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Finally, who will succeed Zuma? His clients — the premiers of KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, Free State and the North West; the so-called “Premier League” — cannot imagine anything nicer than being allowed to fill their pockets for another five years, so they would like him to stay on. But the constitution forbids that and anyway, Zuma was only able to depose Thabo Mbeki because he was attempting a similar manoeuvre. So for Zuma the next best thing would be for his ex-wife Nkosazana, now head of the African Union, to take on the presidency. She would make sure Zuma did not go to jail on the nearly 800 counts against him; she is tough, authoritarian, very left-wing and otherwise suitable, though she is 70 and no one much likes her.

The greatest barrier to a Dlamini- Zuma presidency is that it is universally seen as a continuation of Zuma by other means. Until now it has had the air of inevitability because the Premier League and other beneficiaries of the Zuma patronage network could not imagine a better way to allow them to keep plundering their satrapies. But the local elections have given the party pause for thought. No one doubts that Zuma’s leadership and all the scandals associated with it cost the ANC votes. As a result thousands of councillors and placemen in the cities will now have lost their jobs. Already the DA is bringing charges of corruption against some of the old regime and more of this will doubtless follow. That is to say, until now Zuma has ruled through the plentiful patronage he provided, but now it is Zuma and what he stands for that will have cost the ANC a vast loss of patronage. This could well change the equation. If the Premier League and the other patronage bosses under Zuma sense that there is a better way to keep their power and spoils, they will bolt towards it. And if all that Dlamini-Zuma promises is another five year years of Zumaism, that may be enough to sink her.

The popular alternative to Zuma is Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy president. But Ramaphosa comes from the minority Venda tribe and has little grass-roots support. A far more substantial figure is the party treasurer, Dr Zweli Mkhize, formerly premier of the Zulu heartland KwaZulu-Natal. He and Ramaphosa appear to have made an informal alliance but if they are to challenge Dlamini- Zuma they will at some point have to come into the open and confront Zuma directly. Understandably, they are showing a great deal of discretion, not to say hesitation, about doing this. But the biggest effect of the local elections is that Zuma’s power to control the succession may have been much diminished.

Finally, the elections have left the ANC more reliant than ever on the Zulu bloc vote. Only in KwaZulu-Natal did the ANC vote hold up — in Msundizi (Pietermaritzburg) its vote even went up. And of the six big metros only eThekwini (Durban) remains a secure ANC stronghold. In effect the country has been ruled from Durban for some years now and eThekwini’s 41.6 billion rand (£2 billion) per year budget is now more than ever the ANC’s greatest honeypot. But Gauteng — which includes Pretoria and Johannesburg — is the country’s economic hub and now that the DA has won power there a new dynamic will ensue.

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