The African National Congress (ANC) has been brought to its knees under the administration of President Jacob Zuma.
It has become increasingly difficult to see how the liberation movement can emerge from its 54th National Conference – set to take place in Gauteng this December – unscathed.
The governing party is at an important crossroads. Whatever transpires between now and the elective conference will have far-reaching consequences for the organisation. Under these circumstances some bold decision-making is normally required.
President Zuma, who has been undermined and betrayed by his own party at every turn during the past ten years, is still at the helm of the organisation. At this juncture, the ball is ultimately in his court.
Can he salvage anything from what has been a calamitous reign? The answer to that question is probably yes.
The students of South Africa and the Commission of Inquiry into the Feasibility of Making High Education and Training Fee-free have presented Zuma with an opening that most leaders in his position could only dream of.
In the past few months Zuma has delivered veiled swipes at those whom he feels have betrayed him and the organisation which he leads. However, all the accusations have been short on granular detail, probably because he feels that the eye-for-an-eye approach will do more harm to the ANC than good.
He has actually said, during a recent speaking engagement, that he has tried to take the higher ground during this tumultuous period, because he is still the President of the ANC and South Africa’s Head of State.
That is a rather limiting stance to adopt, which is why the decisions he takes on fee-free education have greater potential, than anything else, to secure a lasting legacy for Zuma. Without, as he would put it, jeopardising the future of the ANC.
When Zuma first contested the ANC Presidency he had managed to carve out a winning image for himself. He was the champion of the people, champion of the working class. It is an image he has not always been able to maintain while serving as South Africa’s Head of State.
However, if he gets this decision on the FeesCommission right, he could become the President of the people yet again. Whether free tertiary education is feasible or not is neither here nor there. Zuma does not even need it to be feasible at this point.
That is a problem his successor can deal with. The greater difficulty for his successor though, is the prospect of having to backtrack on free tertiary education, after Zuma has already set the wheels in motion.
Zuma will no longer be the enemy, his successor will.
If Zuma’s successor continues where he left off and ensures that the free tertiary education policy becomes a reality for poor South Africans, the ANC probably won’t ever lose an election.
The ANC President has the opportunity to hit two birds with one stone, to secure his legacy and possibly the legacy of the ANC.
Just how brave is he?
By Siya Mchunu