Informed people live longer
26 August 2016 15:37 (South Africa)
South Africa

Op-Ed: Are there patriots in the house?

  • John Matisonn
    John-Matisonn.jpg
    John Matisonn

    John Matisonn began political reporting at the Rand Daily Mail in 1974, and received a prison sentence for refusing to divulge his source in a report about the South African Watergate scandal known as Muldergate. A foreign correspondent in Washington for the Rand Daily Mail and back in Johannesburg for National Public Radio, he has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post and The Observer. After four years as a broadcast regulator in the Mandela administration and two as editorial director of the short-lived THISDAY newspaper, he became the United Nations’ Chairperson of the Electoral Media Commission in Afghanistan. He returned from a second tour in Afghanistan to write God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, which has just been published.

  • South Africa
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma speaks to media upon a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos

Jacob Zuma is on the ropes. But impeachment by parliament or a National Executive Committee recall vote are unlikely. Both bodies are stacked with loyalists. Is that the end of the road for #ZumaMustFall, or are there others who can land the knock-out punch? By JOHN MATISONN.

Three other sources of power in the ANC matter: the Top Six full-time officials in control of the party day-to-day; the Cabinet; and the party’s big funders. All are building up a head of steam for removal, but are they enough? And do they want it sooner, while Cyril Ramaphosa is the only candidate on hand, or later, when Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is back in town?

Discussions in these circles are already intense, and some themes have emerged. First, the preferred route is resignation due to ill-health. Leaders want to avoid another recall or impeachment. Second, party funders have more clout after Nenegate than before. The finances of the country and the party are in the foreground.

Every day Zuma continues as president implicates the party. The alternative to voting him out is to follow him through the mud: to blacken the name of the Public Protector, to point to a swimming pool and tell us our eyes deceive us, and to mount the ramparts in defence of a foreign billionaire’s right to South African taxpayers’ contracts.

Prior to his constitutional court reversal this week, the president was cowering before his citizens. Why else did his media office issue the Nkandla climb-down like a thief in the night, after the morning papers were put to bed? None of the papers at my news vendor had the story.

What he was trying to disguise what was his third major humiliation in as many months. After #FeesMustFall and Nenegate, Madonsela’s vow that he would be held to account for Nkandlagate was vindicated. There was a fourth, if you include the constitutional court judges meeting with him to stop his ministers improperly criticising the judiciary.

He infuriated students as he gave them what they wanted after first saying no, then refused to address them as they stood waiting in the hot sun at the Union Buildings. He did another duck as he retracted his Finance Ministerial appointment without providing citizens with any explanation for his exorbitantly costly faux pas.

His late night Nkandla climb-down was more of the same. What was he trying to avoid? It’s obvious. The press, even the ones he thinks of as friends, would have had to summon their biggest fonts for the headlines: THULI 1, EFF 1, DA 1, M & G 1, ZUMA 0, ANC 0. How a mighty party has fallen, and the president left those who backed his anti-Madonsela campaign humiliated and alone!

For the country to rise, it must have the fight that will end this nightmare.

After ANC leaders, once so proud of their authorship of the constitution, vacated that spot, Julius Malema grabbed it, free to wrap himself in the constitution as he vows to defend Madonsela, that redoubtable public servant.

Tonight his State of the Nation address is in prime time. It’s intended to give him the best platform, but my bet is on the far more media-savvy Economic Freedom Fighters to steal the show.

If they do, the smart money in the ANC will be more anxious and more likely to step up the pressure. The economy cannot recover under Nkandlanomics, where decisions are not based on evidence, but on proximity to his ill-informed family and self-serving friends. At best, Nkandlanomics means the inability to decide between policy choices or to follow agreed plans like the National Development Plan.

The Finance Minister must tighten the purse-strings to prevent a ratings downgrade, but only sound management by the rest of government can grow jobs. Saving a ratings downgrade while failing to build infrastructure, reform education and clean up state owned enterprises will steepen the decline for ordinary people. Socio-economic rebelliousness will grow.

South Africa is a tale of two cities. There is President Zuma’s city, in a parallel universe to those affected by the sea of negative headlines, that cry out even in papers supposedly friendly, like Sunday Independent’s unusually long editorial this week (Sunday 7/2) saying ‘Guptafication of the country must stop now!’

It is common for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and City Press to carry damning front page leads. No matter. The president made it clear in parliament last year that he does not read the papers, at least not routinely as every modern leader is expected to. But the ratings agencies and the citizens read them. The dissonance between the president and the country cannot last.

Zuma is still the president, but public opinion has left the building. In a democracy, that matters.

The sooner Zuma goes, the greater the likelihood his replacement will be Cyril Ramaphosa. As deputy president, he is pole position. Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his chief rival, knows this and has been visiting in for private political meetings.

If Ramaphosa wins, he will not be able to move too quickly. Dlamini-Zuma’s support comes from the provinces of Kwa-Zulu-Natal, Mpumalanga, the Free Sate and Northwest. That is a powerful constituency, probably a majority if their delegates vote as blocks at an ANC congress, though she has powerful opponents even in Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

Before and after Zuma goes, civil society will be ever more critical. In each of the events that weakened the president, civil society mattered, whether it was students, business, the media, labour or others. Today’s State of the Nation will be accompanied by marches on the streets of the three main cities, and sharp-tonged heckling in the parliamentary chamber.

Corruption Watch is starting a campaign to give the public a voice in appointments like Madonsela’s successor using public campaigns including public nominations, live-streaming appointment interviews and crowd voting. The United Democratic Front is dead, but perhaps some of its best, democratic and unselfish traditions are on the way to revival. No future president should be left free in a different universe from the rest of the population. DM

John Matisonn is the author of GOD, SPIES AND LIES, Finding South Africa’s future through its past.

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma speaks to media upon a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Stefanie Loos.

  • John Matisonn
    John-Matisonn.jpg
    John Matisonn

    John Matisonn began political reporting at the Rand Daily Mail in 1974, and received a prison sentence for refusing to divulge his source in a report about the South African Watergate scandal known as Muldergate. A foreign correspondent in Washington for the Rand Daily Mail and back in Johannesburg for National Public Radio, he has been published in the New York Times, Financial Times, Washington Post and The Observer. After four years as a broadcast regulator in the Mandela administration and two as editorial director of the short-lived THISDAY newspaper, he became the United Nations’ Chairperson of the Electoral Media Commission in Afghanistan. He returned from a second tour in Afghanistan to write God, Spies and Lies, Finding South Africa’s future through its past, which has just been published.

  • South Africa

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