"We appeal to you to be with him, to lead him against those who have joined forces against him." These words were spoken by a clan elder at a special gathering to boost the chances of re-election of President Zuma.
Even in contemporary South Africa, the spirits of the ancestors are invoked in matters of great importance. In late November the family of President Jacob Zuma sacrificed twelve cows to ensure his re-election at the ANC National Elective Conference which opens on Sunday December 16, 2012. Wearing a leopard skin and brandishing a spear, Zuma put on a display of strength and leadership for the photographers. He may have the ancestors' support but his own party, and the electorate in general, are increasingly turning against him.
Behind the abbreviated slogan "ABZ" (Anything But Zuma) the coup plotters have become a formidable alliance. Not only ANC heavyweights like Tokyo Sexwale, but also the rank and file are calling for Zuma's replacement as party leader. Even the country's moral authority, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, is, in his own words, "praying" for the fall of the ANC and the government. They all accuse the president of failing to tackle the country's pressing problems with the necessary energy. These include an ailing economy that has additionally been hit by the strikes of recent months, unemployment of epidemic proportions and corruption.
Filling their own pockets
Women's rights campaigner Rhoda Kadalie was one of the first anti-apartheid activists. Today she is one of South Africa's most biting columnists. She left the ANC in protest long ago. While the elective conference is held, she won't be in the country but on a trip to the United States, in order not to have to witness "the sorry spectacle."
"Those in power are holding the country to ransom while they play cat and mouse games among themselves. They are concerned more with taking control of the economy than governing," Kadalie says. She thinks the government program "Black Economic Empowerment (BEE)" should be called "Black Economic Enrichment", since it is all about people just wanting to fill their own pockets.
While the ANC has been preoccupied for months with internal wrangling, the country has further forfeited international competitiveness. As a result of the political uncertainty, two rating agencies, downgraded South Africa's creditworthiness, points out analyst Gareth Newham from the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria. The state deficit has shot up and the mining sector has attracted less foreign investment than had been predicted. "The people who are in charge of the government, the president and ministers, are largely concerned with internal squabbles and with maintaining power for their own personal benefit as opposed to really providing clear guidance on how they're going to solve the country's problems."
Investors losing confidence
It's bad enough that the expelled president of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, openly calls party leader and president Jacob Zuma "an illiterate" and chants "Phansi Zuma, phansi" ("Down with Zuma"). What is worse is that the government has no recipe to combat the most pressing problems, such as land distribution, raw materials policy, creating a competitive industry, boosting production or increasing educational standards. The gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Two thirds of South Africa's 50 million inhabitants have to survive on less than one US dollar (77 euro cents) a day.
Andreas Wenzel is the general secretary of the "Southern Africa Initiative of German Business" (SAFRI), in other words he is South Africa's foremost lobbyist in Germany. He calls for politics rather than slogans. "We need clarity about the course South Africa is taking in economic policy," he told DW.
Wenzel stressed that "it is very important for South Africa as an investment location and economic partner that the ANC sends out clear signals internationally. South Africa is of course competing with the markets in Latin America and Asia."
Like many observers, the German lobbyist would like to see well-known businessman Cyril Ramaphosa play a bigger role, for example as a kind of prime minister to Zuma.
The old game of hunters and the hunted
"The ANC suffers from cliquism, disunity and internal conflict between different wings." Such a devastating verdict on the party which campaigns with the slogan "A better life for all", is usually to be heard from opposition leader Helen Zille. But recently it was Jacob Zuma himself who read the riot act to his party. Was this belated insight or election campaign strategy?
The sacrificial ceremony in Zuma's home village of Nkandla was, eye witnesses say, a harmonious event with grilled meat and traditional millet beer. The ANC conference in Mangaung, as the town of Bloemfontein is called in the traditional Sotho language, will be a much tougher challenge for the incumbent president, even though his nomination is more or less certain. Gareth Newham of the ISS predicts, "he'll be faced with a very divided party, with people who don't trust him or want him there and don't believe that he is acting in the interests of the state and will see him as a huge threat to the continued survival of their post-2014 ANC team."
Former ANC member Rhoda Kadalie adds that the ANC "has not been able to steer this country on a course that Mandela set." And whether Kgalema Motlanthe or Jacob Zuma is elected party leader, "for me, neither is good enough."
The name Mangaung means "place of the gepards." Observers expect the ANC's much-loved game of huntsman and the hunted will enter a new round there.