While media reports suggested that Jacob Zuma’s days are numbered, experts and those close to the ANC believe that the president is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Following the blunder to sack finance minister Nhlanhla Nene, questions were raised by business leaders and high-ups in the ANC, who began to sharpen their knives, according to the Sunday Times.
Late last year, Zuma made the decision to axe Nene and replaced him with unknown ANC back-bencher David van Rooyen, sending the rand into free-fall, resulting in billions of rands in losses.
Van Rooyen, who had been finance minister for only four tumultuous days, has since swapped roles with former finance head, Pravin Gordhan, as Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs.
The ANC lauded the president for listening to the people of South Africa. “President Zuma’s decision to appoint Comrade Gordhan therefore is an explicit demonstration of a responsive and accountable government,” said an ANC spokesperson.
Amid calls for the president’s head, ANC spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said: “I can confirm that there was never any talk of a recall.”
This weekend sees the 104th anniversary of the founding of the ANC. President Zuma is expected to deliver his first major speech of 2016, in Rustenburg.
The Financial Times noted that the race to succeed Zuma is already under way with the ANC due to hold a five-yearly congress, at which it elects its leadership, in 2017.
“However, few ANC officials openly criticise the president and those who have been seen to challenge him tend to find themselves pushed to the periphery.”
“In reality there is no one to challenge Zuma,” said Moeletsi Mbeki, a businessman and brother of Thabo Mbeki, the former president. “He may be weak in terms of credibility, but Zuma has never been strong in terms of credibility.”
He told the Economist that the ANC’s real challenge is less about the president and more about the party’s “lack of economic performance and its incompetent and corrupt administration” as the post-apartheid dividend enjoyed by South Africa runs out of steam.
According to the Economist, Zuma favours his loyal ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as his successor. Zuma, however, may not be able to name his own successor
“Mr Zuma’s critics speculate that he wants his ex-wife at the helm as an ally to argue that the charges—which he claims are politically motivated—should never see the light of day,” the Economist wrote.
The president’s popularity is at an all time low. A survey in November showed that Zuma’s approval rating dropped by as much as 28% – from 64% in 2011 to 36% in 2015. Even those within the ANC were not happy.
Current deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, may have seen his stocks rise following the finance ministerial blunder, and South Africa’s current poor credit rating.
Ramaphosa also has the support of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), being a former union boss.
With Municipal elections due to be held in May, Zuma’s grip on power may be weakened further should the ANC’s perform poorly.
Susan Booysen, author of the book “Dominance and Decline: The ANC in the Time of Zuma”, said that Dlamini-Zuma would be much like the current president. “That worries liberals, who fret that Mr Zuma has undermined institutions that check presidential power and tolerated widespread corruption,” the economist said.
“I think Zuma is going to be with us long after he has actually left office,” said Booysen.
“There are still tests ahead. It’s only in the [February] budget that we will see the strength of the fiscal mandate provided to minister Gordhan and how much he is going to deliver,” says David Faulkner, economist at HSBC.
“Until then there are going to be lingering questions over the credibility of fiscal policy and the management of public finances,” he told the Financial Times.