Mpumelelo Mkhabela

The Zuma effect

2017-04-07 08:56
Demonstrators protest against President Jacob Zuma. (AP)

Demonstrators protest against President Jacob Zuma. (AP)

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Whenever President Jacob Zuma acts in a manner that fast-tracks the removal of the ANC from power, one wonders whether anyone remembers the reasons he gave for the recall of President Thabo Mbeki.

When Zuma’s actions and inactions undermine people’s confidence in the ANC and government, sparking nation-wide protests, it is important to remind ourselves of what, in his view, should happen.

In 2008, he said: “The country needs a strong, united ruling party at the helm of government, capable of galvanising support for the government’s developmental agenda. As the ruling party, we need to sustain the confidence of our people in the ANC and in its government. Once this level of confidence is weakened, the ANC has no alternative but to take action.”

With these words, Zuma had given the reasons for Mbeki’s recall. You need not be an astute political observer to realise that, based on this criteria for presidential recall, Zuma qualifies with distinction.

Calls for his resignation or recall have fallen on deaf ears. Many South Africans have decided to take to the streets to express their disapproval of his leadership and to stress their call on him to step down after he and the Guptas took the disastrous decision to fire Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas.

Zuma and the ANC will once again brush aside the anger of the society they claim to lead. But with the hardship caused by Zuma’s leadership in full force by 2019, voters won’t need reminding how their cry was ignored by the supposedly “caring” and “selfless” ANC. When Zuma unleashes harm on the nation, in contravention of his oath of office, he gets a standing ovation from the ANC’s leadership.

It wouldn’t worry South Africans if the effect of his disastrous leadership was limited to his party. The problem is that the entire nation is under siege. Whether or not you are interested in politics, you cannot escape the fact that the decisions Zuma and the Gupta brothers take in their own interests, have a negative impact on your prospects of finding or keeping a job, keeping your business running, accessing credit or having infrastructure in your area.

Thanks to him, we are a junk country that will struggle to access expensive loans that will be hard to repay because of a slow economy that will not recover soon because the private sector that drives it has lost confidence in the government. The interests on existing loans have already eaten a huge chunk of below-target tax revenues announced by SARS Commissioner Tom Moyane this week.

Zuma has unleashed upon us a vicious cycle of suffering. Although most of South Africa’s debt is rand denominated, this is not a reprieve because the local banks have also been downgraded, making it difficult for them to raise capital. State-owned companies won’t escape the downgrade because their creditworthiness is linked to the sovereign.

Municipalities are also being downgraded. And some major South African private sector companies, the real creators of jobs, have been put in the spotlight by credit rating agencies. The tax base will shrink further. In short, the tragic consequences of Zuma’s presidency are yet to be realised in full.

Many South Africans are puzzled why the ANC is committing suicide when the whole country, including its veterans, are advising its leaders to open their eyes to see their follies and mend their ways.

There are a few reasons. Firstly, those responsible for the suicidal path of the party are benefiting from its current crisis. They think short term. But even their short term thinking is too short because it ends in 2019, after which most of them will have neither power nor arrogance to display. The last four elections have seen many ANC representatives – members of Parliament, members of provincial legislatures and councillors – losing their positions.

Secondly, the curse of the majority has destroyed reason within the party. So, in the National Working Committee and National Executive Committee what matters is not the strength of an argument but how many votes it secures. Numbers have replaced rationality. It matters not that Zuma’s actions are destroying the party and the country. What matters is that most leaders in the party support him.

Thirdly, it is the death of courage. A party whose history is well decorated with leaders who were prepared to die for freedom is today staffed with leaders who have no courage to stand up when the future of the party is at stake. Those who take principled positions are too quick to retreat meekly. Cyril Ramaphosa, Gwede Mantashe and Zweli Mkhize were forced into an embarrassing retreat after they expressed their disgust at the manner in which Zuma takes his mandate “elsewhere”. Whereas past suffering instilled courage, present comfort zones have the opposite effect.

Lastly, it is the distribution of patronage. So far, the patronage resources are able to cover all those who matter for Zuma’s survival. Although this is shrinking, especially after the recent electoral losses in major metropolitan areas, Zuma and his backers still control key sites of power and are able to efficiently allocate trappings to buy support and punish dissenters.

South Africans are the victim of the ANC dynamics. A combination of these factors is good news for opposition parties who take themselves seriously. Half of their job is already done. Whatever they say about Zuma, they can’t blame him for failing to pave the way for them to take over in 2019.

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

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. 

Read more on:    jacob zuma  |  cabinet reshuffle  |  state capture


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