By Takura Zhangazha*
The resounding re-election of South African President Jacob Zuma at his ruling African National Congress (ANC) party’s 53rd elective conference bears some significance for the turn of politics in Southern Africa and closer to home, in Zimbabwe. This is not only because of the claim made by Mr Zuma in an impromptu speech just after his victory when he alluded to the importance of unity in his party and that it must lead by example because people 'watch us.’ Indeed it is not just the mainstream opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) and other South African political parties that watch what the ANC does or does not do. It is also the entirety of political parties and players across the Southern African region and beyond that do so.
Beyond the FLMs, a second lesson for Southern African political players from the ANC's Mangaung conference, is that sometimes, events that affect elections, though reported by the media in the public interest, may not really matter with a majority of party supporters/voters. These events may instead strengthen the incumbent candidates and their running mates. And this is a key lesson to be drawn from the victorious return of Cyril Ramaphosa to the ANC top six as deputy president. Even after some of his reported controversial emails in the wake of the tragic Marikana shootings earlier this year. And an even much more significant example is that of President Zuma who was referred to as a ‘kept President’ after some brilliant investigative journalism by the Mail and Guardian unearthed an unfavourable audit report on his expenses. This, it turns out, did not affect the conference election outcome. It would therefore appear that sometimes the voter will have loyalties that transcend some unpalatable 'truths' about their preferred candidates and as a result, the former will weather the ‘media storm’ all the way to the internal party ballot booth. In effect, the key lesson would become that populism and hard campaigning can override questions of the ‘credibility’ of candidates.
To be specific to Zimbabwe however, there are more implications for the country via Zuma’s victory. These not least because the role of the South African President has, through the SADC mediation process, been to play ‘big brother’ to our own government. Against the immediate backdrop of a resounding victory at Mangaung, Mr. Zuma will most definitely find it within his stride to flex some muscle over what have been referred to as 'outstanding issues' in the Zimbabwean Global Political Agreement processes.
The main reasons for this would be that since this is the beginning of his definitive ‘legacy’ (and last) term as ANC president, and a key departure point for a distinctive one as President of South Africa, Mr Zuma would prefer to leave his own mark on what has been controversially referred to as the 'Mbeki engineered GPA project'. This would entail Zuma upping the pressure on the three parties in Zimbabwe’s inclusive government on the same said outstanding issues and therefore a definitive conclusion to the SADC mediation process.
And this will also include some in the Zimbabwean government seeking to cosy up to the SADC mediator as an acknowledgement of his newly mandated term (and therefore power) in the coming six months before Zimbabwe’s constitutionally scheduled elections in June 2013. In effect, if anyone harboured ambitions that Zuma would be distracted or defeated in the aftermath of the ANC’s Mangaung, the reality is that he will be bolder and more assertive on Zimbabwe’s leaders.
In the final analysis, Mr. Zuma’s second coming as ANC president cannot be faulted by those of us who are not South African or members of the same party. But we are permitted to observe and learn from what has come to be known as the oldest former liberation movement on the African continent. In relation to regional FLMs that are in power or close to power, the lessons on internal democracy are many as are those of weathering the storm of nationwide democratic scrutiny in the run-up to a conference or congress. For Zimbabwe, the implications are directly related to the end games of our inclusive government and the role Mr Zuma is expected to play in framing the election environment. A role in which he will, no doubt, seek to demonstrate to both the ANC and the SADC region, that he is the correct and newly mandated man to be in charge.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)