South Africa

South Africa

Op-Ed: How do we get rid of Jacob Zuma and rebuild democracy?

Op-Ed: How do we get rid of Jacob Zuma and rebuild democracy?

The latest revelations of gangster connections with President Jacob Zuma have shocked a South African public that has become accustomed to scandal. The level of criminality that emerges in extracts from Jacques Pauw’s new book nevertheless evokes astonishment. Immediately, members of the public ask why he remains in office. Zuma has, however, demonstrated that he will not be easily dislodged no matter what has been demonstrated about the scale of his misdemeanours. It is important that efforts to remove Zuma and rebuild our democracy recognise that existing constitutional institutions need to be augmented and draw on the popular anger that has been demonstrated. It needs to build an enduring unity between sections of business, the poor and all other concerned citizens. Until now such actions have been sporadic. Efforts need to be made to build unity that is not episodic, but organised in order to have actors reflect on what they have done and plan – with one another -- on a regular basis. Such patient work may seem problematic in the light of the dire situation in the country, but it may be a precondition for building the power that can recover our democratic aspirations. By RAYMOND SUTTNER.

Every time one thinks we have heard the worst about Jacob Zuma and his acolytes or fraudsters or gangster associates there is more that emerges, as with the extracts from Jacques Pauw’s book, The President’s Keepers in the Sunday Times and subsequently in other newspapers. We literally have Glen Agliotti referring in a secret discussion amongst gangsters to Zuma being reliable, in that he is one of them, that is, a gangster. “No, he is fine. He is a gangster like us.”

He can be counted on to cover their backs in illegal smuggling and that none of them will come to harm in the sense of facing the legal consequences of their crimes.

Zuma is at once a small-time crook in the sense that his greed is insatiable and he does not think about the consequences. Like a child, he does not think of the long term. Simultaneously, we know, he is part of a larger criminal network that has usurped state power in many respects, capturing decision-making in order to divert funds towards himself and his close associates.

I do not say that those who visited Zuma on us were aware of all his qualities, though they did know that he was a man with little integrity, almost certainly a sexual predator and a person with a high tolerance for unlawful actions. His respect for democratic values was already suspect.

This is no minor error that was visited on us in the “Polokwane spring”, as the SACP termed it. Whatever “irruption of democracy” the SACP may have claimed we were seeing has now turned into a savaging of democracy, depleting the wealth of the country and undermining the well-being of all our citizens, especially that of the poorest of the poor, whose interests allegedly drove the SACP and Cosatu to champion Zuma.

The economy has been run into the ground. It is not simply the result of the inevitable laws of capitalism wreaking its destruction on a weaker economy, aided by conservative macro-economic policies. The Zumaites consciously robbed State-Owned Entities (SoEs), intended as one of the main drivers of transformation. Not only did those deployed to SoEs divert funds towards private wealth but we now know that this was part of a wider process, much larger in scope and impact on the state as a whole, than the corruption of the Schabir Shaik period. The quantities and scale of Shaik’s corruption is so pitifully small compared with the present “state capture”, that one can almost looks back fondly on what Shaik did with Zuma.

The looting has had a devastating effect on the economy, with the debt to GDP ratio having risen to almost 55% and calculated to be 61% by 2022. This debt has not been created through negligence, in the main, but increasing what is owed by consciously creating mechanisms to rob state owned entities and the fiscus more generally, in order to benefit a few.

As others have noted, this debt has a knock-on effect with ratings agencies almost certain to downgrade our economy further. Together with the existence of such a large debt the borrowing that is required to keep the economy going will cost still more. The best forecasts suggest miniscule growth, at best 1% next year, implying still greater unemployment and poverty with the cost of basic foodstuffs and other necessities rising. There is less state money available to meet basic needs, required for people to live with human dignity, including sanitation, water, housing, proper schooling and health care.

Leaders of the ANC-led alliance got us into this mess. Have they got realistic ideas to get us out of it? The best they can do is tell their members-and us- to vote for one or another candidate for the ANC presidency. Any living being will be better than Zuma, one must concede. But what evidence has been presented that shows that any candidate, even if apparently not corrupt, has the qualities or vision that are required to deal with a crisis of the proportions that we now encounter? What have the candidates advanced as a vision to remedy what has been so badly damaged, with their complicity, over the last eight years?

I do not personally have an immediate and precise vision or programme to remedy the current situation, and I make no apologies for that.

That someone does not offer an alternative to ideas that will not remedy a problem does not mean one should settle for the inadequate ideas. I believe that such a vision ought to be developed through listening and engaging, and not simply by presenting the public with some or other idea that a grouping has formulated.

The approach should be that we need to find a way of arriving at a solution that is sustainable. The ANC conference may or may not go ahead, but if it does, we should not have the illusion that our problems will be solved there, no matter who is elected as the new president.

But what is the route we need to follow in trying to initiate discussions that can find a solution? How do we approach the question of bringing down Zuma and restoring our democratic life? There are a number of ways that are already being used to weaken his political lifespan – mass demonstrations of public feeling, involving a range of sectors of society, parliamentary motions of no confidence and attempts to impeach him, legal actions of a variety of kinds that entrench the understanding that we have as president a person who is contemptuous of his duties under the oath that he has sworn as president.

More generally, opposition parties aim to vote out the ANC in 2019, and may form a coalition led by the DA, although there have been some problems in managing these at the level of local government.

Cumulatively the actions that are already in motion at various times in different places do not suffice as mechanisms to demonstrate the power that we can wield in order to drive the crooks, not only but especially Zuma, out of government.

That power has been manifested in the streets and exists in a range of organisations or is potentially deployed through people located in places that are outside of political parties. What is interesting about the various manifestations of public anger is that they have often involved people who may never have been in protests before.

What we need to recognise and utilise to the full is that the level of unity against Zuma extends far beyond the broad forces that fought apartheid, embracing sections of business as well as a range of people or communities deriving from the poorest of the poor. Whatever their different orientations on socio-economic questions these diverse sectors do agree that #Zumamustfall.

We need to find a way of building that unity into an organised form. This need not necessarily be a political party, at least initially, but it needs to be something that exists beyond the next, very large or small demonstration. It can only be sustained if those who comprise the components of the unity recognise that political goals, like the removal of Zuma need continued and organised effort. That enables people to communicate with one another and plan what happens after the next demonstration and not simply respond to what various high-profile individuals or organisations may agree to call for.

Once you have the participants who are not necessarily in the leadership of organisations or even members of organisations becoming part of something that is organised, no matter how loose that organisation may be then one is talking about a different quality of power. In that situation, the distinct groups of people engage with one another, reflecting on what has been done and what can be done in the future to enhance that power. That comprises the evaluation and planning that is so badly needed.

We cannot under-estimate the value of the various important legal initiatives that have been undertaken. But we must measure these not only in terms of the democratic space they have created or affirmed, but also in terms of how they relate to organised power. What is won in the courts, valuable as it may be, is generally won on behalf of people. Organised power is a direct demonstration of popular voices and is thus a demonstration of what the people of a country themselves demand, not because the law says so but because they show directly that they, the people, believe it is needed.

Outrage is expressed in a range of ways and the media has been invaluable in highlighting what has been done that has evoked outrage. But those who wish to recover what has been lost need to find ways of channelling anger into effective channels that demonstrate ongoing democratic power.

This cannot be done in a few days or weeks. It will take a long time for various actors to find one another, located in quite different and sometimes similar organisations, some located outside of any organisations. All these need to be joined together. It can be done because they share common loyalty to the constitution and democracy.

In building a new unity we need to draw on human resources from a range of political orientations. It is not the left alone who can remove Zuma. It is not business alone or the parties in Parliament. We need a range of forces who for sometimes overlapping, but also distinct reasons related to where they are located, want to see the back of Zuma or see Zuma behind bars, where he ought to have been almost 10 years back, had it not been for various illegitimate interventions.

We do not drop legal actions or expressions of public outrage. These must still be encouraged, even if they take a spontaneous form. But what is needed, more fundamentally, is something that will endure and that means slow, patient organisation, even if the problems are urgent. DM

Photo: Raymond Suttner is a political analyst who served lengthy periods in prison and under house arrest during apartheid. Photo: Chris Snelling

Raymond Suttner is a scholar and political analyst. He is a Part-time Professor attached to Rhodes University and an Emeritus Professor at Unisa. He served lengthy periods in prison and house arrest for underground and public anti-apartheid activities. His prison memoir Inside Apartheid’s prison has recently been reissued with a new introduction covering his more recent “life outside the ANC” by Jacana Media. He blogs at and his twitter handle is @raymondsuttner


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