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A New Crisis in South Africa

As Malema continues to defy the ANC leadership, Zuma’s own future as ANC leader is looking vulnerable. He faces significant opposition from within three former sources of support: COSATU, the trade union congress, South Africa’s Communist Party, and the Youth League, as well as from several contenders for the presidency, including Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Malema’s favorite for the job.

“Jacob Zuma is a warm, charming man, but he is not a leader,” says Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape and a founder of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s largest opposition party. Zille and other political observers believe that Zuma could well face a revolt in the next electoral conference—much like the one he led in 2007 that resulted in Thabo Mbeki’s ouster.

But the removal of the president is still a long shot: he has South Africa’s security and intelligence services under tight control, and Motlanthe’s popularity doesn’t yet extend much beyond the Youth League. A successor could well reinstate Malema and endow him with more power. However his last-ditch appeal turns out, the young rabble rouser, who his biographer Fiona Forde calls “the most lethal politician in South Africa,” is unlikely to fade quietly from the scene.

—March 28, 2012

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