Zuma’s critics waited too long

2016-10-30 12:33
President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)

President Jacob Zuma. (AFP)

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Since Jacob Zuma became president, his administration has been characterised by embarrassing blunders.

The Gupta invasion of Air Force Base Waterkloof; the R246 million spent on Nkandla; the change of finance ministers last year; and the contrived charges against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and former senior SA Revenue Service (Sars) officials are all hallmarks of Zuma’s presidency.

Recently emerging critical ANC national executive committee (NEC) and Cabinet voices against what is wrong within the party and government under Zuma’s presidency are encouraging.

Better late than never.

However, these criticisms must also be taken with a pinch of salt.

Why would those who served power suddenly turn against power? Why have all and sundry suddenly become bold enough to criticise Zuma?

Many of Zuma’s presidential blunders are old news, but these critical voices were then absent.

The Nkandla debacle of 2009 continued until the Constitutional Court ruled earlier this year that the president had violated the Constitution.

During the heated Nkandla debates, few ANC leaders were bold enough to ask the president to pay back the money for the refurbishment before the court ordered him to do so.

Zuma’s looting of state resources with the Guptas started seven years ago. Around 2010, Cosatu’s call for a probe of state colonisation by the Guptas was met with disapproval.

Many ANC leaders, including Gordhan, laid low.

Many Cabinet and ANC leaders were jesters for Zuma.

Some served as ideologues, concealing Zuma’s leadership flaws, and trivialising and diverting attention from core economic issues facing the poor, as well as the abuse of state institutions to purge political opponents.

Under the pretext that the Limpopo provincial government was bankrupt, Zuma – supported by his contemporary critics – had Gordhan place the province under administration.

Subsequently, Gordhan and the then justice minister announced that Fifa World Cup-type courts would descend on Limpopo to prosecute corrupt politicians and officials with lightning speed.

These courts never arrived.

The cherry on top was the current ANC NEC’s unconstitutional dissolving of the ANC provincial leadership, ostensibly to combat factionalism, while they have exemplified factionalism since the congress that ousted then president Thabo Mbeki.

Many National Treasury officials would privately confess that Limpopo was not bankrupt at the time it was put under national government control. This was dirty politics at its best. Among other reasons for placing the Limpopo government under administration was that the then premier, Cassel Mathale, did not accede to the Gupta family looting the provincial government’s purse. Secondly, the ANC Limpopo provincial leadership did not support Zuma’s presidential candidacy for a second term.

No doubt, the charges against Gordhan and former Sars officials are ridiculous, but they are a taste of his own medicine.

Nevertheless, all South Africans should show up during Gordhan’s court appearance on November 2 to pledge support against abuse of state institutions and other forms of power.

Psychoanalysis of the motivations of the new critical voices against Zuma’s presidency will be futile.

Suffice to say, some of Gordhan’s support has become a platform for different agendas, including frustrated politicians and businesspeople waiting to try on the shoes of new presidential apparatus and its inner core, in order to themselves reproduce exactly what Zuma is currently doing in the post-2019 administration.

Hence, it is crucial to examine the institutional conditions that make it possible for presidential abuse of state institutions against political opponents and what seem to be commonplace opportunistic swipes at outgoing presidents.

The abuse of state institutions did not start with Zuma. Memories of how Mbeki abused state institutions to deal with opponents are still fresh.

Like Mbeki, Zuma was enabled by constitutional powers bestowed on the president.

The president’s constitutional powers include the appointment of Cabinet, chief justice, Reserve Bank governor, Sars commissioner, national director of public prosecutions, Auditor-General and the heads of other chapter 9 institutions.

Among other factors, overcentralising power in the president allows business actors such as the Guptas, Oppenheimers and Ruperts to target a president as a political object for capture to advance their business interests.

Many of the recent critical voices years ago turned a blind eye to many of Zuma’s blunders, as long as the presidential power was beneficial to their interests.

No doubt, Zuma is weakened partly because of his misdeeds. His presidential term is almost over. Consequently, some leaders have conveniently become critical because they do not support Zuma’s perceived or real handpicked presidential successor.

The lesson for critics is: Never keep quiet until it is too late. Otherwise, very few will believe your sincerity and many will treat your critical voices with cynicism.

South Africa needs more critical voices on rethinking presidential powers to partly deepen our hard-won democracy. This should include a discussion on how to transform power to serve poor people – not a self-serving elite.

Masondo is former Limpopo finance MEC and former Young Communist League chairperson

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Read more on:    anc  |  thabo mbeki  |  jacob zuma  |  guptas  |  nkandla  |  politics

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