It is now abundantly clear that the race to succeed Jacob Zuma as ANC president next month is between his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — the president’s former wife and preferred successor.
No one else matters. All our attention should be focused on these two. Not that the other supposed candidates for the ANC’s top job have been trying very hard anyway. Their visibility is low, they are media-shy (has anybody even confirmed that Baleka Mbete is running?) and they all seem to be going through the motions.
Sure, every now and then someone pitches up at a town hall set-up and deploys a few platitudes, but generally you feel that Mbete, Zweli Mkhize, Lindiwe Sisulu and Mathews Phosa don’t think they were ever really in the race, and are not expending too much of their energy on the charade.
They were probably always in it to horse trade their way into one or other of the Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma campaigns, somewhere below president but above “random national executive committee person”.
Ramaphosa’s sales pitch is something he is calling a “New Deal for South Africa”, focusing on what is wrong with the economy and how we might turn it around.
Not that the New Deal contains much by way of concrete plans on what a Ramaphosa-led government will actually do to fix the economy. Ramaphosa’s inspiration, Franklin D Roosevelt and his 1932 “New Deal for America” campaign, would not have been elected — either by Democrats in a primary or the electorate in a general election — if his plan had been as flimsy as that of his latter-day disciple.
The New Deal was not a poetic rendition of what was wrong with the Great Depression-era United States. Everyone knew that part. It was, rather, a comprehensive legislative programme.
It established federal institutions, laws and regulations. And it was comprehensive. Banking regulation, establishing social security, healthcare, public works programmes, tax reforms, public housing and even attacking entrenched racial and gender policies in the workplace and more were part of the deal.
It was a complete re-engineering of American society and its economy, both of which were thoroughly broken. Much like ours.
The parallels between the US of the early 1930s and our own morass of the mid-2010s are almost inescapable. Perhaps that is what drove Ramaphosa to take his inspiration from Roosevelt, although one wishes he’d taken the time to study the actual New Deal rather than just appropriate the title.
By contrast Ramaphosa’s version is a long lament about what’s gone wrong “over the last 10 years”. “It’s all gone to shit under Zuma’s leadership, but I’ve happily propped him up for five years.”)
It is full of praise for the resilience of black people (Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise makes a cameo) and revolutionary platitudes (anyone for Amílcar Cabral’s much-abused “claim no easy victories”), but it contains not even one idea that would have an impact on the legislative, regulatory, economic or social reality we inhabit.
“We need a New Deal for South Africa. A New Deal for Jobs, Growth and Transformation that will turn the economy around and build a more equal society. This New Deal will and must bring together government, business, labour and civil society in a meaningful and effective social compact to construct a prosperous, just society founded on opportunities for all.
“It will be the product of a shared commitment by all stakeholders.
“It will be concretised in an action plan — concrete delivery, firm commitments, definite timelines and a new and spirited urgency.”
In other words, more of the same.
We’ve been here before, Cyril.
Call it the Reconstruction and Development Programme, the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Strategy, the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa, the National Development Plan, the New Deal, whatever.
We’ve had plans galore, all of them distinguished by their ability to diagnose rather obvious problems, and their inability to plan for a way out of them.
For her part, Dlamini-Zuma’s campaign seems to be anchored by empty rhetoric on “radical economic transformation” and an ominous but nonspecific threat to “do for South Africa what we did at the AU”. (Just to clarify, she did nothing at the African Union. She was head of the AU Commission, which is basically the AU’s bureaucracy. But let’s not be pedantic).
Both the main candidates have been so tepid, in part because they share one thing in common. They have a humongous Zuma problem.
In their own separate ways, each of them is beholden to an odious, despised man who they cannot deny has placed them where they are. Both of them are implicated in his depravity, and so neither can speak about him with any credibility.
Ramaphosa was plucked out of the wilderness by Zuma in 2012, installed in the state two years later and launched on the path that now finds him weeks away from possibly taking over the ANC — when he and everyone else would have been forgiven for thinking he’d missed that boat back in 1997.
Dlamini-Zuma owes the AU post she’s now pretending qualifies her for the presidency entirely to Zuma’s government, which fought hard to install her at the AU Commission in 2011 — knowing that she would only use the continental body to pose for the job she was really angling for, the one up for grabs in 2019.
In other words, Zuma revived Cyril’s ambitions and fuelled Nkosazana’s.
When ANC delegates cast their votes next month, they will essentially be choosing between two protégés of the man who has brought their party and the country to the brink of disaster. That should concentrate their minds a bit.