South Africa: The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same?

The race to succeed Jacob Zuma reached a critical new stage this weekend.

THE NEWS FLOW on President Zuma continues at a high pace. In the last two weeks, South Africans have tracked the following developments:

  • The President’s May 14 endorsement of his former wife Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma as the candidate to replace him as head of the African National Congress (ANC). This move was widely expected and Dlamini-Zuma is widely regarded as the candidate most likely to protect the president when he leaves office. 
  • The May 15 appeal to the Constitutional Court by the opposition United Democratic Movement for a secret vote on a yet-to-be scheduled vote of no confidence on President Zuma in South Africa’s parliament. The court has not made a ruling. 
  • The meeting of the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) on May 26-28 reportedly included debate on a proposal to remove President Zuma from office. Reports on Sunday suggested the committee decided not to vote on the no-confidence motion, with Zuma vowing in his closing address to the conference not to step down as president. 

In early May, Predata assessed that President Zuma was having considerable success in his efforts to wear out his opponents as he moved continually around the political ring,, à la Mohammad Ali’s “Rope A Dope” technique. While the outcome of the latest NEC meeting is not known, Zuma has continued to stay the course since March in trying to outlast the opposition, with some measure of success. Predata’s current monitoring of digital attention to pro- and anti-Zuma organizations and individuals (see below) indicates that the significant spike in anti-Zuma sentiment that followed the cabinet shuffle he announced at the end of March has subsided. 

pro-anti-zuma 5/28/17

At the same time, Zuma's efforts to wear out the opposition do not guarantee longer-term success even now that he appears to have survived the NEC meeting. His endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma as his successor as ANC president confirms our early May assessment that she is the “knock-out” blow that he would like to deploy. Nonetheless, the president’s hopes that Dlamini-Zuma will replace him appear no further along than was the case in early March (see below). 

zuma successors 5/28/17

While both Dlamini-Zuma and Deputy President Ramaphosa are now aggressively in campaign mode, Ramaphosa continues to enjoy the digital advantage. If accounts of Dlamini-Zuma's lackluster ability on the campaign trail are to be believed, it will take something more than the support of Zuma’s committed supporters in the ANC Youth League and the ANC Women’s League to put her over the top. A Bloomberg survey of 26 analysts in February showed that the succession race was too close to call. Amid all this uncertainty, Predata's anticipatory FX signals suggest the likelihood of a big single-day move in the rand remains elevated.  ⏪