Jacob Zuma: Going Nowhere Slowly

2014-09-01 07:33

Jacob Zuma, ultimate survivor (drum.co.za)

Reading the news in the past fortnight, you would have been convinced that Jacob Zuma was going. Admittedly, he did go to Russia, rather than Nkandla, where most people seem to want No. 1 to spend the rest of his days. There or, depending on whom you ask, a jail cell.

The escalation of the number, and intensity, of scandals affecting the President has set political commentators and analysts into overdrive. Not to be outdone, each has made all manner of predictions that outdo the last: Zuma would resign; he would be dumped by the ANC; like Edward Snowden, he was seeking asylum in Russia; he was going to hide away in the Nkandla bunker.

The despairing thing about most of these ‘predictions’ is that I agree, or associate myself, with them. But, most of these ‘predictions’ are, sadly, slightly out of touch with reality. They are in the business of punting what should happen, as opposed to what will happen. They are, unfortunately, not based on realpolitik: the politics of power and pragmatism.

And there are three telling reasons why, despite the histrionic chatter of the middle classes, Zuma is not going anywhere.

First, the very nature of the ANC’s core constituency is changing. As Daniel de Kadt, a South African born MIT-based doctoral candidate, wrote recently:

“(the) shift that is emerging in the South African electorate – (is) in (the) ANC(‘s) support away from urban areas and in to rural areas. While the ANC is still capable of winning over 60% of the electorate, the types of people who constitute that 60% have changed over time ... the ANC has come to rely more drastically on rural voters than ever before ... this shift is not epiphenomenal, and will be sustained through the present political cycle. The shifting nature of the electorate will play a significant role in shaping the behaviour of political elites in the next few electoral cycles.”

This shift is significant. It means that no matter the amount of dissatisfaction that urban voters show for the President, in particular, and the ANC, more generally, little change will occur. Given that the majority of our population is located in rural areas, and exists beyond an invisible, and often impermeable, barrier – little will change unless urban criticism translates into rural discontent. And, based on recent election results, there is little sign that this is about to change. This is especially the case when you consider just how much noise, and action, the ANC is dedicating to addressing ‘rural’ issues like land reform.

Second, the greater the number of scandals there are, the more likely Zuma is going to stick around. The calculation is simple: the best way of keeping himself out of trouble is to be in power. When one sees it this way, greater light is shed on what could be the real motives behind abolishing the Scorpions, weakening the NPA, promulgating POSIB, and all the other moves that have occurred of late. Less like tinkering with the system, more like clearing the obstacles. And it’s important to remember one distinguishing feature of how Zuma has treated his time in power: he has centralised and diversified it. He has centralised it in that he is at the centre of the nexus  but he has diversified it by co-opting many people into his mess. Thus, their future is tied up with his. And should he go – it would be an equally disastrous thing for them.

Hence, third, if Zuma goes now – at a time of great pressure on him, and the ANC – it would be tantamount to an admission of failure. With its grip on Parliament and the national narrative weakening, this would be an invitation to the EFF and the DA to have a field day. The ANC knows that Zuma is weak and that, by extension, they are too. While the rational thing to do may be to commit regicide, doing so would cause the ANC more short-term damage that they can stomach. And given that the ANC is trapped in playing a short-term game – trying to put out fires occasioned by Zuma’s personal long-term strategy of remaining free – it refuses to see the benefit of even this, nuclear option.

It brings me no joy to be the bearer of bad news. There is very little that would bring me more joy than to see the back of No. 1’s bald, shiny, head retreating into the distance. Zuma has, in my opinion, been an unmitigated disaster for governance and the rule of law. But, daily revelations of Zuma’s scandals won’t get rid of him. Only our constant vigilance will. After all, most of these chickens were hatched, and have come home to roost, on our watch.

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