Opinionista Ismail Lagardien 11 February 2016

Ditching the millstone that is Zuma

If Zuma is removed from office sometime between the SONA and the local government election (surely he is, by now, the alliance’s biggest millstone) there will be some spring-cleaning to be done. There could, also, be a massive Cabinet reshuffle, or, at the least, a re-arrangement of the deck chairs across government and state enterprises and agencies.

President Jacob Zuma will not be removed from his position by the courts, nor by Parliament. He will be removed by politics. Specifically, he will be removed by a decision of the National Executive Committee of the ANC, or by the electorate. When he does leave, the ANC have at least two options: to allow criminal or corruption charges to be filed against him and let the law take its course, or Zuma will call in the wad of chits he has from all the deals, favours and decisions he made during his tenure.

The most recent of these deals was the one where he rolled back his decision in the Nene-Van-Rooyen-Gordhan debacle.

Things could get messy.

Starting at the top, we should be clear that neither the Constitutional Court, nor the Public Protector’s Office, have the powers to remove the President. In the specific case currently before the Court, the Judges can only make findings that the President had breached the law and the Constitution.

The two ways in which he can be removed are essentially political and discretionary.

Zuma can be impeached at the discretion of the National Assembly if the Constitutional Court finds that he breached the laws of the land and the Constitution. Impeachment is itself, no guarantee of dismissal. It is not insignificant, though. At a most basic level, impeachment is simply a process that may or may not lead to the dismissal of a person (a political office-bearer) accused of wrongdoing.

Should a dismissal be driven through the National Assembly, it would be unlikely, though not improbable, that the majority party would vote en bloc for Zuma’s dismissal. That would require a political drive that can only be initiated from Luthuli House, through the ANC’s Parliamentary Caucus and onto the floor. Such a drive is possible, but improbable.

To get Luthuli House to send a command for dismissal through impeachment would require a significant public shift among the ANC leadership. If such a shift does occur, it would send a mild convulsion wave across the movement and its hangers-on. People who have benefited directly or indirectly from Zuma’s Presidency, will feel threatened; the earth will move under their feet, but probably not in the way that they would want. There are many people who are indebted to Zuma for the jobs, the tenders and the political office they occupy. There are also many people who made promises or commitments; the chits that Zuma may want to cash-in in the event that he is forced out of office. There is, for example, a likelihood that he struck a deal to reverse his decision in the Nene-Van-Rooyen-Gordhan calamity of last December. Unless of course the wad of chits he has accrued will be dishonoured. Zuma could, himself, be “thrown under the bus” – but this would simply be a massive public relations manoeuvre.

Either way, if Zuma is removed from office sometime between the SONA and the local government election (surely he is, by now, the alliance’s biggest millstone) there will be some spring-cleaning – in the mob sense. There could, also, be a massive Cabinet reshuffle and a re-arrangement of the deck chairs across government and state enterprises and agencies.

This would be an opportunity to follow the National Development Plan recommendations to break the interface between politics and public administration and management, professionalise the public service, and stop the inertia that the political calendar causes in government. This will take time, but it would be a good time to start. It would, also, restore confidence in the public service, where very many dedicated and hard-working public servants cannot get on with their jobs without looking over their shoulder.

While several of his placements across state agencies have fallen because of their own misdeeds, many may be “redeployed” or simply be forced to walk the plank behind Zuma. The political fall-out could be enormous. There is every possibility that Zuma will take some people down with him. On the positive side, we may, actually, see stability and possibly even progress at the highest levels of the SABC, SAA, the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Police Service, among other.

If the ANC allows him to leave (without throwing him to the wolves), there may be enough goodwill among some of his benefactors, to pay his legal bills.

The ANC’s loyalists may well insist that he retires in peace. South Africans will be asked to “leave an old man” and a “former president” and a “former leader of the ANC” to retire in dignity. We will be reminded that we “allowed” PW Botha to die, peacefully, in his sleep, surrounded by his family, and we could, in the least, afford Zuma the same respect.

What is clear, at this stage, is that Zuma will not be removed or leave office in the next day or so. The only way that he will leave is at the discretion of Parliament which is heavily contingent on political decisions made at Luthuli House. He could, of course, be the cause of the ANC’s greatest losses at the polls later this year. He is the Economic Freedom Fighters’ greatest asset.

Nonetheless, if he does leave, the political fall-out will be enormous.

It may be time for Cyril Ramaphosa, who is a heartbeat from the highest office, to call upon the movement’s brightest people and those who are not in the movement, but dedicated to public service to restore faith and credibility in the government, the state and South Africa. Getting rid of the ants and maggots, the termites and dry-rot fungi that infest the crooked timber of South African society may take longer.

Getting rid of Zuma will be a step in the right direction. DM


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