Enough is enough with our junk president
So, my American friends, let me fill you in. South Africa’s President Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is a 75-year-old ex-cattle herdsman who didn’t finish school, went into the struggle against apartheid and spent 12 years in prison on Robben Island, and is one of the sharpest political minds we have. He’s nobody’s fool – unless you are a guy called Atul Gupta, then, yes, he’s your fool.
…in South Africa we like to keep track of criminals, by electing them.
It all started with a fax, so you know this story goes way back. Our president was never a wealthy man. Apartheid did that to most black families, especially to families who gave up their lives to fight it. Zuma became the deputy president of South Africa in 1999, and probably listened to too much Prince because he has literally not stopped partying. His financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, went to jail for giving him a whole bunch of cash for allegedly helping use his position to facilitate a multibillion-dollar arms deal. Then we made him president, because in South Africa we like to keep track of criminals, by electing them.
Well it’s a bit more complicated than that. The African National Congress (ANC) is in an alliance including the nationalist and economically centrist ANC, the socialist South African Communist Party (SACP), and the all-powerful group of unions, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). They call themselves the tripartite alliance. They are not aware that this makes them sound like they are in Star Wars.
Jacob Zuma became president when the leftists seized control of the alliance and fired Thabo Mbeki, a sitting president, for not being revolutionary enough. Ironically, Jacob Zuma is now facing the same threat. His closest minions are telling us that you can’t fire a sitting president, and lecturing followers about loyalty. Really. He’s like a home-wrecker despising cheaters. As a side note: marijuana just became legal in South Africa. Not a coincidence.
A decade ago, the socialists were happy to ignore Zuma’s cloud of corruption, charges seemingly dropped for very questionable reasons, and a previous rape trial, to elect him first the president of the ANC and then of the country. So this piece needs to start with: our president hasn’t become a junk president. He already was one.
He has avoided appearing in court for years, all the time telling us he wants his day in court. It’s Catholic-priest level hypocrisy. In South Africa, the vegetarians are also eating steak.
In a massive turnaround, although perhaps not yet a pivotal one, in the first weeks of April 2017 both the SACP and Cosatu rejected Zuma and called for him to step down. It’s not that his hand is in the cookie jar. The cookie jar has been moved to his house and has a fire pool.
South Africa has been in turmoil in the past few weeks, with repeated marches by middle- and working-class groups from across the political spectrum who all widely agree: junk president. White South Africans marching and protesting. It’s putting-comedians-out-of-work-level funny.
Our next national election is in 2019 and in December the ANC will choose its next leader, probably in a tent, and probably involving a big cake and a prayer to ‘Comrade God’.
Our puppet president has long been seen as Kermit the Frog to his puppeteer friends and prominent business-people the Guptas, a.k.a. Jim Henson’s long-lost Indian family. Zuma took it a step too far on 30 March, when he controversially fired our widely respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, and replaced him with the liked, but less suitable and seemingly more pliable, Malusi Gigaba. Gigaba, who dresses like he’s the Minister of Hugo Boss Suits, is less likely to block a much-maligned trillion-dollar nuclear deal the President and his cronies have been gunning for.
The ratings agencies then started downgrading our credit rating to junk status, which has galvanised the middle- and working classes around protecting their wallets. An ex-Robben Islander struggle hero behaved so badly he managed to galvanise middle-class white and working-class black interests. In South Africa, that’s like Lex Luthor and Superman marching together.
To be clear, the President does technically have the right to hire and fire cabinet ministers as he deems fit, however he did this without consulting within the ANC itself. You can only be one person’s puppet at a time, folks.
Deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, and ANC treasurer general Zweli Mkhize have also questioned Zuma’s behaviour. It seems that the ANC is also itself asking: is he a junk president?
So what now? Our next national election is in 2019 and in December the ANC will choose its next leader, probably in a tent, and probably involving a big cake and a prayer to ‘Comrade God’. The question is whether Zuma will see out his full term, or will the ANC do a ‘Mbeki 2’ and fire another sitting president?
Zuma is not seen as junk by everyone, and not everyone agrees that he’s junk enough. At some point, the tension between losing votes and riding on patronage need to reach a tipping point. At some point the many, many good people in the ANC – many of whom helped to overthrow apartheid – will say: “Enough is enough.”
It is the President’s job to uphold the constitution, but he was found to have acted unconstitutionally, like a democratically elected Henry the Eighth.
It might help in the warfare of tone and identity politics if incensed white South Africans realised that for many people “enough was enough” in 1652 and that a more nuanced, historically honest political stance makes their complaints seem less whiny.
But real change will come when people ask, after 23 years of political power, why has service delivery been mired by scandal after scandal while the arms of the law that should be exposing this are directly undermined by the President and his sub-puppets? It is the President’s job to uphold the constitution, but he was found to have acted unconstitutionally, like a democratically elected Henry the Eighth.
Change will come when the ANC itself realises that Jacob Zuma’s top political minion right now is the minister of water and sanitation, but he’s left us in the poo.