Guest Column

Editorial: Thank you, Zuma

2018-02-18 06:09
President Jacob Zuma. (File, City Press)

President Jacob Zuma. (File, City Press)

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Jacob Zuma was the president of South Africa for eight years, nine months, 13 days and 22 hours, but he was so bad for the republic that it felt more like 1 000 years.

His long overdue resignation this week brought an end to a nightmarish period for South Africa. A burden was lifted off our backs, and the number of curse words being shouted decreased because we no longer needed to swear at our TV screens, newspapers and radios. The happiness index immediately shot up.

Once we are done celebrating Zuma’s departure, we need a period of serious introspection to figure out how we allowed the worst among us to occupy the most responsible position in the country. But we should also stop and consider the lessons we learnt from his disastrous presidency and ponder the mistakes we should never repeat.

Our abusive marriage to Zuma was a journey that started in 2009, when he dishonestly took an oath to respect the Constitution and always serve the people of South Africa.

As soon as he left the Union Buildings amphitheatre that day, with his entourage of weighty wives, he began his mission to feed his ever expanding family as well as the army of dirty friends and acquaintances he had accumulated.

He would then spend his years in office facilitating one of the biggest state capture projects in modern history. He would also, in pursuance of this project, preside over the destruction of institutions and the erosion of the rule of law.

In the greatest of ironies, the most vile person in our political system taught us many lessons about the amount of power that we give to individuals. Zuma inadvertently gave us an education in law, constitutionalism, economics, social cohesion and ethics.

During his tenure, we learnt that remedial action prescribed by the Public Protector was binding – unless it was taken on review. It was Zuma who stubbornly refused, with the connivance of a pliant ANC, to implement the remedial action regarding security upgrades at his Nkandla home. In the end, however, it was the Constitution and the people who won the day.

It was also Zuma who taught us the lesson that a presidency could be called to account when he exercised his prerogative to hire and fire ministers and key bureaucrats such as the chief prosecutor. Even though he revelled in showing Parliament and the country the middle finger, the courts proved that not even the president is beyond reproach.

Civil society could not sit back and fold their hands when Zuma and his cronies raided state-owned entities to enrich themselves. They stood up, organised themselves and marched to voice their anger at the squandering of the country’s resources. They mounted court challenges, which forced Zuma to account for his actions.

At all times, Zuma enjoyed support from the ANC that he was leading. The party’s MPs defended him like zombies, in contempt of the oaths they had taken to serve the nation.

However, all this changed in December, when Zuma’s preferred candidate to lead the ANC lost and Cyril Ramaphosa assumed political power. Less than two months later, Zuma’s party recalled him because he had refused to voluntarily resign.

As the country begins a new phase without Zuma, his reign should also serve as a reminder to his party in particular and the citizens in general that we should not be beholden to an individual. Individuals come and go, and they can change their minds at every turn to protect themselves or advance their interests. Zuma showed us exactly that – from being touted as the man of the people to being the one who helped his cronies loot the state.

While Zuma is gone, the country’s problems – which worsened under him – are not. Unemployment, inequality, poverty, a lagging economy and a dysfunctional education system still remain. Race relations are still fraught.

The decisions we as citizens make henceforth must be based on sound reasoning. Populism should not dictate our choices. Simple love for an individual should not mean that we do not question their motives and actions.

True power lies in the hands of us, the citizenry of this democratic republic. Our Constitution gives us this power. Our glorious history, which saw us defeat one of the most evil systems of the 20th century, gives us this power. Our belief in a good and prosperous South Africa dictates that we exercise this power every day, not only during elections.

Zuma messed us up big time. He made us poorer as a people. He hit us in the pocket, damaged our spirit and hurt our democracy. It is up to us to make sure this never happens again.

Let’s hope we have learnt our lesson.

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