POLITICS

Angry Jacob Zuma Frustrated At Lack Of Economic Clout

Three speeches Jacob Zuma gave in Zulu at the end of last year gives us valuable insights into his mind. We had them translated so you didn't have to.

07/01/2017 19:44 SAST | Updated 07/01/2017 20:07 SAST
Rogan Ward / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma visits a the family of the late freedom fighter Riot Mkhwanazi in Kwadlangezwa, South Africa, December 6, 2016. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

ANALYSIS

President Jacob Zuma takes one of his final big ANC podiums as ANC leader on Sunday when he delivers his tenth and last January 8 statement as party president.

The jovial president cast a confident figure this week as he drummed up support for what is traditionally the start of the party's political year.

But his final three speeches of 2016 displayed a president angry at the absence of economic power and at his inability to choose his own finance minister.

In December 2015, Zuma was forced to recant on his decision to appoint Des van Rooyen as finance minister after the markets tanked and the ANC panicked, pushing its president to return Pravin Gordhan to the Treasury.

NOT A TYPICAL ANC LEADER

As President Zuma begins the final canter of his time at the top of the ANC, has he been good for the ANC? He was one of the party's first non-intellectual presidents who cast himself as a grassroots man of the people. In that, he broke the leadership mould for the ANC has generally been led by intellectual giants. A consistent theme of the Zuma era has been to align with the aspirations of the ordinary and to cast leaders as the other.

Early in his Presidency, he coined the term "clever blacks" to describe the chorus of critique by the intellectual class that greeted his various scandals and missteps.

In November last year as he assessed the year at a meeting in KwaZulu-Natal, the president remarked: "I have planned to use serious English today, there is a phrase which comrades like to use which is called the balance of forces. That phrase is used by these heavyweights behind me here [provincial leaders] I never used that. They are educated, remember?"

Zuma has returned the ANC and its party headquarters to the epicentre of political power whereas former president Thabo Mbeki ran the country from the Union Buildings with a powerful clique. Under Zuma's watch, the ANC ballooned to a million paid up members but then dropped back down to 700 000 members with one in three based in KwaZulu-Natal.

This shifted the party heartland away from its traditional centres of power and secured presidential power. The province now holds the balance of power to determine who will be Zuma's successor when the ANC chooses its next leader come December.

WHO'S IN CHARGE OF THE ECONOMY?

In November, Zuma repeated his prediction about the ANC's longevity as he sought to respond to critics who are angry that the party has lost three vitally important capitals under him: the heartland of Nelson Mandela Bay; the political capital of Tshwane (Pretoria) and the economic heartbeat which is Johannesburg. Zuma has made the ANC larger but it has paradoxically lost electoral ground under his watch, a trend he has sought to deny.

Referring to the ANC as a soccer team, he said: "If a soccer team is beaten 6-0, they are believed to have taken a serious beating. But if a team plays with heart until the final whistle, then gets given extra time, then proceeds to penalties and finally gets beaten there, you can't say it is a weak team. You can't." To which Zuma added: "The defence of South Africa's freedom is only the business of the ANC. I am saying it today and I will say it again: only the ANC can defend South Africa. The ANC and the alliance. Everyone else is making noise, is merely doing just that. It is paper fire."

In his three 2016 end of year speeches, Zuma said the party risked further political losses because it has no economic power, a shift from his first speech as party president in 2008 when he sang the praises of ANC economic policy for generating liberation's dividends.

This theme is likely to set the tone for the year as economic transformation is lifted up the priority list where it has sat for the past three January 8 meetings but seen no real progress as economic growth has slowed and as South Africa has fought off an investment ratings downgrade.

"In the whole world, whether you go to India you will find Indians in charge of their economy, if you go to China the Chinese are in charge of their economy, if you go to America the Americans are in charge of their economy, it is the same with the English, Germans and anywhere else including here in Africa. If you go to any African country, Africans are running their economies. It is only here in South Africa where people indigenous to the country are not in charge of the economy. That would be us," said President Zuma at a meeting in Kwadukuza in November last year.

The president has said repeatedly that power is comprised of three pillars: political, economic and security. The ANC, he has counselled, has only one secured pillar: political power.

"Those in charge of the economy, try to influence those with political power. Unfortunately those who have political power have that alone, you cannot eat political power. Those in charge of the economy have something you can actually eat. They are in control. They are in control. They sit around studying your every move, determining where you are weak and where you are strong. They tell you that they can make you a proper man or woman, you will never be in need of anything. All you need to do is to give them the political power. If when you have political power you do not use it to get economic power, it is too late for you. It means you are not in control of the three pillars which make up the country."

President Zuma is likely to spend his last year as ANC president pushing the idea that to be in power is to control all three pillars.