Op-Ed: The arrogance of Jacob Zuma and his faction of loyalists

By David Reiersgord 26 June 2017

In 2008, prior to becoming the figurehead of the African National Congress (ANC), Jacob Zuma proudly boasted that the ANC would “rule until Jesus comes back”. Since then, variations of this belief have been expressed many times, particularly whenever elections are scheduled. While it’s tempting to fall prey to the charisma and so-called confidence embedded within this sentiment, it has become crystal clear that Zuma and his faction of loyalists are blindly arrogant, and using this belief to cover up for their incompetence, ineptitude and insecurity. By DAVID REIERSGORD.

At the tail-end of last week, Zuma stood before parliament during a question-and-answer session against the backdrop of concerted efforts to secure a vote of “no confidence” in his leadership of the ANC, through a secret ballot.

Despite the pressure from civil society and opposition parties, Zuma seemed confident and appeared, somehow, to be in a good mood; he even looked to be having a bit of fun demonstrating just how much power he truly has, offering speculation that while there have been attempts to pass motions of “no confidence” in his leadership before, there will likely be more attempts to do so ahead of the ANC’s National Elective Conference in December.

While many have noted the arrogance of Zuma and his faction, at the heart of this arrogance is the ironic belief that the ANC is the only party that should, or can, govern a democratic South Africa — the seemingly harmless idea that the ANC will rule until Jesus returns. This mindset, however, is wholly problematic, because it believes that civil society should be eternally grateful to the ANC, and that opposition parties should cooperate with, rather than criticise it.

In a country with a history of single-party dominance, oddly enough, it appears many South Africans agree that parties like the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters should focus less on monitoring and criticising the ANC. According to a survey from Afrobarometer, nearly 70% of people believe the role of an opposition party is to cooperate with government— a percentage that has risen steadily from 59% in 2008. But without oppositional criticism, a ruling party can quietly become affirmed in its belief that it’s the only party that can and should rule; and it can act — as we have seen, for instance, through hundreds of thousands of leaked emails — as if it can get away with anything. Unfortunately, the latter is true.

In recent weeks, with the help of leaked emails and investigative journalism, we have been exposed to what this kind of political behaviour looks like: utilising State Owned Enterprises for personal gain, granting citizenship on dubious grounds and apparently using one’s child to ensure lucrative contracts are secured, among many other examples. The consequences of this arrogant behaviour have been dubbed “state capture”, and its effects could compromise the democratic framework of this country.

The concept of state capture is bankrolled by the Gupta family, who oversee that Zuma and his faction of loyalists do their bidding. This faction is comprised of a network of individuals that hold prominent roles. There is Malusi Gigaba, the Minister of Finance, who seems to have granted the Guptas citizenship; Collen Maine, the leader of the beleaguered ANC Youth League, who champion the bogeyman of “white monopoly capital”; Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a former minister and Chairperson of the African Union, Zuma’s ex-wife and the next potential President of the ANC; and the ANC Women’s League, who recently argued “the courts” have too much power, because they are used to undermine the authority of the ANC. I have only listed a few. There are more.

But because Zuma and his faction of loyalists are so wantonly arrogant, they don’t seem to realise — or, even worse, care — that they’re being used like pawns by the Guptas.

Their arrogance has so blinded them to the realities of the challenges facing ordinary South Africans, that there’s been a public relations campaign evidently endorsed by the ANC, aimed at stoking racial tensions amongst South Africans. However, if a recent report from the Institute for Race Relations are anything to go by, only 9.2% of people believe racism (on its own, and including inequality and xenophobia) to be the most important unresolved issue 23 years into democracy.

While there are a great many problems with the arrogance of Zuma and his faction of myopic loyalists, one in particular that’s pervasive amongst them all is that they believe in the power of the ANC more than the power of South Africa and the people that live here. In their view, the vitality of the party comes before the vitality of the country. Indeed, when Gwede Mantashe recently stated it would be the “highest betrayal” for ANC members to use a secret ballot to vote for a motion of  “no confidence” in Zuma, he didn’t have the country and its people in mind — he only had the desire to satiate the insatiable greed of a party that thinks its needs surpass the needs of the country.

Such a statement, though, begs the question: does Mantashe understand betrayal of the party to be greater than a betrayal to the country? Perhaps Zuma and his faction of loyalists have grown so accustomed to corruption as politics-as-usual, that they have come to mistake their brazen arrogance for confidence, and thus leadership — we are led, right?

Although Zuma and his faction remain a significant political problem, the broader failure to remove him suggests that many outside of his camp also believe the ANC is the only party that should rule. As a result of this twisted mindset, the ANC seems to feel as if removing Zuma is an admission of wrongdoing, and thus weakness — and when you think you’re beyond reproach, like the ANC, any weakness might as well be defeat.

For the ANC to rescue itself — assuming it’s not too late to do so — it needs to return to the idea that as a party, its needs do not come before the needs of South Africans and South Africa. This shift might seem simple, but it isn’t, and it requires a fundamental readjustment of how the party views itself in relation to the broader political arena of the country. DM

Photo of President Jacob Zuma by Greg Nicolson / Daily Maverick.


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