The race for the African National Congress presidency will be settled at the ANC Conference in Mangaung (Bloemfontein) at the end of the year. The winner at Mangaung will be the ANC's presidential candidate in 2014 and therefore, given the ANC's continuing electoral dominance, president of the country to 2019. The incumbent, Jacob Zuma, is widely seen as corruptible, uneducated, incompetent and unable to provide leadership even on basic issues, more interested in using state funds to build a palace for himself and his wives at Nkandla, the village in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) where he was born. Long ago the chattering classes of all races, including most newspaper editors and the black middle class in the economic capital, Gauteng (which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria), pronounced another Zuma term utterly unthinkable.
Meanwhile Zuma, with quiet deliberateness, has been going about his re-election. Key to this has been the huge ANC membership drive in KZN, where there is a sense that the leadership has come home where it belongs. The founder of the ANC, John Dube, and its first great leader in the modern era, Albert Luthuli, were both Zulu, but until Zuma’s accession in 2007 the presidency had been held by Xhosas (Tambo, Mandela, Mbeki) for forty years. Zuma's cabinet has a large Zulu majority and his rule has seen a bonanza for his home province, including the construction of the 6.7 billion rand King Shaka International Airport in Durban, which the International Air Transport Association called an ‘extravagance’ that ‘cannot be justified’.
The membership drive in KZN depends on the Zulu nationalism that Zuma has again brought to the fore, and which had previously been seen as the preserve of Chief Buthelezi's Inkatha Freedom Party (now nearly defunct). KZN is now the biggest province in the ANC with more than a fifth of the vote at its conference. There has been a good deal of fighting over patronage spoils, which has seen many assassinations in KZN, but the province is now locked up solid for Zuma. So are the neighbouring (and, to some extent, satellite) provinces of Mpumalanga and Free State, bringing the Zuma vote up to 40 per cent.
This will see Zuma safely home. He is bound to end up with at least a large minority vote in the Eastern Cape which, together with bits and pieces in the Northern Cape, Limpopo and North West, will guarantee him victory. But the two most metropolitan provinces, Gauteng and the Western Cape, find continued Zuma rule almost unimaginable. Gauteng produces more than a third of South Africa's GDP and is used to getting its way. The Anyone But Zuma (ABZ) forces have come up with Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma's current deputy president, as their candidate and have made strategic use of Julius Malema, the expelled former youth leader. But Motlanthe's candidacy is clearly doomed and he may end up not standing at all.
The problem is that while Gauteng is the most populous and richest province, it is only the fourth biggest in voting terms within the ANC. The bulk of the ANC vote is rural, and kept happy by the ANC’s giving local chiefs all the power they want, which among other things condemns rural women to helotry. By definition this breaks the ANC's commitment to gender equality but the fact is that the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has already won Cape Town and the Western Cape, and is gaining ground in Port Elizabeth, Johannesburg and Pretoria. The ANC is steadily losing the cities and its urban elite depends ever more clearly on the votes of the rural masses, so if the ANC is to cling on, it has to sell out rural women, so that is what it has decided to do. It goes without saying that such a model is not sustainable in the long term.