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‘Wag the dog’: Who is really in charge, Mr President?


Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

Are the President’s men and women, who stand to lose so much more than Jacob Zuma, calling the shots and saying, ‘over our dead bodies’?

It is with great trepidation that I ask this question of President Jacob Zuma because I know what calibre of cadre we are dealing with and that he knows that he never intended for matters to go this far and certainly is very concerned with how these matters have taken a turn for the worse in Mzansi.

He also knows, I’m sure, that it would be best rather to have a dignified exit way before the 2019 general elections so as to enhance the ANC’s chances of electoral success. After all, his entire life has been dedicated to the advancement of the policies and principles of the African National Congress.

The two ultimate sacrifices in our struggle for liberation have to be imprisonment/detention and sacrificing one’s life, in other words, death. Zuma has had his fair share of the former, both on Robben Island and at times abroad. The exceptional role he played in the early 1990s in bringing to an end the political killings in KwaZulu-Natal at a time when the entire country needed peace and stability as we were preparing for the 1994 watershed breakthrough cannot be overemphasised.

President Zuma, when you became President of the Republic in 2009, the world was experiencing perhaps the worst international financial crisis in modern times, some say since the 1929 Great Depression. South Africa haemorrhaged about one million jobs and many domestic companies had to be given all sorts of assurances and financial backing by our government to avoid them collapsing.

In the end, under your stewardship, we managed to claw 750,000 jobs back and most companies were able to weather the storm. The successful hosting of the 2010 soccer world cup is no doubt another feather in your cap. No one disputes the fact that preceding processes were indeed facilitated by your predecessors but the fact remains that if anything had to go wrong during the hosting of the games, they would not have been blamed, it would have been you, good sir.

The country’s ascendency to the BRICS group must also be commended as must our continued benefit from being associated with the group, positive trade between the member countries and the challenge it collectively mounts against Western hegemony and the skewed nature of the global governance system, be it through the Bretton Wood institutions or the World Trade Organisation or other UN structures. Also, South Africa being the host of the BRICS regional bank in this part of the world does mean some measure of input as to the deserving recipients of development funding on the continent, further extending SA’s hegemonic reach.

The manner in which you facilitated and canvassed for the first woman to spearhead the African Union must also be applauded. Through this achievement South Africa managed to sensitise the continent and its male-dominated political leadership and patriarchal outlook around issues of gender equality and women’s power.

Another success due to your leadership, Mr President, is SA’s involvement in peace-keeping and peace-building initiatives all over the continent. Our men and women in uniform have made us proud in the CAR, DRC, Burundi, Ivory Coast to mention but a few. We have seen our men and women come back in body bags in some instances, giving their lives as the ultimate sacrifice, all in the name of peace and stability on our beloved continent. They do us proud!

The adoption of the NDP is also a great achievement though the implementation has been plagued with all sorts of obstacles. The one key factor that remained constant though is the macro-economic framework of Mzansi under your leadership. The fundamentals of private property rights and the fiscal restraint measures have been all but commendable and steadfast.

The recent independent report, commissioned by the Institute of Race Relations called “The Silver Lining” should also bear testimony to your government’s commitment to uplifting the most disadvantaged in Mzansi – always striving towards better service delivery and addressing the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

No doubt there are a number of black spots in this resumé; your predecessors will tell you it comes with the territory. Many argue still today that the compromises made by Nelson Mandela still reverberate today and it is not always positive. Thabo Mbeki’s handling of the HIV/Aids debacle still leaves a bitter taste in our collective mouths. And so, your black spots will also find expression in the history books, but rest assured the successes outlined above already occupy their rightful place in our collective minds.

I’m raising all this to demonstrate to you, Comrade Zuma, that you have done well despite the missteps of your second term in office. Your legacy will not be forgotten and certainly cannot be denied. Handing over the baton now will further cement your commitment to the struggle for liberation and the only viable vehicle to see it through to the end, the ANC.

One thing I have always admired about you was your knowledge of the history of your movement. You would know that when people inside the party had problems with President Tambo’s leadership and they decided to call for the Morogoro conference to put the ANC back on the right footing and path, Tambo resigned so as to be able to participate as an equal member in the various discussions about what was wrong with the organisation and how best can they correct the wrongs. As you know, he was re-elected into his position of president but out of that process came renewed vigour and ideological direction, putting the ANC back on a steady course towards the 1990s and its subsequent gains for the peoples of Mzansi.

In other words, Comrade Zuma, the ANC is in your DNA, it’s your life, and yet you allow this morass to continue.

You know what the right thing is to do yet you stay, procrastinate, stubbornly clinging to this position and office – why?

What is really going on , Mr President? This is not the disciplined cadre I have come to know and respect.

Are you, like your counterpart President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, finding yourself in the position where the decision to leave the highest office in the land is no longer yours to make?

Are the President’s men and women, who stand to lose so much more than you, calling the shots and saying, “over our dead bodies”?

Are they saying: You will stay until we have secured our material gains and occupy the right positions in the next Executive and the ANC so as to avoid criminal prosecutions and all other possible concomitant negative outcomes?

Who is in charge of your decisions, President Zuma?

The time has come the Walrus said,

To talk of many things

Of shoes and ships and sealing wax

Of cabbages and kings

And why the sea is boiling hot

And whether pigs have wings

Is it by design?

or is it time to resign?

Much is made of the secret talks Mbeki and others were engaged in both in the UK and Gorée island in Senegal but little is written about the man who flew (as per the instructions of the ANC HQ in Zambia) under a veil of secrecy into Waterkloof Airbase per the invitation of Maritz Spaarwater, Niel Barnard and other operatives from the apartheid era National Intelligence Services (NIS) to carefully negotiate the re-entry into SA of the exiled ANC and its numerous cadres from all over the world. That person of course was none other than Jacob Zuma.

If indeed you are in charge, Mr President, if indeed the dog is wagging its tail and not the tail wagging the dog, then be all you can be, show us where the cadre is that we know.

Do what is best for the ANC and our beloved country. Just resign! DM


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