Jacob Zuma reaches the end of his political road as he resigns as South African President

After surviving a series of scandals he was facing his ninth vote of no-confidence in parliament before he left office

Vijay Makanjee
East London, Eastern Cape
Thursday 15 February 2018 01:49
South African President Jacob Zuma announces resignation

Jacob Zuma’s second name is Gedleyihlekisa, which can be interpreted, among other things, to mean, “the one who laughs at you while physically hurting you”.

Many will argue that is precisely what he has done to the people of South Africa – giggled while he sold our democracy and caused immense damage to our economy and to the fabric of our society. Many say that his legacy is one of wreckage. He has wreaked havoc on the country, its economy and its optimism.

After surviving a series of scandals, which would have surely ended anyone else’s career – he was facing his ninth vote of no-confidence in parliament before he left office – Zuma, with four wives (currently) and at least 20 acknowledged children, has finally left office.

The writing was on the wall for some time. In December 2017 at the ruling African National Congress (ANC) national elective conference, Cyril Ramaphosa defeated Zuma’s handpicked nominee – his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who was until recently the head of the African Union.

Then it became clear the political landscape was changing with severe repercussions for Zuma and his supporters.

It became clearer earlier this week when the police elite crime-fighting unit known as the Hawks, arrested some of his associates who were accused, among other things, of being involved in a corrupt dairy project.

Politically he was also losing support. The ANC MPs who had previously helped him defeat the eight opposition motions of no confidence tabled in the South African parliament were now – for the first time ever – prepared to back a ninth proposed by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). It says much about the ANC when it can’t get rid of one of its own, like that unruly uncle who hits on everyone but will not leave unless the police escort him out.

The son of a rural policeman who died when Zuma was five, his mother, a domestic worker in Durban was unable to give him a formal education.

He joined the ANC, and then its underground military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, which was formed to fight against the apartheid government both from within South Africa and from bases in neighbouring countries, when he was teenager.

South African President Jacob Zuma announces resignation

In 1963, he was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in prison on Robben Island along with Nelson Mandela and other prominent leaders in the liberation struggle – something he continued to work on in the ANC’s underground intelligence structures on his release, although he was mostly in exile in countries like Swaziland and Mozambique.

​After apartheid was dismantled in 1991 he took up increasingly powerful positions in South African life, rising to Deputy President under Thabo Mbeki – who sacked him in 2005 after one of his associates, Schabir Shaik, was convicted for fraud and corruption.

One of the charges related to him trying to solicit a bribe on behalf of Zuma from an arms company.

That year Zuma was also accused and later acquitted of the rape of the HIV-positive daughter of a family friend. He claimed that he showered afterwards and since then he has been caricatured with a shower hanging over his head.

The allegations did little to stop his rise and he was elected president of the ruling ANC in 2007 and as President of South Africa the following year.

Since then he has been embroiled a series of scandals and faced a number of allegations of corruption and malfeasance, many of which are said to have started long before he took the nation’s top job.

He has been subject to a long-running legal battle over allegations of corruption stemming from the 1999 Strategic Defence Package a multimillion dollar “arms deal”. More than 783 counts of corruption being lodged but he charges were dropped in 2009.

The country is currently waiting for a decision by the National Prosecution Authority (NPA) on reinstating these charges. A decision on this is expected on 23 February.

There has also been a long-running saga over the upgrading of his private residence in the rural area of Nkandla, in northern KwaZulu-Natal, using state funds.

Ordered to pay back the money, in 2013, three years later, South Africa’s highest court ruled that he had violated the constitution by failing to repay the government money.

Mr Zuma apologised to South Africans for the “frustration and confusion” caused by the scandal and has since repaid the money.

But it is his relationship with the wealthy Indian-born Gupta family that has possible sealed his demise, amid allegations they had used it to influence cabinet appointments and advance its business interests.

Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied the allegation, but the ANC ordered an investigation into what its secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has called the “corporate capture” of government.

Some of Zuma’s children are known to work for Gupta’s companies, but the family is also accused of using its influence to hire and fire ministers who got in the way of their business interests.

Fired former Finance Minster Pravin Gordhan was one of the most high profile casualties. He accused the family of being involved in “suspicious” transactions worth about $490m (£400m), which they deny.

Before it went out of business last year, British PR firm also found itself at the heat of the scandals surrounding the family.

Accused of pushing the idea of “white monopoly capital” on social media to emphasise the power of white businesses, it was accused of inflamming racial tensions in a country where the white minority still wields considerable economic power.

The firm was reportedly paid £100,000 a month by the Gupta owned Oakbay Investment, to allegedly divert attention away from corruption claims being made against the Gupta family and their close relationship with President Zuma.

It was subsequently expelled from the PR trade body and went into administration.

Many of Zuma’s appointments over the years were overturned by the courts. These include the head of the public broadcaster (SABC), the head of the power utility (Eskom), the head of the prosecution authority (NPA), and other smaller entities. The equally important Revenue Services (SARS) has been plagued by problems, many of which stem from Zuma’s meddling in its management.

With his penchant for midnight moves, he replaced capable ministers at whim. He of course retained those he considered personally loyal despite their glaring incompetence and behaviour bordering on corruption.

Over the years he has alienated many of his most vocal supporters, including some who vowed to die for him and mobilised support in his bid for presidency of the ANC. Some of the loudest were Zwelinzima Vavi, Blade Nzimande and Julius Malema, all of whom Zuma later booted or marginalised when they fell out of favour. They went on to become some of his harshest critics.

Much of the rise of Zuma was based on the idea that he was the victim of a political conspiracy to prevent him from becoming president of the country. The truth is that the ANC fed and encouraged his paranoid and delusional fantasies of victimhood and allowed him to do as he wished.

In the last municipal elections in 2016, the ANC lost many key metro areas, including Johannesburg, to opposition coalitions. The party now faces the possiblity of losing its majority in the national elections in 2019. Already there are signs that it has lost the unflinching support of the past.

Announcing his resignation in a bizarre and somewhat crazed appearance on national TV, Zuma again claimed that he was a victim of a conspiracy. He insisted that he had done nothing wrong, He was not defiant, he was just disagreeing with the ANC decision that he should resign.

But many South Africans will line up to remind him of some of his many wrongdoings: he breached his oath of office and flouted the constitution, he plundered the country to enrich his family and himself, he gutted the justice system and other institutions, he presided over “state capture” and he led many to be ashamed of their president.

He leaves a tattered legacy in the country which is facing 1 per cent economic growth with over a quarter of those who would like to work without jobs.

Incoming president Ramaphosa has a tough task ahead. He needs to renew confidence in the economy and in state institutions. He equally needs to renew confidence in his party and win over the electorate so that any vote of no confidence in the ANC in the 2019 elections does not lose him the presidency of the country.

Will Zuma ever face the music? Much depends on the compromised NPA (Zuma selected the top staff) bringing charges against him. Failing that, there are strong indications that private prosecutions will be launched so that the legacy and rot of the Zuma regime is eradicated. Many South Africans want him to be charged for reckless endangerment of the country.

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