Tuesday, December 22, 2015

President Zuma: going, going, or already gone?


Though no one can put a date on it, we should keep an open mind about when President Zuma resigns or retires 'for reasons of health': the election results will be the decider.

As I wrote below, 'replacing' Mr Nene last December marked the effective end of Zuma, exposing him as a dangerous as well as incompetent president. But if anything could add to the need to replace him, it is his do-I-don't-I support now for hard-working and respected finance minister Mr Pravin Gordhan.

The president's extraordinarily ill-judged and stubborn conduct in this has provoked defiant statements of support for Mr Gordhan from both Gwede Mantashe, Secretary General of the ANC, and the party's unfailing alliance partner, the South African Communist Party. Just as disaster - downgrading for SA to junk status - looked as if it might be avoided by the skin of the teeth, President Zuma has created a supreme crisis for the ANC. Even the most loyal and complacent rank and file member can see now the party and their leader do not live in the world alone and cannot do what they like.

Obviously how long Zuma survives depends on how strong his support is among the ANC's Top Six. But we can imagine the depth of panic and simmering revolt there must be throughout the party now.

*****

I would not say I ever had a sneaking regard for President Zuma; I did not. It was just that he seemed preferable to outgoing president Thabo Mbeki. I remember a TV debate at the time: viewers were invited to text to the station who they wanted to be next president. I texted the abbreviation 'ABM': Anyone but Mbeki.
 
It was Mbeki's assumption of a know-all superiority that I found stifling, his readiness to accept as his due the status of 'intellectual' when his ideas, as on Aids, could be as scatty and unscientific as the next man's: an intelligent person is sceptical, not convinced of his own infallibility. I understood he had no alternative to supporting President Mugabe, but disliked his appearing before the cameras hand-in-hand with the Zimbabwean despot. It cocked a snook at democracy, was a contemptuous statement gratuitously made.
 
Even Mbeki's celebrated opening speech years ago, 'I am an African', puzzled me. It did not strike me as an inclusive call; it was sectarian. Surely, following Mandela's example, I thought, and in light of the new SA's constitution, the proper way to have begun was, 'I am a South African'.
 
It was long ago. Whether one sees it that way or not now, it is all history, whereas President Zuma is still very much with us in the present. I link these comments to an article by Tony Leon*, not because of any political allegiance, but because Mr Leon lays out SA's new situation as well as anyone. There have been very many articles across the political spectrum on how President Zuma has let his country down.
 
For myself, who once took as at least plausible Jacob Zuma's claim to be the 'listening' one, the amiable 'people's president', compared to the humourless, calculating Mbeki, I stand now more aghast than disillusioned.
 
Never mind any longer Zuma's many other transgressions: the man's venality; the Shaik affair and the way he dodged his own trial; the incompetent ministerial appointments; Nkandla; the sanctioning of attacks on the Public Protector.
 
Here is a president who could set aside every consideration of rational, consultative government in the new SA's democracy and summarily fire his minister of finance in the very midst of a major economic crisis for the country. What for? How can it be explained, let alone justified? Was it really for the sake of his confidante, Dudu Myeni? Did South Africa's president really put her first, above all reflection and statecraft? Was it, as many claim, because he has sold out lock, stock and barrel to the Guptas? Was it because he is stubborn like a child and flatly refuses to take advice or allow himself to be opposed by underlings when he is Number One?
 
This once, I break my golden rule and prophesy. Whatever the reason for his conduct, President Zuma is finished, every last shred of his credibility gone. He will go; the decision is probably already taken among those who decide these things.

I part company with Mr Leon's final remark in his article: 'where exactly he will be when it ends ...' It has already ended for President Jacob Zuma. He is not president anymore. The only loose end to tie up is not, as the hashtag has it, #Zumamuststillfall, but that he has fallen and is still there.
 

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