How Significant is the Next Elective Conference of the ANC?

J. Agomah

Zuma’s term as president of the governing African National Congress ends in December when the party is due to elect a new leader. This will lead to a transition, if not a brink or alteration on South African foreign policy and political economy, depending on who succeeds him. The outcome of ANCs forthcoming elective conference is thus very critical with its own import on the themes:liberation movements and political transitions. Both outright change of direction and ‘change and continuity’ are at stake. Who succeeds Zuma within the ANC and the broader opposition will have to grapple with important domestic and foreign troubles. Key themes include corruption, criminality, state capture and economic transformation. Other themes include principled foreign policy and regional peace and security. In an increasingly interconnected world and Africa’s evolving role a strong and principled foreign policy from South Africa is indispensable.

The Zuma presidency is the most unstable of all ANC governments to date. The contest is both personal and political. Zuma is maneuvering to secure successful election of his ordained successor”, his ex-wife, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, at the ANC national elective conference in December. He needs security after retirement. However the focus on personal security masks the qualities and potential role of Dlamini Zuma in shaping South African and African foreign policy. Despite backing her to succeed him against the desires of a growing number of his former supporters Dlamini is well positioned to strategically place her country and Africa. Her domestic policies are not very clear but to continue the failed policies of the incumbent risks economic and political crisis. Hence,the curtailed view aside,common sense dictates that she will go for a clean government while maintaining a relatively “principled African ownership” of foreign policy. That makes Jacob Zuma’s departure all the more of a victory for South Africa. If her time as chairwoman of the African Union Commission is any guide her foreign policy imperatives are essentially African.

There is significant opposition within the ANC to Zuma and his backers, who are viewed as a patronage faction, from a more pragmatic, pro-business faction associated with Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. For some the pro-business epithet is a catch word for pro-western. Ramaphosa is being portrayed by a supposed intelligence report as a “spy of Western capitalists”. Whatever the validity of this contention and however baffling in the midst of a power struggle, the issue is substantial enough to imply dramatic effects on the direction of South African foreign policy. He had years of political and business experience running corporations but this could also serve as a classic example of why such experience does not necessarily prepare one for the sort of African foreign policy many would like to see. Foreign policy is about defining broader interests and power relations,preferably requiring an ideological anchor.

The conduct of foreign relations is crucial particularly because Jacob Zuma has centralized and personalized South Africa’s foreign policy. From Libya to DRC, Burundi to Zimbabwe Jacob Zuma acted in a dubious,personal-emotional way irritating many. Though his overtures seem anti-Western his dealings with Arab regimes are less transparent and devoid of any political and strategic value for his country or the continent. Zuma’s personal relationship with the DRC’s Joseph Kabila had negative impact on the position of the regional grouping SADC to the extent of tolerating, even supporting, a leader who has refused to step down. The corrupt government-fraudulent foreign policy analogy remains pertinent. Can Dlamini deal with the patronage politics within the ANC and pursue South African foreign policy objective of “the African agenda”.

The South African leadership had played a crucial role in the renewal of the continental organization and the adoption of the Constitutive Act of the African Union. The rest is debatable.The back-and-forth between the two camps within the ANC has been evident on matters both big and small. Sometimes these involve questions of symbolic significance. Sometimes they involve matters of sweeping importance such as radical economic transformation which is a strain. However the most relevant dynamic ought to be whether the ANC can get a leader that can achieve a clean government at home and a principled,Africa oriented foreign policy abroad?