Radical economic reforms will feature prominently when South Africa’s ruling ANC meets this weekend to discuss its future political course. The ANC’s support has been dwindling amid President Jacob Zuma’s graft scandals.
Embattled; that's the position the South African government currently finds itself in. The ruling African National Congress (ANC) party has been discredited by the numerous corruption scandals facing President Jacob Zuma. Demonstrations by citizens calling for the resignation of the unpopular leader have become a daily occurrence. The opposition has capitalized on this debacle and united against the president. A vote of no confidence against Zuma is currently before the parliament.
The ANC is getting more and more nervous about losing its popularity. A policy conference is now taking place in this explosive political climate. Around 3,000 party members will discuss the party's political course from June 30 to July 5. Top of the agenda will be the social and economic transformation of the country. Unemployment is at its highest level with nearly 28 percent out of work. The economy has shrunk by 0.7 percent in the first quarter sending South Africa into a recession.
The ANC has lost touch with its base. "People's reliance on the ANC is declining, as shown by the lower election results and public criticism," said Jeff Radebe, the minister in the presidency, during the presentation of the discussion papers for the conference.
Battle to succeed Zuma
ANC leaders like Radebe fear that the succession debate surrounding President Zuma will deepen the divide between the various factions within the party. The ANC is counting on the conference to unite the party.
As President Zuma's second and last term in office nears its end, the former South African liberation movement wants to woo voters in the 2019 presidential election with their radical economic transformation.
According to political analyst Daniel Silke, the conference will show which group within the ANC will play the leading role at the decisive party conference in December. A new party chairperson will be elected at that conference.
The orientation of the party's programs could become highly controversial among the ANC members, Silke said. "It [the policy conference] will reveal if the party programs become more populist and radical or more muted and open in interpretation," Silke told DW.
There is already a dispute. A new charter which was recently presented by the mining minister provides that South Africa's mining companies should hand over 30 instead of the current 26 percent of the company to black shareholders within a year.
The companies will further pay one percent of their annual sales to the black shareholders. This requirement has caused great indignation among the corporations which have lost some 60,000 jobs in the past five years.
Analyst Theo Venter views this step as an attempt to score points with ANC supporters. "The Zuma group wants hard evidence that it is implementing the radical economic reforms." Zuma's inner circle seeks to portray itself as a party of action not just empty rhetoric.
The majority of the white farms are still in white hands. President Zuma has recently been toying with the idea of changing the constitution in order to dispossess farmers of their land without compensation.
Search for the next president
President Zuma has been heavily criticized for his corruption scandals and his ties to the influential Indian Gupta family. His last cabinet reshuffle in April led rating agencies to downgrade the country, putting a further strain on financial markets and banks.
"The mood in the ANC is tense, the party is looking forward to a fresh start at the end of the year after the ANC conference, and the ANC hopes that a new president will recover the lost credibility," said Silke.
Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa has already shown interest in becoming the next ANC leader. The former trade union leader is one of the richest businessmen in the country.
His political opponent is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the former wife of President Zuma. She led the African Union until the beginning of the year and is supported by her ex-husband and his supporters. "At the moment, both are relatively equal in their popularity, but Ramaphosa is picking up, positioning himself more and more as an ANC reformer," Silke said.
According to Silke, the struggle for power will be between the two political "heavyweights" Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma. It is highly unlikely if that decision will be made during this weekend's policy conference.