South Africa, Politics

Risk Factor: Democracy turns on Zumocracy

By Ranjeni Munusamy 26 September 2016

President Jacob Zuma’s brother has appealed to him to quit as he fears South Africa’s leader might be killed. There are many reasons why the president should consider stepping down, with some prominent ANC members probably able to present cogent arguments for this. Being physically under threat would not rank among the reasons Zuma should consider relieving South Africa of his leadership. Yes, the president is under attack and under pressure, but only from a system that demands adherence to the Constitution, accountability and the rule of law. If his family and friends are worried, it is because democracy is proving to be a bitch. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Saturday, August 6, 2016 will be memorable for many reasons. It was the day the final results of the 2016 local government elections were announced at the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) results operations centre in Pretoria. It was the day that brought the reality home that the ANC’s electoral support had plunged to 53.9% nationally and below 50% in five metros. There was also an excruciating delay that day to get the final tally for the City of Johannesburg, which eventually came in after the results ceremony.

That evening was also the first time President Jacob Zuma made an appearance in public after the elections. And it was the day four young women staged an anti-rape protest at the results ceremony, holding up signs that harked back to Zuma’s rape trial 10 years ago. The incident sent shock waves through the hall and around the country, and evoked rage from three Cabinet ministers who threatened to get physical to defend the president. When Zuma finished speaking, the four activists were shoved out of the hall by members of the presidential protection unit, their screams audible as they were escorted away.

There is something else that happened that not many people would have seen that evening. As soon as the formalities were over, Zuma was hastily ushered out of the hall, accompanied by IEC officials and a phalanx of security personnel. A few metres behind the huge huddle of people, a lone figure strode out, a tiny smile playing on his lips as he watched the president being shielded from contact with members of the public or journalists.

That person was the Chief Justice of South Africa, Mogoeng Mogoeng.

Nobody was interested in him, although he too was a VIP guest at the function. Mogoeng had little to do with the elections and had been invited as the head of the judiciary. He just walked out quietly without a din around him. Mogoeng obviously does have protectors, although you never see him barricaded by them. But the major difference between Zuma and Mogoeng that day was that Zuma had to be protected from his past (his rape trial) and his present (his contribution to his party’s poor performance in the elections).

Zuma no longer conducts media interviews, except with the SABC crew that accompanies him on his travels. When he makes announcements, he does not take questions. To protect the president from embarrassment, there also appears to be more discernment than previously about what mass public events Zuma addresses in light of recent experiences of people not turning up at stadiums or walking out during his speeches.

From once being an “everyman”, able to interact with people from all walks of life and able to charm any audience, Zuma now has to be guarded from everyone except his inner circle. The Zuma presidency was initially designed to be the antithesis of the administration it succeeded – the “aloof” Mbeki presidency. Now Zuma is progressively insulated, having to be protected from the people he is meant to serve.

The one place where it is difficult for Zuma to be shielded is Parliament. And this is where he appears to be most under siege. If the Constitution did not require the president to be accountable to Parliament, it is doubtful that Zuma would appear to answer questions. Zuma’s appearances in the National Assembly since 2014 have been turbulent, including the last two State of the Nation Addresses when members of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) were muscled out by parliamentary security. Zuma’s questions sessions have also been torrid, with volleys of insults and constant interruptions.

Most of the commotion in Parliament derived from Zuma’s consistent refusal to be held to account for the upgrades at his Nkandla home. During his first term, he claimed he had no knowledge about the upgrades and the costs involved. After the release of the Public Protector’s report on the upgrades, Zuma hid behind parliamentary processes to avoid having to pay back the money for non-security upgrades.

Until recently, Zuma has had it good, with his minions in Cabinet and the ANC caucus going to extreme lengths to protect him from accountability – the most ridiculous of which was the “firepool” report produced by Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko to show Zuma did not have to pay back any money. South Africans have also been extremely tolerant of the president laughing off attempts to hold him accountable – or extremely fatigued of his scandal-prone presidency.

But the past nine months has seen fortunes change for Zuma, and what his family sees as him being at “risk” has more to do with the president being under more pressure than he has ever known before.

It began with him overplaying his hand in December by attempting to use his presidential prerogative to hand control of the National Treasury to his friends, the Guptas. The firing of Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister was a major turning point in the Zuma presidency. Within four days, Zuma came under so much pressure from within the ANC and the business sector that he had to undo the mess he created. Clearly against his will and that of his friends, he had to shift aside Des van Rooyen and appoint Pravin Gordhan as finance minister.

Then the big blow was the Constitutional Court judgment on Nkandla on March 31. Zuma was found to have violated the Constitution by not abiding by the remedial action in the Public Protector’s report. Zuma’s half-baked apology for the “frustration and confusion” the Nkandla matter caused did not quell anger in the ANC and in society. The ANC listened to calls for Zuma’s removal, including from party veterans, but tried to bury the issue, saying they accepted his apology. But discontent continued to grow, evident at the party’s election manifesto launch in Port Elizabeth in April when large sections of the stadium remained empty.

Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas has become another source of pressure, including from inside the alliance. While for years the Guptas have been able to escape scrutiny, the issue exploded this year when Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas confirmed that they had offered him Nene’s job. Other ANC members also came forward with accounts of the Guptas’ improper involvement in state affairs, with the aid of Zuma. The South African Communist Party has kept up the pressure for a probe into “state capture” even after the ANC national executive committee shut down an internal investigation.

Zuma’s friends have now had their bank accounts closed and their contracts are under constant scrutiny by the media. The family recently announced that they will be selling their shareholding in their South African companies, although it remains to be seen whether there will be a complete pull-out.

At the same time, Zuma’s other special friends and foot soldiers in the state and parastatals have also come under pressure. Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Nomgcobo Jiba, Richard Mdluli and Mthandazo Berning Ntlemeza all had to bear the wrath of the courts. Dudu Myeni’s reign at SAA has been limited to a year and her every move is under scrutiny. Tom Moyane has had to suspend his second-in-charge Jonas Makwakwa for suspicious deposits of large amounts of money into his personal account and the South African Revenue Service boss could also be in trouble for sitting on the evidence for months.

All these people are vital cogs in the Zuma administration – with direct lines to Number One. The public pressure on Zuma and his cronies has thrown the empire off its axis.

Perhaps most painful for the president, however, was having to pay back the state R7.8-million for Nkandla, leaving Zuma heavily in debt for the rest of his life. Even then, the matter is not laid to rest. The terms of his new loan agreement and the lenders are under immense scrutiny.

Zuma’s brother, Michael, told the Sunday Times he believes the president should quit or risks being killed.

My brother is having a very difficult time and I have never seen such difficulty. My brother has such difficulty in such a way that you fear that they are going to kill him,” the paper quoted Michael Zuma as saying.

There is actually no evidence of any physical threat against the president. The president is in “difficulty” because his presidency is on a collision course with the democratic system and his compendium is unravelling. The presidency that had opened the state up to his family and friends is now running into trouble, causing them all to be dislodged from the land of milk and honey.

And now the system that was supposed to protect Zuma could even prosecute him for the corruption case he thought was long behind him.

Then there are more troubles on the horizon. Who knows what the Public Protector’s investigation into state capture might expose? Who knows where the succession battle might lead the ANC? Who will defend and protect Zuma when all his acolytes are dislodged and powerless? And how will Zuma survive three more years as president with the opposition at his throat?

Zuma’s brother is right. Zuma should quit now – for the sake of the country and the survival of his organisation. But quitting now will not save Zuma’s legacy or the interests of his friends and family who have been living it up during his presidency. Public pressure is growing, scrutiny is increasing and political power is relative.

The democratic system that Zuma long ago helped to create is now turning on him – politically, legally, financially. If he isn’t yet, he should be very afraid. DM

Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma speaks during a joint press conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin (not pictured) after their meeting at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Krasnodar region, Russia, 16 May 2013. EPA/MAXIM SHIPENKOV / POOL



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