Southern African Dynasties: The Parties Strike Back

Southern African Dynasties

In recent years, political dynasties have received a lot of attention across the African continent as ageing presidents have been accused of trying to manoeuvre family members into the line of succession, to protect them and their interests after they step down. Until last year, it seemed that Angola, Zimbabwe and South Africa could have been following this path; however, the leaders of these countries evidently underestimated the power of their parties.

Decline of Dos Santos

It had long been speculated that Angola’s former President Eduardo dos Santos planned to appoint one of his children, or possibly his nephew, as his successor. After assuming power in 1979, dos Santos inserted his family into Angola’s political and economic hierarchy, and to many, the dos Santos family transcended the ruling MPLA. Consequently, it was expected that a member of the dos Santos family would take over the presidency. However, in December 2016, it was announced that dos Santos’s “hand-picked” successor was former Minister of Defence Joao Lourenco, who, unlike dos Santos family members, had the support of the MPLA.

Given that he was a member of dos Santos’s inner circle, it was widely expected that Lourenco would protect the former First Family’s interests.  However, as Africa Integrity predicted in our July 2017 Newsletter, Lourenco has sought to assert his authority by side-lining members of the dos Santos family. Africa Integrity understands that dos Santos is seriously ill and no longer has the influence he once had over the party, which has seemingly taken the opportunity to reassert itself as the primary organ of power in Angola.

A Fall from Grace

In Zimbabwe, it was a working assumption that Robert Mugabe’s successor would be either Joice Mujuru or Emmerson Mnangagwa – both former Vice Presidents. However, in 2014, Mugabe’s wife – Grace Mugabe – entered Zimbabwean politics and rapidly ascended to ZANU-PF’s politburo. By the end of 2014, Mujuru was removed from her position and later expelled from the party following a factionalist campaign led by Grace Mugabe. After Mujuru was removed, ZANU-PF coalesced into two factions, one aligned with Grace Mugabe, which was dominated by younger party members, and one aligned with Mnangagwa. Although Mnangagwa had more support in the party, on 6th November 2017, Mugabe seemingly cleared the path to the presidency for his wife by sacking Mnangagwa, who subsequently fled the country.

This move appeared to signal the creation of a Mugabe dynasty in Zimbabwe, but it was short lived. On 14th November 2017, the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) seized control of the country and initiated negotiations with Mugabe for his resignation. There was very little resistance to this from within ZANU-PF and the party’s favoured candidate – Mnangagwa – was sworn in as president on 24th November 2017. Given ZANU-PF’s close relationship with the ZDF, the military’s actions cannot be separated from the party’s wishes and, much like the MPLA, it appears that ZANU-PF reasserted its superior influence over that of the Mugabe family.

Not Another Zuma

In contrast to dos Santos and Mugabe, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma had not been in power as long, nor was his family as entrenched in the political and economic structures of the country. But he also wanted a family member to succeed him: in this case, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Dlamini-Zuma was a prominent figure in the pro-Zuma faction of the ruling ANC. Her candidacy faced opposition from influential sections of the party, which were acutely aware of the damage caused by corruption allegations against Zuma. But the pro-Zuma faction was very influential in the provincial ANC, which would play a vital role in selecting the party’s new president at the ANC’s National Conference in December 2017. Accordingly, the leadership race between Dlamini-Zuma and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa was too close to call. But, on 18th December 2017, Ramaphosa narrowly defeated Dlamini-Zuma. Again, this signalled a rejection by the liberation party of a future dominated by Zuma, his allies and his family.

The Power of the Liberation

Although the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC are all markedly different political parties, they share a common history of being liberation movements. And it is this shared history that may explain why each of the parties rejected the prospect of family dynasties. In all three countries, liberation credentials remain very important and in Angola and Zimbabwe, the presidents’ preferred successors lacked such credentials. In contrast, Lourenco fought in the Angolan War of Independence and Mnangagwa fought in the Zimbabwe War of Liberation. For many in the MPLA and ZANU-PF, the presidency should be held by individuals with such credentials in their own right.

Although the situation in South Africa was different, as both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma were anti-Apartheid activists, another important aspect of these liberation struggles is that the movement or party is paramount. In South Africa, Dlamini-Zuma’s victory risked splintering the ANC and potential electoral defeat. Similarly, in Zimbabwe, Grace Mugabe’s leadership would have brought underlying factionalism in ZANU-PF to the surface and, without the support of the ZDF, electoral defeat would have been a very real prospect. While the MPLA was probably in a stronger electoral position, a family dynasty would have further damaged the country’s international reputation and, given Angola’s poor economic situation, this would have posed a threat to the MPLA’s leadership.

Although cults of personality developed around dos Santos and particularly Mugabe, it is important to recognise that their power derived ultimately from their political parties and the military. While the circumstances are different in South Africa, the ANC is still the dominant political force in the country and it can be difficult to differentiate between the party and state. After fighting protracted liberation struggles, the MPLA, ZANU-PF and ANC were not willing to risk their supremacy by allowing family dynasties to emerge. It seems that, amongst the Southern African liberation movements, no individual or family is bigger than the party.

This article originally featured in Africa Integrity’s January 2018 Newsletter. To join our newsletter mailing list, please contact us.

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