ANC can no longer dodge its duty on Zuma
Although President Jacob Zuma's name was not on the ballot paper, the outcome of the ANC presidential election can justifiably be seen as a vote of no confidence in him. Zuma had not made it a secret that he wanted former AU Commission head and ANC veteran Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as his successor. He openly campaigned for her, especially in KwaZulu-Natal, where the party faithful initially seemed to be vacillating between backing the president's ex-wife or his one-time best friend, Zweli Mkhize.
He also used his office to try to swing the mood in her favour. On the morning of the first day of the conference, he took everybody by surprise when he announced that access to higher education would be free to students from poor and working-class families from the beginning of next year. The timing of this populist announcement - populist because it was not supported by any plan of how it was to be financed - clearly showed that Zuma was looking to influence the way delegates were going to vote.
His plan failed and Cyril Ramaphosa is now the new ANC president.
We can only speculate as to who would have won the race had Dlamini-Zuma run for ANC office without the Zuma baggage. She is clearly highly respected and loved in ANC structures. But her association with Zuma and a gallery of rogue ministers and ANC leaders with close ties to the Guptas contributed to her failure to be chosen by the majority of delegates - who are desperate to clean up the party's image ahead of the 2019 elections.
That most ANC delegates rejected Zuma, through their rejection of his preferred candidate, should not really be a surprise as he has been unpopular with the rest of society for a long time. Party members are waking up to the fact that their continued association with him could only lead to tears in 2019. It cost them Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg in the 2016 local government elections.
Despite Zuma's disastrous performance as ANC president and head of state, his party has resisted internal and public calls for him to be axed. It has argued that removing him risked splitting the party as he enjoyed support among its members. As court judgments against him piled up and more scandalous revelations emerged implicating Zuma in state capture and other acts of betrayal, Luthuli House refused to recall him from the Union Buildings.
It may have been easy to remove Thabo Mbeki as the country's president in 2008 because he was no longer in charge of the ANC, but Zuma was president of both, the party argued. Well, now he is no longer in charge at the ANC. The ball is in Luthuli House's court...