With increasing division in his party, a narrative of state capture and corruption that refuses to go away, and calls for an early ANC elective conference, the past few weeks may indicate that president Jacob Zuma’s grip on power is waning.
This is according to several analysts and politicians speaking to Bloomberg following a turbulent week as finance minister Pravin Gordhan faced a big push from the Hawks, and the controversial Gupta family announced they would be selling their shares in their businesses in South Africa.
The decision by the Guptas is just the latest indication that Zuma’s power is waning, according to analysts. The family has been accused of capturing the state through their relationship with the president.
When the claims first came to light – uniting politicians, businesses and citizens against the family and their businesses – the Guptas stepped down from all leadership positions at their companies and ‘fled’ the country to Dubai.
Now, with mounting voices against the president in the wake of the Hawks charges against the finance minister, the family’s move to sell off ownership of their local businesses is seen by some as another indication that major political change is coming.
“They may feel that there is political change coming in South Africa…in the sense that they may not in future have the same access to benefits that they have had in the past,” said political analyst, Daniel Silke.
Divisive Zuma ignored
In response to claims that the latest move by the Hawks to charge Gordhan is politically motivated – specifically by president Zuma so that he can capture Treasury – the presidency rejected the notion outright.
Official comment from the presidency insisted that any narrative reflecting that view was false, and that president Zuma fully supported Gordhan in the matter (though he had no power to intervene).
This official line has been rejected – not only from economists, analysts and business, but from within the party itself.
ANC alliance partner, the South African Communist Party (SACP) – of which Gordhan is a member – has come out with scathing commentary, saying that Zuma wields far too much power, and that the latest push against Gordhan is an obvious move on Treasury.
The comments join analysis from economists and financial groups, warning that Zuma has become desperate to capture full control of the country’s coffers so that he can continue the system of patronage and tenderpreneurship which has underpinned his presidency.
With tight deadlines around SAA looming – and multi-billion rand contracts in the energy sector – all hinging off Treasury, with Gordhan as the gatekeeper, time is running out for the president to do what is needed to retain power, analysts say.
Adding further pressure is talk of holding an early elective conference.
The ANC’s elective conference is currently scheduled for 2017; however certain groups, such as the ANC Youth League, have called for current ANC leadership to take accountability for the party’s poor election results, as well as the current turmoil, by holding an earlier conference.
The ANC itself has said that it is considering doing so – though only after discussions with all stakeholders. An early elective conference would, presumably, see big changes to the ANC leadership, and would indicate a desire to see Zuma step down earlier.
According to SACP, however, an early elective conference may not have the result everyone would expect – in fact, the party says, it would likely deepen the factionalism within the party, implying a potential power-grab by the different ANC factions.
The SACP said that an early consultative conference should be held, with the purpose of uniting the ANC. However, any move to unite the party will hinge off of Zuma, and his continued role in the party.
According to research analysts, Nomura, the ANC is split into two camps: the ‘anti-Zuma’ reformers, who want to rebuild the party, and the ‘pro-Zuma’ tenderpreneurs, who benefit from the patronage system of his presidency.
Nomura’s analysis sees the ‘pro-Zuma’ camp as being the bigger of the two, and predicts that Zuma will see his term as president through to 2018, with his supported candidate taking the role of president of the ANC after the party’s elective conference.
However, other analyst disagree, as new developments show the president’s days may be numbered.