Defend Truth


Fire Jacob Zuma, now. Then, re-invent South Africa

Richard Poplak was born and lives in Johannesburg, South Africa. He trained as a filmmaker and fine artist at Montreals Concordia University and has produced and directed numerous short films, music videos and commercials. Now a full-time writer, Richard is a senior contributor at South Africas leading news site, Daily Maverick, and a frequent contributor to publications all over the world. He is a member of Deca Stories, the international long-form non-fiction collective. His first book was the highly acclaimed Ja, No, Man: Growing Up White in Apartheid-Era South Africa (Penguin, 2007); his follow-up was entitled The Sheikhs Batmobile: In Pursuit of American Pop-Culture in the Muslim World (Soft Skull, 2010). Poplak has also written the experimental journalistic graphic novel Kenk: A Graphic Portrait (Pop Sandbox, 2010). His election coverage from South Africas 2014 election, written under the nom de plume Hannibal Elector, was collected as Until Julius Comes: Adventures in the Political Jungle (Tafelberg, 2014). Ja, No, Man was longlisted for the Alan Paton Non-Fiction prize, shortlisted for the University of Johannesburg Literary Award and voted one of the Top-10 books of 2007 by Now Magazine. Richard has won South Africas Media-24 Best Feature Writing Award and a National Magazine Award in Canada. Since 2010, Poplak has been travelling across Africa, seeking out the catalysts and characters behind the continents 21stcentury metamorphosis. The coming book, co-authored with Kevin Bloom, is called The Shift.

Folks are getting understandably fuzzy-brained right now, all caught up over sartorial choices and protest hashtags. (Black Monday? Seriously?) So this here is an attempt to lay things out as I see 'em.

One: Jacob Zuma must go. Now. The reason he needs to go is not because – or rather, not just because – he fired successive finance ministers, leading inevitably to a ratings downgrade and an economic meltdown. He needs to go because he was found by the Constitutional Court to have breached his oath of office in the Nkandla matter. Everything else – the Guptas, the Treasury, the fact that he’s an ingrate and a mafia bagman, fucking Marikana? All gravy.

He was not, of course, legally compelled to step down. But the conventions of any democracy are partly based on custom. South African democracy is in its early 20s, and therefore we haven’t had much time to establish custom. But as ostensibly free agents and citizens, it is our job to make clear to our leaders what we’re willing to accept. The Nkandla ruling, compounded heavily by all the other nonsense, should have served as a line in the sand.

You’re fired, friendo.

And what this will do will set a precedent that’s vital if this experiment is to continue: South Africans are exceptionally tolerant, but there are limits. Current leaders, future leaders and the succubi attached to them need to understand that their positions are never – NEVER – secure, and security they may hope to enjoy is entirely performance based. They do not rule, they serve.

Not removing Zuma before the end of his term will represent the end of South Africa’s brief flirtation with democracy.

Two: Whoever replaces Zuma must be made to understand that he/she serves as a caretaker president without a mandate, and we must now begin the process of redefining the dispensation. Meaning, what replaces Zuma cannot be steady-as-she-goes, and the coalition that removes him must be made to understand that in doing so, they are agreeing to download a brand-new operating system, and reboot the country,

Which means that National Working Committees, Policy Conferences, and other occasions for Fiks Mbalula to use Blue Label as mouthwash, are rendered moot, and it is time to begin scrapping the terms of the National Development Plan – or at least appending three main revisions, premised on the acknowledgement that South Africa cannot and will not “grow” or “transform” under current conditions.


Two (a): Imagine a Lekgotla that includes all parties and steakholders (misspelling intentional), that has four main items on the agenda. (Don’t call it an economic Codesa because that freaks people out.)

The first is that Section 25 of the Constitution is open for bidness.

The second is a wholesale refurbishment of the education system.

The third is a wholesale reimagining of BEE, BBEEE, and other policy tools intended to formalise black involvement in the economy.

The fourth, and by far the most radical and transformative – and on which I believe the other three entirely hinge – is an agreement to move South Africa towards disbursing a universal basic income to every adult citizen in the country.

Three: Whaa? How did we get from that Zuma fellow to this: lefty economic porn? The point, of course, is that Bad Zuma can’t be replaced with Good Zuma, which is another way of saying that even if Zuma did everything right, and wasn’t a crook, and loved all his people equally, this country would still be fucked.

In order to make the Zuma Must Fall movement as broad and as focused as possible, people need to know that there’s something waiting for them on the other side. Promising jobs is a lie, because the world is changing, and formal work as we know it is all but done.

But affording 55-million landowners a basic income with which they can do as they will? That’s the greatest social experiment in the history of our species. It’s not social engineering, mind you. No one gets put in an oven, and – amazingly – we don’t have any other feasible options.

And guess what, even if you think my Lekgotla talking points are bullshit, you’ll likely agree that we need to be thinking forward, beyond, and with historic grandiosity.

The South African normal is over. And when the king falls, the people who replace him need to know how tight their chains are, and that, this time, every South African will be doing the yanking. DM


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