Guest Column

How not to govern

2017-05-21 06:06
Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

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Solani Ngobeni

President Jacob Zuma’s years as head of state have been a spectacular advert for the rule of law. They have taken our understanding of the interface between executive power and private business interests to an incredibly high level. It is the Zuma years which have catapulted the notion of “state capture” into mainstream discourse. They have been a gift that keeps on giving for the knowledge-production industry.

The corrosive Zuma years have strengthened our constitutional resolve. If there is a lesson in all this, it is that we should not take our democratic dividend for granted.

The point was made during a Constitutional Court hearing this week on the motion of no confidence against the president that surely if the election of a head of state can be allowed to take place through a secret ballot, how much more protection do legislatures need when a motion of no confidence is debated, given that such an eventuality in our case would result in the resignation and loss of executive power by more than 70 individuals – meaning the president, his deputy, Cabinet ministers and their deputies?

Zuma will go eventually, whether through a motion of no confidence, or through a recall by the ANC’s national executive committee, or perhaps when his term of office ends. When he goes, there is a lot to take stock of. The Zuma years have been an incredible peer review process for our democratic project. Once Zuma is out of office, we will be in a much stronger position to fathom the weaknesses of our Constitution and articulate how to guard against an incumbent who is bent on prioritising the personal over the greater good.

There is no doubt that many in the ANC are pondering, going forward, how they should manage a president once they go rogue like Zuma has. How should Luthuli House manage its deployee in the Union Buildings should they deviate from consulting with the ANC when major decisions, such as Cabinet reshuffles, are undertaken under the pretext of “presidential prerogative”?

On a societal level, we are bound to ponder how we hold a head of state accountable when his political party affords him carte blanche as is currently the case. What do we do once a head of state confuses the national purse for his own? What should we do when a head of state eschews his constitutional responsibilities and crudely cedes them to unelected cronies? What should we do when executive power is ceded to private business interests and individuals? What should we do when a head of state overtly acts in his own, his family’s and his cronies’ interests as opposed to the national good? How should the relationship between those in the state and those in the private sector be managed? How should state-owned enterprises be used for the public good and not as instruments of patronage and personal fiefdoms for those in proximity to power?

The Zuma years are bound to unleash a plethora of excruciatingly incisive and perceptive thesis and tomes. We naively internalised the notion of “South African exceptionalism” and Zuma has rudely awakened us to the fact that we should not be blind to our own invincibility and mortality.

There is no doubt that the Zuma years have set back the struggle for black excellence by decades.

The Zuma years have been a spectacular exercise in how not to run a country.

Ngobeni is a book publisher and the 2007 South African finalist in the British Council’s International Young Publisher of the Year awards programme

Read more on:    anc  |  jacob zuma  |  politics
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