Any hopes that Jacob Zuma will step down as ANC leader and state president in the wake of the party’s dismal performance in the municipal elections have been quashed.
It emerged on Sunday that Zuma had again emerged unscathed after the ANC’s four-day national executive committee meeting at St George’s Hotel in Irene. It was convened so the party could take stock of the elections outcome.
Almost predictably, the NEC announced that it had resolved that the ANC’s poor showing in the polls was “a collective” matter and that no blame should be apportioned to any individual leader.
ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said pointing fingers at Zuma was “a wrong narrative” that was foreign to ANC culture.
This came as KwaZulu-Natal leader of the party Sihle Zikalala, also commenting on the elections outcome, said the party was “not ordained to rule”, as it had not always been in power.
Zikalala’s criticism and call for self-reflection come after the party’s humbling decline in support in some of the leading metros in the local government elections. The ANC, however, held firm in KwaZulu-Natal.
On Sunday Zikalala reminded the party’s incoming councillors at a meeting in Durban that the ANC needed to work for the public if it was to remain in power. “The survival of the ANC relies on how it behaves. For it to exist until eternity, the ANC needs to behave like the ANC.”
Zikalala said the results in Tshwane, Joburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni metros sent “a particular message”.
“What is this message? What is the meaning? We must ask ourselves if the ANC doesn’t represent the liberation of our people anymore. Or is it because we are no longer implementing the course. The answer is one: yes, the course is correct but we are not doing well,” he said.
In the capital city, Mantashe said: “The NEC unanimously agreed to take collective responsibility for the poor performance of the ANC during the elections and resolved to take immediate and bold actions to address the weaknesses and shortcomings that led to the decline of our electoral support.”
He stressed that the issue of Zuma stepping down was not entertained at the NEC meeting. “There was no proposal from the floor on the president to step down,” he said.
He faced a barrage of questions from the media around Zuma’s questionable leadership style, but Mantashe insisted that fingers shouldn’t only be wagged at Zuma alone. “The question is: should we blame one person for the performance of the ANC? The debate concluded that all of us in the NEC must take responsibility for the poor performance.”
The NEC’s resolution followed “a vigorous, honest, open and thorough assessment of the local government election outcomes”, he said. The decision came amid media reports that a frank internal assessment report from the ANC’s national working committee warned the party’s top leaders to face up to the fact that it is in decline or risk ultimately losing power. The report has revealed that the overwhelming majority of South Africans believe Zuma should step down as ANC president and as president of the country.
Mantashe appeared unperturbed as he spelt out the NEC’s stance about collective responsibility. “We talk of collective leadership all the time. That is the collective discussion of collective leadership. If there are issues that contributed to the decline of the organisation at the time, leadership at the time, all of us are responsible.”
The NWC dossier also raised concerns around corruption within the ANC-led government, including the scandals that have characterised state-owned enterprises, notably the SABC and SAA, which are having a negative impact on the ANC.
Mantashe sidestepped media questions around alleged corruption, saying the party was dealing with it, “but there was a need to distinguish between reality and perception”.
The ANC was disappointed at the loss of a number of key municipalities and failing to retain a majority in Tshwane, Joburg, Nelson Mandela Bay and Ekurhuleni, but the NEC reaffirmed the commitment of the ANC “to continue transforming South Africa”.
The NEC’s resolution came as coalition negotiations were due to reach a crucial stage this week, with parties in hung metros expected to have their first council sittings.
The EFF, courted by the ANC and DA in Tshwane and Joburg, has reportedly demanded Zuma quit as ANC leader and state president as a precondition for entering into a coalition with it.
Mantashe confirmed the ANC had met the EFF for coalition talks, but conceded the ANC was in a predicament because of some of the red berets’ demands. “When the EFF says it demands the president step down… it’s almost an impossible task. If no deal, we will be in opposition benches, full stop.”