The main beneficiary from the release of former president Jacob Zuma will be the ANC. Had Zuma remained in jail as the elections continued, the ANC would have performed worse than in 2016 writes Professor Bheki Mngomezulu.
By Professor Bheki Mngomezulu
THE DECISION by the parole board to release former President Jacob Zuma from jail on medical grounds has been met with different reactions across the spectrum. There are those who interpret this development from a political point of view.
Secondly, some interpret this decision from a compassionate point of view and fully embrace it. Those who are in the legal fraternity interpret the decision from a legal perspective. Zuma’s political adversaries interpret this decision with disdain.
Before we get carried away by this decision, it is important to interpret this development in a dispassionate and objective manner.
Firstly, medical parole is not a new policy decision that has been made particularly for Zuma. Conversely, it has been there on the legal procedures for some time.
Secondly, it is not the first time that someone has been released from jail on medical parole. Not so long ago, Schabir Shaik was released through this method. Certainly, this is not the last time that something like this happens.
But the most critical question begging is: What are the implications of this decision for the ANC?
Undoubtedly, the release of Zuma has come as blessing to the ANC in many ways. Firstly, the manner in which Zuma was treated by some of his comrades left a sour taste in his mouth. By the time he went to jail relations between him and some of his former comrades had already reached its lowest ebb. Zuma felt that he had been left in the lurch by some of those who he trusted.
Secondly, the ANC has been facing challenges regarding the non-payment of the salaries of its employees. This saw the party’s offices temporarily closing down due to protests by disgruntled members.
Thirdly, as other political parties prepared for the forthcoming local government elections, the ANC registered not less than 200 disputes from some of its members. These members complained about irregularities in the candidates’ nomination process.
Fourthly, to add salt to the already festering wound, the ANC was unable to register some of its candidates. In its own defence, it complained about technical glitches with the IEC’s system. However, this argument did not hold water since other political parties were able to meet the set deadline.
The party’s decision to approach the Electoral Court and its last-minute U-turn to approach the IEC directly on this matter led to many speculations.
Opposition political parties such as the DA (epitomised by Helen Zille) insinuated that the reason for the ANC’s decision to re-direct its request was because it had received information that the Constitutional Court was going to rule in favour of the IEC to postpone to the local government election to February 2021.
In the end, this accusation proved to be baseless since the Constitutional Court ruled that the election should continue in 2021 and directed that a date should be set between October 27 and November 1, 2021. Subsequently, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma set the date to November 1, 2021.
Lastly, some branches of the ANC had already stated that they would not vote for the ANC. This decision was based on their disgruntlement about the manner in which the nomination process had been handled. The removal of other candidates’ names from the list in different parts of the country gave the ANC leadership a headache.
Given these chain of events, the release of Zuma is a welcome move for the ANC for various reasons. First and foremost, this decision will disarm those who have been causing mayhem under the guise of fighting for the release of Zuma.
The second reason is that the release of Zuma will avert voter apathy which would have been occasioned by his incarceration – which was perceived to be unfair by a large number of South Africans. The fact that Zuma was jailed without any formal trial reminded the nation of the ugly old days of apartheid.
The third reason is that even those members of the electorate who are not necessarily ANC members but who normally vote for the ANC may be persuaded to vote for it once again now that Zuma has been released.
The fourth reason is that the evident bifurcation of the ANC will be reduced as anger against the alleged sell-outs within the party subsides.
Lastly, the potential disruptions that might have taken place on the build-up to and/or during the election will most likely be averted.
In a nutshell, the main beneficiary from this release of Zuma will be the ANC. Had Zuma remained in jail as the elections continued, the ANC would have performed worse than in 2016.
* Bheki Mngomezulu is professor of Political Science and Deputy Dean of Research at the University of the Western Cape.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA and Independent Media.