Change is now in the air

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Dumisani Muleya

YESTERDAY’s defeat of South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) by the opposition Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) at the Nquthu municipality by-election in KwaZulu-Natal province, although a small victory in the bigger scheme of things, is a wake-up call, not just for the ANC, but also other former liberation movements in the region.

Editor’s Memo,Dumisani Muleya

The ANC won only three wards despite President Jacob Zuma, his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa and many senior party officials having campaigned in the area. The IFP, led by veteran politician Mangosuthu Buthelezi, got 14 out of the 17 wards.

Out of the 33 council seats, the IFP won 19, the ANC 10, the Democratic Alliance two, and the National Freedom Party and Economic Freedom Fighters got one each.

With the ANC slumping in South Africa and President Robert Mugabe and his ruling Zanu PF in turmoil in Zimbabwe, change could be in the air in the region; pretty soon for Zimbabwe and perhaps a couple of years down the line south of the Limpopo.

While questionable surveys claim Mugabe is still popular in Zimbabwe, change is inevitable given his old age and frailty, whether or not Zanu PF wins next year’s general elections.

Mugabe and his party cannot win free, fair and credible elections; they rely on abuse of state resources, particularly the military, disenfranchisement, manipulation and rigging of the electoral process. Usually, violence and fear are also Zanu PF’s electoral weapons.

While there is a new narrative in Zimbabwe that the opposition MDC-T lost the last elections due to poor organisation, lack of resources and incompetence, the basic truth remains that Zanu PF wins through manipulation and fraud.

With the ANC and Zanu PF in chaos, partly due to leadership and policy failures and succession battles — and renewed armed violence in Mozambique between old civil war foes, Frelimo and Renamo — former liberation movements are in crisis in the region.

In Angola, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos has confirmed he will not run in this year’s presidential election after 38 years as head of state, but will retain control of the ruling party. This is a partial admission he has overstayed.

The ruling Botswana Democratic Party’s popularity has reportedly been sinking since the 2014 elections due to encroaching authoritarian rule, sluggish economic growth, high youth unemployment and corruption, among other problems.

It really is a tough time being a former liberation party in government in the region.

Last year, the ANC lost control of major cities — including the capital Pretoria, commercial hub Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay metropole, which encompasses Port Elizabeth, and nearby towns of Uitenhage and Despatch — during watershed municipal elections. It could still suffer even worse in the 2019 general elections.

In Zimbabwe, Mugabe and his party have long been exiled to the rural areas, as the opposition MDC-T dominates major cities and towns, including the capital Harare.

All the while, some of the leaders, particularly Mugabe, still believe in dying in power. Even Zuma now has some Mugabe-like tendencies, especially on how he is managing his messy succession crisis and radical economic transformation.

Such unprogressive and unsustainable politics led to the demise of liberation movements in power in Zambia, Malawi and Kenya. The same could happen in South Africa and Zimbabwe unless the ANC and Zanu PF quickly resolve their succession power struggles and reform to stymie opposition ascendancy.

The ANC and Zanu PF could learn from Tanzania and Namibia. Chama Cha Mapinduzi remains a hegemonic ruling party in Tanzania and the longest reigning one in Africa due to its ability to manage transition, leadership renewal and change. After a false start, Swapo has been able to do the same in Namibia. The ANC has been doing well until the current mess.

If these ruling parties don’t reform and adapt, they will die. Change could soon be inevitable.

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