Adriaan Basson

Zuma's birthday from hell

2017-04-13 08:24
President Jacob Zuma walks during a site visit at Westonaria Agri-Park. (Lerato Sejake, News24)

President Jacob Zuma walks during a site visit at Westonaria Agri-Park. (Lerato Sejake, News24)

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As far as 75th birthdays go, President Jacob Zuma had one of the more miserable celebrations in recent history on Wednesday.

Before I describe Zuma’s day from hell in detail, we have to congratulate the president. Seriously, not a lot of 75 year olds wield the kind of power and influence he does. A masterful strategist and survivor, Zuma may be close to playing his final card, but what a ride it was.

Salusa45 should definitely consider introducing a 75 supplement named after him. As far as tenacity and endurance go, Zuma is a pensioner to look up to.

Sitting in his oversized white bling chair at his muted birthday party in Kliptown, Soweto, I wondered if Zuma was for a moment considering retiring to Nkandla to spend his twilight years with his family, his cows and his chickens.

The day started with Mathole Motshekga, once a staunch Zuma ally and former ANC chief whip, calling on the ANC to call a special meeting of the national executive committee (NEC) to deal with the Zuma matter.

The calls for Zuma to step down from thousands of South Africans should not be taken lightly and the ANC should talk about these things, Motshekga, currently the chair of Parliament’s justice portfolio committee, told News24.

The last time the NEC discussed the possibility of a Zuma recall in November 2016, it took them three days to decide not to do it. This time the Derek Hanekom option may very well find fertile ground.

Motshekga’s comments on Zuma’s birthday caused an internal storm in the ANC and opened up discussions about a special NEC meeting.

Still recovering from the disastrous Qatari state visit, which saw Zuma messing around the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, Zuma switched on his TV to visuals of thousands of mostly black South Africans, gathering on Church Square for this week’s #ZumaMustFall protest march to the Union Buildings.

Despite his best attempts to divert the attention from the march to alleged racist posters he (and seemingly nobody else) saw at Friday’s #PeoplesMarch, Zuma was mocked and ridiculed on social media and by speakers on Wednesday for his failed attempt to turn the moment into a debate about racism.

Wednesday’s opposition party march was at least double the size of Friday’s protest march that saw between 20 000 and 25 000 South Africans walking to the Union Buildings.

In an unprecedented show of unity, South Africa’s opposition leaders put aside ideology, party politics and even religion to unite against Zuma. Julius Malema’s EFF brought out thousands of protesters and he was the unofficial “leader” of the resistance.

Mmusi Maimane’s absence was strange (why is he abroad again?), but the DA’s Phumzile van Damme looked extremely comfortable as she led a crowd of mainly EFF supporters in struggle songs. Wednesday’s #NationalDayofAction showcased a new, young generation of politicians that should have the ageing ANC worried.

A few kilometres away at the North Gauteng High Court, three judges finally “fired” Zuma’s controversial choice of Hawks boss, General Berning Ntlemeza. The court’s order, that found him unfit to be in the position, was made with immediate effect.

Late on Wednesday City Press’ ace investigative reporter, Abram Mashego, tweeted that Ntlemeza had been granted early retirement. Police Minister Fikile Mbalula is expected to make an announcement about this on Thursday.

This is a huge blow for Zuma and his patronage network. Ntlemeza was a terrible head of the Hawks and under him corruption cases like the Nkandla, Prasa and Bosasa investigations went nowhere. The lowest point of his short career in the position was his pathetic attempts to arrest and prosecute former finance minister Pravin Gordhan on cooked-up charges.

Mbalula announced he would no longer appeal the Ntlemeza ruling, indicating that Zuma had made peace with the fact that he is unfit for the job. The question is now who will replace Ntlemeza as South Africa’s corruption buster.

The name of Robert McBride, head of police watchdog Ipid, has been mentioned in this regard, but without confirmation. If McBride becomes Hawks boss, it would be a stunning comeback for the former MK leader, who just a few months ago was out in the cold after being suspended by former police minister Nkosinathi Nhleko.

Then more bad news for Zuma dropped: the interim SABC board was considering scrapping Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s crazy 90% local content decree, which drained the public broadcaster’s coffers to the point of financial collapse. Motsoeneng was Zuma’s staunchest ally in the media and this was a sign that momentum had shifted sufficiently for King Hlaudi to be sidelined.

But Zuma’s birthday was about to get worse: British spin doctors Bell Pottinger announced in a statement that they had broken all ties with the Gupta family’s Oakbay company. Bell Pottinger was instrumental in engineering the public focus away from the Guptas’ capture of the state, as laid bare in former public protector Thuli Madonsela’s report.

An unconfirmed intelligence report is doing the rounds in the ANC alliance, claiming that Zuma had personally benefitted from Bell Pottinger’s intervention by creating positive PR for his son, Duduzane, and former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who Zuma wants to succeed him as ANC president in December.

Bell Pottinger dropped the Zuptas three days before a march on their London office by South Africans.

Zuma then made off to his birthday party in Kliptown. Let there be no doubt: the absence of four of the ANC’s top six (Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe, Zweli Mkhize and Baleka Mbete) from Zuma’s bash is telling. Deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte and Water and Sanitation Minister Nomvula Mokonyane cut lone figures alongside Zuma, who looked old and tired in his white chair. Zuma said he would step down if the ANC wanted him to, daring the likes of Motshekga and other outspoken ANC leaders to table another motion of no confidence at the next NEC meeting.

All these events point to one thing: power is slipping away from Zuma and his coterie of supporters. He is by no means down and out, but momentum is building up for the ANC to recall him in the interest of the country and the party.

South Africans, including ANC supporters, don’t want to support a loser. On Wednesday, Zuma started looking like one.

- Adriaan Basson is editor of News24. Follow him on Twitter.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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