President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

History has a funny way of repeating itself. Just as Thabo Mbeki misread the mood at Polokwane that saw the ascension of Jacob Zuma to the presidency, the ANC this week voted to keep a crippled leader in power and in so doing has called time on its political tenure.

It's nothing short of ironic that the ANC, obsessed with opposition parties fomenting regime change, has done precisely that by hanging on to its biggest political liability. Far from betraying the movement they represent, those who voted to have Zuma removed are the true party loyalists who can see a future in which the ANC is consigned to the history books as a governing party. The biggest winner this week was not Mmusi Maimane, Julius Malema or Bantu Holomisa. It wasn't even President Jacob Zuma, but the speaker and ANC chair Baleka Mbete who emerged as a guardian of constitutional values.

She allowed the secret ballot, and ensured that she was seen to not vote in the confidence motion on Tuesday due to a constitutional provision that forbids the person in an oversight role from doing so.

If Zuma was indeed behind Mbete acquiescing to a secret ballot, it is the clearest signal yet that he believes former home affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's chances of leading the party are dead in the water and he is opting for plan B to secure his choice of leader for the party once his term expires in December.

Like Mbeki seeking to cling to power in Polokwane, the events of this week suggest that history may repeat itself as an increasing courageous core of party stalwarts gain slow but steady momentum.

Less than 50% of the elected 400 MPs supported the president this week. Several were absent, but it should provide further evidence of falling support and the willingness of a vocal core of party members eager to keep him in place.

For ordinary South Africans, it's tragically business as usual.

We have a stuttering economy with no clear path to create the million jobs in five years the president promised.

Unemployment stats this week suggested that the second quarter saw no further deterioration on a disastrous first quarter when unemployment rose to 27.7%, but there is worse to come. The ANC has failed in almost every measure to deliver on lofty promises for our fledgling democracy. The real carnage in the jobs market is happening now. This week Lonmin all but rang a bell to announce it would add to the catastrophic layoffs in the mining sector - on top of more than 15000 jobs going between AngloGold Ashanti and Sibanye. Pick n Pay's voluntary scheme, which chopped 10% of its workforce, is evidence of hardship beyond the mining sector.

Business confidence has improved in recent months. Lower inflation, a slightly stronger rand and lower fuel prices have begun to positively impact sentiment in small and medium enterprises.

Now that the ANC has chosen to support Zuma, however, it will put ratings agencies on even higher alert for the December elective conference which, if current party strategy persists, will be negative for the country's economic future.

All bets are off. Again.

•  Whitfield is a public speaker on the political economy and an award-winning financial journalist, writer and broadcaster

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