issues like Nationalization. But, the manner in which he is tackling these issues is fast isolating him within the broader alliance. His criticism of a variety of the ANC stalwarts – and now Jeremy Cronin – is painting him into a rather uncomfortable political corner. And heavyweights like ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe are sure to make him sweat further. Malema’s knee-jerk comments unfortunately do little to enhance the debate. And, he does his side a disservice by them. In fact, Malema’s so-called ideological stance probably has lost ground due to his style and attitude. Finally, Malema is more isolated than ever. Again, this is yet another test for President Zuma. Thus far he has defended the youth leader, but as the rhetoric is ratcheted up yet another notch (in the Cronin saga) someone is likely to fall. Mr Malema smelt blood when he effectively discredited Thabo Mbeki before and after Polokwane. He is simply continuing to test the power that he has accumulated. But, Mbeki was an easy target. To take on Jeremy Cronin (and Mantashe et al), Malema might just find he has bitten of more than he can chew.

By Splitting with the ANC, COPE has left a moderate void within the ruling party

The Congress of the people failed to make enough impact in the April 2009 election. In fact, their result was a few percentage points short of double figures and a long way from them reaching some sort of critical mass. With ineffectual leadership and internal power struggles, the party is struggling to make a modicum of progress within parliament (which will be the subject of a later blog next week). But COPE still holds out some potential due to its alternative ideological approach to developmental politics and the innate talents of many of its key figures. While the intended consequence of COPE was to capture black support and weaken the ANC, the unintended consequence has been to denude the ANC of its more vocal middle-ground. COPE’s formation has left the moderates within the ANC on the back foot – grappling with an increasingly assertive COSATU, ANCYL and SACP. By leaving the ANC, COPE’s ideological stalwarts left a void. It is this void that is now up for battle within the ruling party. Having failed to make sufficient inroads, COPE’s legacy thus far has been only to leave an ideological vacuum in the ANC.