Mpumelelo Mkhabela

Zuma is enjoying his moment, but how long will it last?

2017-08-11 08:46
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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Two things happened after the no-confidence motion in President Jacob Zuma failed.

Firstly, DA leader Mmusi Maimane decided to table a motion to have Parliament dissolved and for fresh general elections to be held. For him, the country is so directionless that only a fresh mandate from voters would set it on the right track.

Whether or not Maimane’s strategy is politically sound for the purposes of curing the serious and valid concerns that he highlights, is a different question. What is important, though, is that it’s not an illegal proposition. It’s perfectly provided for in the Constitution. Like the motion of no confidence, which was constitutionally permissible, the attempt to dissolve Parliament can be defeated.

Maimane’s political detractors are accusing him of desperately trying to unseat the ANC from power. As a leader of the opposition, he probably would like to hear more of that accusation. A political party not keen on taking power has no reason to exist.  (I digress to mention that the South African Communist Party, which wants us to believe that it has an ideological posture distinct from that of the ANC, must contest elections.)

Maimane is trying to identify with the sense of desperation that has gripped millions of South Africans who are struggling to eke out a living in an economy that has stopped growing and is regressing. He is trying to offer inspiration to both the working class and capitalist who, despite their class differences, agree on the undesirability of Zuma’s destructive leadership.

The more Maimane acts desperate – and fails in removing Zuma – he and his party probably calculate, the more likely voters will identify with him because they too are desperate. It’s not just about those without jobs.

The middle classes – black and white – are psychologically tortured to see a beautiful country with so much potential being willfully ruined. It is probably with this in mind that Maimane thinks his political strategy would be deemed virtuous by the public.

The challenge for Maimane is to pace his strategy in a manner consistent with the extent of desperation among voters. Pacing himself miles ahead of them, in a manner which might be construed anarchic, could have the unintended consequences of repelling rather than attracting support. But the jury is out.

The second important thing that happened after the no-confidence motion was that Zuma visited Galeshewe in Kimberley for the scheduled state-sponsored celebration of Women’s Day. Without a shred of shame, Jacob Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma turned the official event into a campaign platform. Zuma and his supporters sang in praise and endorsement of Dlamini-Zuma’s presidential ambitions.

Zuma, his ex-wife and their ANC supporters essentially dedicated the event to their ANC factions. Dlamini-Zuma was depicted on our television screens looking amused and blushing at the same time. And once she ascends to the throne, she will be telling the nation and government officials that no one must use state resources for personal gain. We will, of course, be expected to believe and obey. If ever there was a case of passing the baton literally with all its malfeasance, this was it.

The conduct of a head of state, presiding over a state function that is turned, with his approval, into an electioneering platform, is unethical and unconstitutional. It is potentially prosecutable in terms of the Prevention and Combating of Corrupt Activities Act. This law prohibits the awarding of undue benefit. Zuma facilitated or endorsed the facilitation of the undue benefit that Dlamini-Zuma enjoyed at the government event. Zuma himself and his family stands to benefit from the elevation of Dlamini-Zuma to the presidency.

It is also in violation of the Executive Ethics Code. This law seeks to prevent conflict of interests among members of the executive, including the president.  Zuma is conflicted because, as it was established in the Nkandla matter, he is the ultimate guardian of the nation’s resources; and yet he has used or allowed state resources once again to benefit his preferred presidential candidate and the mother of his children.

But, clearly, the law and ethics are the least of Zuma’s concerns. He uses the law only to the extent that it works in his favour. Otherwise, it’s an irritation. Zuma knows how to use legal processes to vindicate his rights.

Being responsible towards citizens of the country and taking his constitutional obligations seriously are separate matters. His party and state institutions – except the courts and the previously respectable Public Protector’s office – have given him immunity from any wrongdoing. It is trite that he has lost a sense of right and wrong.

While Maimane and EFF leader Julius Malema are putting on their reading glasses and trying to understand the finer details of what’s legally permissible to end the destructive rule of Zuma, including considering the not-so-advisable but constitutionally legitimate attempt to dissolve Parliament, the culprit himself goes on about his usual business. Constitutional constraints are, after all, not applicable to Zuma.

He is enjoying the moment. While it lasts, some would say. And by endorsing Dlamini-Zuma, Jacob Zuma wants to make sure that the moment lasts forever.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria. 

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Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  no confidence vote  |  opposition  |  anc leadership race
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