It has been widely understood that president Jacob Zuma’s tenacity has been a direct result of his command over a majority within the ANC’s NEC – but things are shifting, and it may not be the good news South Africans hope it is.
In a note to investors on Wednesday, research analyst at Nomura, Peter Attard Montalto, said that a significant shift has occurred in the Zuma camp, with long-time loyalist, Mpumalanga Premier David Mabuza, appearing to switch sides.
This was demonstrated at the recent ANC policy conference, where the Mpumalanga branch ‘turned’ against Zuma, and voted with the Ramaphosa faction to allow secretary general Gwede Mantashe’s damning report on the president to be presented.
According to Attard Montalto, Mabuza’s turn had been simmering since even before the conference, and represents a significant knock to the Zuma faction.
The Mpumalanga branch has the third highest number of delegates who can vote at an elective conference, and if even Zuma’s support base in the province was reduced to a third, it would put the Zuma factions chances of winning the elective conference in jeopardy.
“No province can be assigned 100% to either camp, but what is at stake is where the majority of votes can be placed in either camp. Mpumalanga will have around 11% of delegates in December and be the third largest share – hence its importance,” Attard Montalto said.
So significant is this shift that Nomura – which has consistently dismissed any notion that Zuma was ever in a weak position, or at risk of having the ANC take him down internally – has adjusted the likelihood of a Zuma victory in December from 60%, to 51%.
“Rough back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest it is still possible for the Zuma camp to win,” Attard Montalto said.
“If we assume Mpumalanga goes from 80% for Zuma to one-third with this shift, then it would result in a 6 percentage point shift from the Zuma camp.
“If KZN still holds a majority of over 70%, and the Eastern Cape musters 30% of its votes for the Zuma faction (as the biggest two provinces) it would still lead to a Zuma camp victory – but would be pretty close to the line,” he said.
Not necessarily good news
While the apparent weakening of the Zuma camp may be a welcome scenario for many, Attard Montalto warns that it could also push South Africa into a very dark period.
Most notably, he believes there is a growing chance that Zuma, using his current majority within the NEC, would call off the elective conference altogether if a victory for his faction is not guaranteed.
“Chaos would be the outcome, and lead to worrying precedents for 2019 national elections being considered by investors. This is not our baseline at the moment, but the probability of such an outcome is rising.”
The second thing that would likely arise is an increase in political violence, the analyst said – the stakes may be so high, that Zuma and his supporters may stop at nothing to secure a win.
Political violence has always been a part of the ANC’s internal politics (especially in fraught provinces such as KZN), however the split there this time and elsewhere may add an additional dimension and in a different order of magnitude to that in the past, Attard Montalto said.
“Recent calls for the more active involvement of the ANC’s MK Veterans Association (which appears to be mainly now people that are too young to be veterans) in guarding ANC structures and proceedings adds an additional element of concern to watch,” he said.
Policy direction will also suffer as a result, as many of the policies that were kicked around at the ANC’s policy conference were pushed to the elective conference, meaning open contestation is still on the table.
“It is clearer now that everything is to play for and so the likelihood is more finally balanced,” Attard Montalto said. “An elective conference will be a straight fight between two factions.”
“Ultimately, we still believe all forms of political and other forces will ensure the Zuma faction wins, but things are so marginal that it could well go wrong for them,” he said.