Opinionista Siviwe Gwarube 5 May 2017

President Zuma’s May Day mess a sign of things to come

President Jacob Zuma has been booed on a public platform and a press conference in its wake did nothing to improve his situation. The only recourse South Africans have out of this mess is a regime change in 2019.

The events that unfolded at various May Day events across the country mark a tipping point in South African politics.

If we did not think the booing of a sitting President was embarrassing then, we certainly do now after the odd ANC press conference held yesterday by the General Secretary of the Party, Gwede Mantashe, in an effort to “set the record straight”.

He added that the President was not set up for an ambush. In fact, by his analysis, the thousands of Cosatu supporters who booed Jacob Zuma, preventing his May Day address in Bloemfontein over the weekend, clearly did so out of their own accord.

This was happening at the same time as Zuma’s walkabout at the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa meeting in Durban where he was questioned about the humiliation he suffered when ordinary South Africans refused to listen to what he had to say on such a historic day in our country.

He was quick to dismiss these questions by claiming that discontent is a product of any healthy democracy. This is a deeply ironic statement for anyone who has picked up a newspaper in South Africa over the past decade.

The events of the past couple of months, including the May Day rally’s booing of the President and those closest to him show us some useful revelations.

It cannot be said – in an attempt to delegitimise opposing voices – that discontent in South Africa conveniently comes from an elite few. This is a lie which has been successfully debunked on numerous occasions over the past couple of months.

We also know that President Zuma and the network of patronage he has built around himself is beyond reproach. No amount of public pressure or display of discontent will turn around this train that is headed for ruin.

Encouraging as it is that the face of protest is no longer that of a lone, poor South African but a movement against President Zuma that has drawn the support of people from all corners of the country, true change can only come through the ballot box.

The events which have unfolded in South Africa during President Zuma’s tenure in office have no place in a constitutional democracy. More so in a country like ours where people vividly remember our dark past and still live with the scars of its aftermath today.

During this time, we have seen an unprecedented attack on the media and tremendous abuse of opposition parties both in and out of Parliament. This has been exacerbated by the heavily politicised Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbete; and unrelenting attack on independent Chapter 9 Institutions such as the Office of the Public Protector.

The damning Constitutional Court judgments levelled against Zuma’s government including the Omar al-Bashir matter, the Nkandla issue and most recently the Sassa debacle have one common thread: gross violation of the Constitution.

The judiciary has had to flex its muscle more during these disastrous two terms under President Zuma, than any other time.

Throughout these crises South Africans have wondered at which point will the ANC self-correct, remove President Zuma and rebuild this organisation back to its former glory. The sad truth is that the time for hoping has long passed.

President Zuma has entangled himself and those around him in a web of complicated patronage. This means it has become impossible for key figures in the ANC to stand up to Zuma’s wrecking ball rampage. This, of course, is coupled with their very obvious self-interest and their desire to keep said positions.

So despite growing public pressure on the ANC, it is impossible for this organisation to introspect, meaningfully. President Zuma has, for some time, been using South Africa as his bargaining chip in his deals with his frenemies. The Public Protector’s State Capture Report displays the extent of this. Based on the contents of this report, one can see that the President is playing Russian Roulette with this country based on decisions taken with the Gupta family, unelected private citizens who hold the public purse strings firmly in their hands.

Seemingly, we are being lurched from one crisis to the next because our president is a desperate man in a race against time. This is why it will serve him well to prop up former African Union Chairperson, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s bid to be the next president of the ANC.

This means that whichever candidate the ANC chooses at its elective congress to lead the party into the 2019 elections, they will never be able to undo the damage that has been done. Key institutions have been compromised and loyal cadres strategically placed. No new broom will ever be able to sweep clean the wreckage created by this Presidency.

The only recourse South Africans have out of this mess is a regime change in 2019. DM

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