Jacob Zuma couldn't have plotted his meteoric ascendency any better if he had done it himself. Barney Mthombothi deconstructs the road to the presidency and the way Thabo Mbeki, in a few ironic twists, propelled Zuma to cult-like status. But what will life be like under Zuma? Will he surprise everyone as the charming people's president, or will there be a Zuma establishment behind the scenes that will be pulling the strings? And who in business will have his ear?
When Jacob Zuma proudly steps on to the hallowed grounds of the Union Buildings to claim his prize next month, he will do well to remember the contribution of Thabo Mbeki - the man he defeated after a brutal power struggle - to his improbable victory.
Without Mbeki's decisions, missteps and at times downright naiveté, it is doubtful whether Zuma would have even been in any position to pursue the highest office in the land. His victory is a gamble that paid off handsomely, beyond his wildest dreams.
Mbeki may not have plucked Zuma from obscurity. But he is unintentionally the architect of Zuma's presidential triumph. Zuma is a creation of Mbeki. The Zuma presidency - and the type of society that will be spawned by it - will be Mbeki's enduring legacy. He unwittingly chaperoned the man to power.
Zuma was minding his own business as the ANC leader in KwaZulu Natal, not greatly influencing policy decisions in the party, and may probably have seen the premiership of his beloved province as the zenith of his ambition, when Mbeki, on succeeding Nelson Mandela, anointed Zuma as his deputy.
Mbeki's motives in picking Zuma were hardly honourable. His intention was to stop the resurgent candidacy of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela. She was regarded as a shoo-in for deputy president. Mbeki personally intervened and stopped her nomination from the floor. Unlike Madikizela-Mandela, Zuma was seen as unthreatening and malleable. At the time, however, the grassroot s had no appetite for Zuma.
Though Mbeki wanted Zuma to be his deputy in the ANC, he never saw him as deputy president of SA. That's how lowly he thought of the man who was later to bite the hand that raised him.
Mbeki wanted Mangosuthu Buthelezi to be deputy president of the country, and in exchange, he wanted the IFP to forgo its claim to the KZN premiership. But Buthelezi balked.
As one of Mandela's two deputies - FW de Klerk was the other - Mbeki was in charge of the day-to-day running of government. He was almost a co-president.
When Mbeki succeeded Mandela, he took all the powers with him.
Buthelezi saw the position for the shell it was, and promptly rejected it. Mbeki had no alternative but to offer the job to Zuma, the man who should have got it in the first place.
Zuma was to serve his boss with loyalty and diligence. There is no evidence of Zuma disagreeing with Mbeki or hoeing a different path to his.
In 2001, after a near-rebellion in the ANC when Mbeki had accused three party stalwarts - Mathews Phosa, Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale - of plotting to overthrow him, Zuma, at the behest of Mbeki acolytes, pledged his loyalty to Mbeki and promised not to challenge him for the ANC leadership.
That episode marked the beginning of simmering dissent against Mbeki's leadership, which up to that point had been secure and unassailable. Nobody, in either the party or government, dared to question him even as he pursued loony policies on HIV/Aids and Zimbabwe. Zuma remained the loyal lieutenant as Mbeki excoriated Cosatu and the SACP - now among Zuma's most fervent supporters - for challenging his economic policies.
It was the conviction of Schabir Shaik, Zuma's so-called financial adviser, that eventually drove a wedge between the two. With his deputy being investigated by a unit headed by Bulelani Ngcuka, a close associate, Mbeki had to walk a tightrope. He's known to have complained to his aides that while Ngcuka kept him informed about the progress of the investigation of Zuma's relationship with Shaik, Zuma was studiously keeping matters to himself.
And, not for the first time, Mbeki was to save Zuma's bacon. Ngcuka is known to have wanted to charge Zuma and Shaik together, but was dissuaded from doing so by Mbeki. Ngcuka said as much in an off-the-record briefing with black editors. One newspaper quoted Ngcuka at the time saying Zuma would leave the Union Buildings in leg irons. In the end, he didn't.
Ngcuka's now infamous announcement at a press briefing, with then justice minister Penuell Maduna sitting next to him, that though he had a prima facie case against Zuma it was unwinnable, was in retrospect a parting shot by a man who knew he had a case against Zuma but had been stopped from nailing him.
Shaik's conviction, and especially Judge Hilary Squires's strong comments on corruption and Zuma's implication in it, forced Mbeki to announce Zuma's dismissal as deputy president. That unleashed a political tsunami, to use Zwelinzima Vavi's word, that was ultimately to sink Mbeki's career.
In sacking him from government, Mbeki also convinced Zuma to stand down from his party responsibilities, thus condemning him to some sort of political purdah. In other words, his political career would come to an end. Zuma was later to tell the party faithful that this was done without his consent.
It was Zuma's good fortune that his dismissal came immediately before a meeting of the party's national general council, a body that has the power to overrule the leadership. Zuma's supporters came fully prepared, and it was here that Mbeki lost the party.
A rebellion from the floor forced Zuma's reinstatement as party deputy president. Mbeki tried to play the unifier while at the same time standing by his dismissal of Zuma. It didn't work. Instead the differences between the two men escalated into open warfare between the Zuma and Mbeki camps. Zuma's fortunes were resuscitated.
It was at the end of that conference, in an interview with the SABC, that Mbeki indicated he was prepared to serve another term as party leader.
Zuma supporters saw red. At last the reason for what they saw as the persecution of their leader was out in the open - it was to frustrate their man from becoming party leader, leaving the way clear for Mbeki to stay at the helm and probably change the constitution to allow him to serve a third term as the country's president.
It was a political conspiracy. Also fuelling the animosity was the person Mbeki chose to replace Zuma as deputy president. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is married to Bulelani Ngcuka, who, after Mbeki, is probably the most hated man among Zuma supporters. They see him as the source of all Zuma's woes. Mbeki, as is his wont, never explained why he saw Mlambo-Ngcuka, fairly junior in the party, as an adequate replacement for Zuma. It was left to his foes to offer their own explanation.
Zuma's options were clear: it was either to roll over, play dead and end up in prison, or take on Mbeki, defeat him and use his position to quash the corruption charges. He chose the latter. Having been relieved of his governmental responsibilities but still ANC deputy president, a ceremonial position with little responsibility, he had all the time in the world to use party structures to campaign for the leadership against Mbeki.
Mbeki's biggest blunder, which played into Zuma's hands, was to believe in his own political immortality. He just could not bring himself to believe that ANC members could reject him in favour of somebody he's always regarded as a bit of a buffoon.
But reject him they did. While Zuma, with little to do, was attending every party function or meeting on offer, no matter how inconsequential, Mbeki was usually out of the country as if he was unaware of the leadership challenge from Zuma. Mbeki didn't campaign. He didn't even see the need to lay out his case to the party membership as to why he should be re-elected party leader, especially given that the constitution didn't allow him to serve a third term as the country's president.
Thus suspicion was allowed to fester that Mbeki wanted to remain party leader either to anoint a sycophant as president who he would be able to control from Luthuli House, or, at worst, to change the constitution to allow him a third crack at the presidency.
But going into the elective conference in Polokwane in December 2007, Mbeki was already dead meat, a beaten man. Weeks earlier, Zuma had handsomely trounced him in provincial elections. But Mbeki could neither appreciate nor understand the depth of feeling against him in the party.
A more politically astute man would have thrown in the towel long before Polokwane, thus avoiding the humiliation he suffered, and possibly Zuma's triumph.
There was no raison de'être to Mbeki's candidacy. He simply assumed that the delegates would vote for him once they were out of the clutches of their minders in the branches. It was, after all, their duty. That's how he thought.
It's this thinking that, for instance, underpins the ANC's deployment policy. You do things not because it's in your own interest to do so, but because it's your duty to the party. It's the mindset that ruled the party in exile. But the party membership has moved on, and left Mbeki - and some of the exile brigade - behind.
If Mbeki was in tune with the thinking in the party he would have known that by staying in the race, he was helping Zuma's cause; that the only way to stop Zuma was for him to step aside and allow some of the attractive candidates on offer - such as Cyril Ramaphosa, Trevor Manuel, Mosiuoa Lekota, Kgalema Motlanthe - to enter the race.
Zuma's strongest selling point was the fact that he wasn't Mbeki. Many party delegates who were not too enthusiastic about Zuma voted for him just to prevent Mbeki from hanging on to power. Maybe Mbeki wanted to follow the example of his hero Robert Mugabe and cling to power forever. They just didn't know. They were not prepared to take that gamble. And so Zuma profited.
In a strange sort of way, Mbeki is the chief architect of the coming Zuma presidency. He plucked him from anonymity when few people thought much of him. And when the two fell out and slugged it out legally and politically, Mbeki made so many blunders, which effectively smoothed Zuma's path to power.
That is Mbeki's legacy.
The Zuma establishment - Power players
by Carol Paton
When Jacob Zuma takes office as president, a new elite will gather around him. Who will he take advice from, and where will power and influence be located?
As in the case of any president anywhere, Jacob Zuma's choice of people he surrounds himself with will make or break his term in high office. So far, many of his choices have been worrying: the Shaik family, to whom he is financially indebted; leaders of the SA Communist Party (SACP), to whom he is politically indebted; and several business people, some with dubious motives, who have liberally handed out cash to fund the ANC, the "Friends of Jacob Zuma" or Zuma's lavish personal lifestyle.
But Zuma is trying hard to break this mould. He has berated members of the ANC's national executive committee (NEC) for jostling for positions and, as the election draws near, has from several platforms publicly reinforced his contention that he "owes nobody". He has shot down the idea of the "super cabinet", which would have created two tiers of ministers. And he has sparked intense competition among his acolytes, promising to fire underperforming ministers.
However, at the same time as he is preparing to exercise his presidential prerogative, Zuma is, by nature, very consultative. He is prepared to give almost anyone an audience. And when it comes to decision making he seldom acts alone. As ANC president he has relied on both ANC officials and the NEC sub committees to inform him of what he should do and say.
Unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, he works closely with the ANC, and even when he becomes president he will remain attached to the small group of his confidants, who are not all like-minded. Several share his roots in ANC intelligence structures; others his political roots in KwaZulu Natal; and the remainder have grown close to him over the past five years as they together campaigned to oust Mbeki.
Some of them - for example, KwaZulu Natal premier candidate Zweli Mkhize - began lobbying for Zuma as far back as 2001, when he is said to have confidently predicted that "only Zuma's murder would stop him from becoming president".
Mkhize, ANC insiders agree, is Zuma's closest confidant and the person he believes he can most trust. Since Polokwane, Mkhize has been rocketed to the top echelons of the ANC and is now regarded as one of the organisation's foremost policy thinkers.
Mo Shaik, a former intelligence and underground operative and a family friend, enjoys similar exclusive access to Zuma. Shaik has been central to strategising around Zuma's legal defence both politically and legally. He developed many of the arguments used in representations to the National Prosecuting Authority, which resulted in it dropping its corruption charges against Zuma.
But Shaik is neither on the NEC nor on its parliamentary list, so he is without a legitimate political base in the organisation. When Zuma becomes president, he will need to formalise relationships such as these for purposes of transparency. It might be difficult, with some ANC cadres speculating that after the election Shaik's exclusive access will diminish. But Shaik's skill at manipulating information means that in reality he is unlikely to be too far from the president's ear.
Besides Mkhize, Shaik and trade union leader Zwelinzima Vavi, the nucleus of Zuma's inner circle is the ANC's top leadership, some of whom will continue to run the ANC while others will make up the senior core of cabinet.
They include Gwede Mantashe, Kgalema Motlanthe, Mathews Phosa, Jeff Radebe, Lindiwe Sisulu, Siphiwe Nyanda and Baleka Mbete. Safety & security minister Nathi Mthethwa, another of Zuma's KwaZulu Natal connections, is also highly trusted.
Since Polokwane, dynamics within Zuma's circle have been poisonous. The ANC Youth League has criticised and attacked some leaders publicly in a deliberate attempt to prevent them from building their own public profiles. Motlanthe, who is warming Zuma's seat at the Union Buildings, has had the details of his private life aired in the press - associating him with debt, adultery and a dodgy businessman. One of the stories about a young woman claiming to be pregnant with Motlanthe's child looked suspiciously like a counter intelligence plant.
Inside the ANC, fingers have been pointed at SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande as the source of many of these machinations. Also, the youth league has been accused of being a stalking horse for the SACP. Nzimande denies the allegations, but the matter got so serious it reached the agenda of the NWC.
The infighting has raised Nzimande's profile as a key player in the Zuma camp. But how influential is he? Nzimande was one of the first to declare support for Zuma. While the SACP itself never took a decision to campaign for Zuma, an informally constituted Left caucus of the ANC, consisting of high-ranking SACP members, decided to back Zuma after the SACP conference in 2002. This was done at the coaxing of Nzimande, who argued that it was the way to dislodge Mbeki and his power bloc.
During Mbeki's presidency, SACP leaders had no doubt that a split in the alliance was being engineered and that the increasing marginalisation of the SACP was a ploy to force a rupture. But after Polokwane, the status of the SACP and Cosatu as partners was restored.
However, it does not necessarily follow that Nzimande is inordinately influential. Several ANC insiders say Nzimande's influence on Zuma is exaggerated and that Zuma has privately expressed his annoyance at the SACP leader's insistent politicking. It's also not the case that the SACP will have a hold over ANC policy after the election.
In a recent discussion with a prominent Johannesburg stockbroker, ANC treasurer Phosa facetiously remarked that the ANC would turn the new crop of communist leaders into capitalists - as happened in the cabinets of Mbeki and Nelson Mandela.
It's most unlikely, though, that any of the present crop of communists to be appointed to cabinet will abandon his political base as easily or foolishly as communists did before. Still, it has become clear from the way the articulation of economic policy positions by Zuma and Mantashe has changed over the past year (from outright rejection of fiscal prudence to understanding and acceptance) that the realities of governing have already begun to cast matters in a different light.
To counteract this trend of being co-opted into the conventional way of seeing the world, the SACP has appealed to the ANC to consult with it when it comes to the cabinet appointments of communists. "We expect there will be communists in cabinet and this time we want a hand in choosing them. Not that they would be accountable to us, but it gives us a bit of a handle on them," says Nzimande.
Some concessions to the Left will be made. For instance, any attempt to compromise workers' rights through labour market reform will be a nonstarter, especially following the entrenchment of the concept of "decent work" in the manifesto. There is already acceptance that government will take more responsibility for creating jobs.
And more than before the alliance will be closer to decision making, since an " alliance political council" - which includes top officials from each organisation - will meet regularly. This will give alliance leaders structured and ongoing access to the president of the country, the prize for which they have fought since 1994.
This closeness is sure to have an effect of some sort. However, the Left is not the only coherent interest group in the ANC.
The NEC is weighed down with a significant number of heavy-hitting capitalists who through business dealings and family connections are heavily networked into the elite black business community. This includes Tokyo Sexwale, Phosa, Nyanda, Valli Moosa and Tony Yengeni as well as Zola Skweyiya and Radebe, whose wives are important black empowerment players.
A former Gauteng premier, Sexwale has taken a gamble on leaving business and returning to full-time politics. To make it worth his while he will need a big cabinet portfolio, and is said to have his eye on the foreign affairs ministry. Though he is close to the youth league (having employed or done business with many youth leaders) and has bankrolled the ANC's election campaign, particularly through making his fleet of private jets available, Sexwale does not sit comfortably in the warmth of Zuma's inner circle. Neither position nor power is assured him.
Unfortunately, none of the business types in the ANC's upper echelons can really be considered a good economic brain. Though there is a preponderance of "spooks", there are not many economists, a business leader points out.
In the NEC's sub committee on economic transformation the three main role players are Max Sisulu, who chairs the committee; former Eastern Cape finance MEC Enoch Godongwana; and SACP deputy general secretary Jeremy Cronin.
Though all three can be expected to play a role in the Zuma cabinet (and Godongwana has been especially touted) none has the status or clout that would reassure outsiders that economic policy is in safe hands.
In this context, Trevor Manuel - who has decided that he has a role to play in the next period - will be very important. Manuel's experience and vision as finance minister at a time when the economy faces its greatest difficulties will be invaluable.
Zuma's big test, business leaders and external commentators agree, will be in his appointments, especially in the economic ministries. Apart from the finance ministry, which will be crucial - and it is hoped that Manuel will be able to do one more year while a deputy gets to grips with the area - business also has its sights on other economic appointments. Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni's contract expires in August; also there are the trade and industry portfolios which are to be split, and the planning commission - to be located in the presidency - which will be very influential. One of the most important technical experts in the presidency, who will be part of the planning commission, will be Alan Hirsch, deputy head of the presidency's policy advisory services. He has indicated that he hopes to continue his work in government.
Zuma still has the chance to "surprise us", says a business leader, and make some imaginative appointments not just to the executive but also to administrative or consultant positions in government. There are several retired top executives, passionate about SA's success, who would take up opportunities to use their skills in government if asked. Bobby Godsell, former AngloGold Ashanti CEO, who has recently become the chairman of Business Leadership SA, is a name frequently mentioned.
There are also several individuals in business who were once top civil servants and who have indicated that they would be open to returning to government service, provided that competence (both of ministers and officials) is the most important criterion for appointments. Ketso Gordhan, former city manager of Johannesburg turned banker, has already raised his hand, and there are others.
If Zuma broadens the elite around him through good appointments, and keeps his word about firing incompetents, the new establishment he builds could be made much stronger than it is now.
Where business stands - An ear to the ground
by Carol Paton and Thebe Mabanga
As a new political elite takes shape around Zuma, who in business will have the presidential ear?
Like his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, Zuma has a coterie of businesspeople he is close to. Most of them have supported him through his marathon slog to the presidency.
Their names are familiar: Vivian Reddy, head of Edison Corp and longstanding funder of the ANC and Zuma; Sandile Zungu, chairman of Zungu Investment Company; Matodzi Resources CEO Sello Rasethaba; and GijimaAst executive chairman Robert Gumede.
At an ANC fundraising dinner put on by the latter three last year, Gumede threw in R10m of his personal fortune.
Donations of this size are equalled only by African Rainbow Minerals chairman Patrice Motsepe who, as well as being a huge benefactor of the ANC in the Mbeki era, always kept his options open.
Flying a little lower under the radar is the MD of Indian company Sahara Computers, Atul Gupta. In recent months he has become a more visible ANC and Zuma supporter. Gupta and Tokyo Sexwale, who own private jets and helicopters, have seen to Zuma's transport needs during the election campaign.
Jay and Jayendra Naidoo, founders of diversified investment company J&J Group, have also reappeared on the political scene after being shut out of lucrative deals that required political connections during the Mbeki era.
For businesspeople in active politics, like Sexwale and former defence force chief Siphiwe Nyanda, being close to Zuma is a double-edged sword. Should they be appointed to the cabinet, which is likely, they will have to choose between politics and remaining actively involved in their businesses.
Zuma has a high level of trust in these businessmen and it is expected he will turn to them informally for advice. However, for established business and big business in particular, not being a part of this coterie is not a significant problem. Their power means they won't be ignored and it is expected that the working groups that Mbeki hosted with business and labour will continue.
In fact, rather than losing influence, organised business - through Business Leadership SA (which brings together the biggest corporations and multi nationals in SA) - is optimistic that business-government relations in the Zuma era will improve.
While Mbeki's pro-business stance - his prudent economic policies - was much vaunted, the truth is big business fought unsuccessfully to get Mbeki's ear. Instead of feeling valued and respected, business leaders would find themselves on the receiving end of bitter public rebukes by Mbeki.
There is optimism about Zuma's consultative style. Says a top executive: "We had no access to Mbeki. The way it works in the rest of the world is that captains of industry can pick up the phone to the president - that's expected. With Mbeki it needed a Saki [Macozoma] who was cosy enough to make a call."
On the institutional level, it is expected that Business Leadership SA (BLSA) head Macozoma will assume a less prominent role due to his defection to the opposition Congress of the People (Cope). On the other hand, Bobby Godsell, Leslie Maasdorp and Maria Ramos all have good connections with various members of the elite around Zuma. Godsell, who is now chairman of BLSA and of Eskom, is expected to play a more influential role.
Another change is that power in the ANC is decentralising. So it is possible to achieve influence by accessing the people around Zuma and not necessarily having to speak to Zuma himself.
There has been much evidence of such decentralised access. For example, the Hospital Association of SA invited Zweli Mkhize as chairman of the ANC health committee to talk about the Health Amendment Bill. The Afrikaner business community has engaged with both ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe and treasurer-general Mathews Phosa.
Though the formation of Cope looked like offering an attractive political home for the black business class, as the dust has settled, that danger has passed. And the ANC has held on well to both black business, which looks to it and the state for special advantages, and to the black middle classes in the state bureaucracy.
So, though the faces of those lucky enough to have dinner with the president will change after Zuma's inauguration, for everyone else it should be business as usual.