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Last year’s local government elections transformed President Jacob Zuma from a roaring lion into a lame duck. The president bore real, but only partial, responsibility for the devastating loss of key metropolitan centres. But the speed with which his space for manoeuvre has since closed down results from three egregious political miscalculations. The first has been his decision to veto all credible candidates for the ANC’s presidential succession, in favour of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Zuma’s intention, by sending her to the AU, was to bolster her "seniority", and to keep her out of domestic affairs in the hope that her lack of charisma — and her willingness to serve as Thabo Mbeki’s Polokwane stooge — would be forgotten. Her recent forays into campaigning have been disastrous, but Zuma has locked his camp into a "woman for president" narrative from which it cannot retreat. The second key miscalculation was Zuma’s decision to fire then finance minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015, ...

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