Cape Town is thirsty. As its dams dry to acrid desert, negotiation of everyday tasks are fraught. How many litres to shower? How long to let the waste stink before the flush? Yet it is the negotiations over a more far-reaching stink which asphyxiate South Africa. Jacob Zuma, the almost comically corrupt President, faces recall and resignation as the leader of a nation which was once the great hope of Africa. As he begs, bargains and plots his way to remain safe from the 783 – and counting – charges of corruption within the cocoon of the presidency, his time finally appears to have run out.
ANC Secretary General Ace Magashule announced on Tuesday that Zuma has been recalled by the powerful ANC National Executive Committee, as has one of his predecessors, Thabo Mbeki. (Mbeki’s ousting was puppeteered by none other than Zuma himself.) His recall was confirmed as the ANC parliamentary caucus has scheduled a vote of no confidence to remove him as president on Thursday, if he does not resign by the end of Wednesday. The irony is exceeded perhaps only by the width of the grin we might imagine on Mbeki’s face as he quenched his thirst for revenge, saying, “[the] interests of our country would be best served if indeed Mr Zuma ceased to be President”.
Zuma is being ousted by his deputy and successor-elect Cyril Ramaphosa. He was once Mandela’s favoured successor, but was brushed aside by the ANC leadership in favour of Mbeki. Unlike his Robben Island-veteran compatriots, Zuma, a former ANC intelligence chief, eschewed the erudite cosmopolitanism oozed by Mbeki or Ramaphosa. He claimed to stand for the vast black poor of South Africa. But after being gifted an expanding economy, he plundered it in daylight and his own corpulent wealth has gorged on the nation’s finances. The difference in stature between Mandela and this lesser uncle is Shakespearian in character, and brings to mind Hamlet’s comparison: “So excellent a king; that was, to this, Hyperion to a satyr”.
The charges against Zuma are more numerous than I can list here, but chief among them and stamped upon his legacy shall be the words “State Capture”. The Guptas, a family of wealthy immigrants now largely domiciled in Dubai, have lavished Zuma in funds and in exchange they have bought the very levers of government: selling ministerial jobs; sacking anyone with a whiff of integrity from the finance department; pawning huge government tenders mired in bribery; bought the government’s nuclear energy policy. But the charges are not limited to 30 pieces of silver or even 30 million rand. In dramatic news, it has been reported this week that businesses owned by the Guptas have been raided by South Africa’s Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation, known as the Hawks. A powerful book was published last year, written by Redi Thlabi. Thlabi was a friend of the late Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo who had accused Jacob Zuma of rape, a charge he was cleared of in 2006.
Yet Mandela’s South Africa was well conceived. Journalists, who have been hounded and sometimes found dead, exposed the mafia state over which Zuma has presided. The courts have checked his rush to sell South Africa’s silverware. The people too have resisted his endeavours to scapegoat the blame for his failure to redistribute wealth anywhere other than his own palatial nest, “Nkandla”. The Guptas hired the now defunct London PR firm Bell Pottinger and launched a campaign on Zuma’s behalf, branding the real culprits to be “White Monopoly Capital”. On social media, the people rejected this cynical manipulation.
Having stuck with Zuma through five votes of no confidence called by opposition parties, why has the ANC done him in now? The answer isn’t one of sudden piercing moral clarity, but of course, electoral interest. As the 2019 election approaches, Ramaphosa and the ANC seek distance from Zuma’s toxicity. The once unassailable dominance of the ANC was eroded by setbacks in the 2016 local elections where it lost ground to both the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters. Crucially, the ANC needs Zuma to resign before the State of the Nation address, which has been postponed until his departure and which is required to launch Ramaphosa into the campaign for 2019. Even the supine finance minister Malusi Nkanyezi Gigaba has turned against his master, and in an extraordinary twist, his ex-wife and presidential candidate, whom he backed against Ramaphosa in December, called on him to step down.
Yet there is a danger for the ANC in the “Zexit” process. They fear that this ruthless ex-spy with nothing to lose will destroy their chances in 2019 by attempting to cling on. But their failure is already woven into the years of complicity, for in ensuring Zuma’s dignified exit, the party has lost any dignity it hoped to retain.
At a press conference this week laden with vagaries, Magashule insisted “President Zuma has not done anything wrong” despite Zuma being recalled. The result of their acquiescence is a South Africa which still ranks among the most unequal countries in the world – a Brics state with 1 per cent annual growth and an unemployment rate at 30 per cent. Ramaphosa is a rich businessman and his instincts are self-serving. It is doubtful whether a man not bold enough to stand up to Zuma’s misbegotten deeds has the radical streak needed when inheriting a legacy of corruption and mistrust.
On the day that the ANC announced its long-awaited recall of Zuma, it rained. If Ramaphosa does not stand with the stature of Tata Madiba, but at least he does not stoop to Zuma’s malfeasance, then South Africans may at last get the break from corruption that their brilliant country deserves. Moipone Noko, who leads the State Capture commission, is due to deliver her recommendations on whether charges should be brought against Zuma within days. One of the Gupta brothers, Zuma’s chief backers, was arrested in a raid by the the Hawks, South Africa’s specialist crime unit.
It seems that for Zuma it never rains, but it pours.
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