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The Long Shadow of Jacob Zuma


Susan Booysen is Director of Research, Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflection (MISTRA), and visiting and emeritus professor, Wits School of Governance.

The last week showed again that the game is not over and that former president Jacob Zuma is holding the ANC to a certain type of ransom. Zuma’s objective is revealed: to make his own prosecution too ghastly for the ANC to contemplate.

The long shadow of former president Jacob Zuma continues to fall over South African and African National Congress (ANC) politics. As the days accumulate since Cyril Ramaphosa’s takeover and Zuma’s resignation, the evidence also mounts of the obstacles to moving from that political transition to exorcising Zuma and his circle from government and state power.

On both ANC and state fronts, it is a gradual game of immobilising Zuma further; of smoking out the Zuma kingpins in state entities. The last week showed again that the game is not over. South Africa was bombarded with strokes of revengeful Zuma fightback from where he hovers by the side of his political grave. Self-sacrifice is not on Zuma’s menu. Hence, as far as the ANC goes, Zuma follows the dictum of “if I cannot be the king of the ANC, the ANC will suffer”.

If only there had been a clear-cut line of division between opponents and allies. Deputy President DD Mabuza answering questions in Parliament illustrated how the chequered CR alliance of pro-renewal, anti-corruption/Zuma forces pays for the depravities of many who are now incorporated into the dominant CR alliance.

In these conditions and while the Ramaphosaists fight the Zuma ghosts, Ramaphosa euphoria sacrifices traction, both in party and state.

Zuma personally is holding the ANC to a certain type of ransom. In the wake of reinstatement of the 783 counts on 16 charges of corruption, money laundering and racketeering, the Zuma troupe introduced three threats, both party and state-related. They are potent, highlighting ANC vulnerabilities as it seeks its foothold in the 2019 election campaign. They reveal Zuma’s objective – to make his own prosecution too ghastly for the ANC to contemplate:

  • First is the indirect threat of unleashing court precinct mobilisation in 2008 mode when the ANC swopped Thabo Mbeki for Zuma. The Zuma trials brought ANC internal regime change; Zuma captured power on the wings of populism (soon it was replaced with hyper elitism, Zuma as the epicentre). The wording circa 2018 even hinted at possible court precinct violence.
  • Second is the threat of capturing some ANC structures and parts of the KwaZulu-Natal province. Even if this is a modest threat the Ramaphosaists baulk at the spectre of diehard Zumaists still keeping open the back door to split the ANC main body, or force an ANC special elective conference. This threat has been prevalent all along and spikes were to be expected in the aftermath of the reinstatement of charges.
  • Third is Zuma’s threat to defend his corrupt actions of syphoning off state resources in terms of executing Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), rather than redirecting riches into Zuma and his associates’ pockets.

Zuma’s threats inflict damages. His own and his acolytes’ fightbacks keep reminding citizens and opposition parties of the Zumaist past that is enfolded in the new present. Similarly, just-suspended former SARS commissioner Tom Moyane, despite overwhelming evidence of sycophantic status, wants to challenge Ramaphosa’s action to remove him. In addition, DD Mabuza’s attempt to perform deputy presidential duties in Parliament epitomised the Ramaphosa dilemma: how to build a new ANC out of doubtful materials.

The spilt threat remains compelling, even if not necessarily substantive: the strongest visible support that Zuma mustered in the last week, upon pleading inability to pay for legal defence on arms deal charges, was from the National Funeral Parlour Association of SA (no doubt knowledgeable of political deaths as well). Besides collecting legal defence monies, the association wants to defend their Msholozi against the attacks by the “wild dogs”. The military veterans of MKMVA, with Carl Niehaus and Kebby Maphatsoe leading, disputed that a fair trial for Zuma is possible. Zuma’s legal representative cum business partner Michael Hulley threatened an application to review the reinstatement of the arms deal. Add the attack formations parts of the Zuma clan, sons Duduzane and Edward-it-is-a-witch-hunt Zuma, the ANCYL secretary-general, and part of the KZN ANC Women’s League, and Zuma’s threats threaten to fall flat.

Zuma by all appearances has no intention to go down without resistance, while the ANC-of-all-factions soft-pedal, in the name of a dignified exit for the warrior with the machine gun. Post-resignation Zuma has been on walkabouts in KwaMashu on voter registration weekend, addressed the funeral specialists, and participated in a high-level election workshop. Against Zuma’s own will, and to the detriment of the ANC, he is also set to become a long-term display in legal proceedings, for starters in the arms deal and the State Capture commission. There will be frequent reminders to all of South Africa’s cynical citizens and voters that he is a part of the ANC…

As in the third of the threats, common elements in Zuma’s counterassault are that he is the “victim” due to his (argued) propagation of radical economic transformation and land expropriation, and that he was merely doing his bit for Black Economic Empowerment. The weak pile-up of defences continues on the procedural front: the charges have been manipulated, reinstalled late through poor decisions by acting and permanent national directors of public prosecutions… This is in complete denial that it has been Zuma, Zuma’s legal team, and Zuma’s apologist appointees who have drawn out, delayed, and appealed incessantly.

On a BEE leg of fightback Zuma will argue, by all prevailing evidence, that his actions had nothing to do with greed and all to do with national interest and essential policies of restitution. The BEE argument, through media interviews with Hulley, is to be offered as a veiled threat to other beneficiaries of BEE – notably Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, and to the ANC that promoted BEE deals from Luthuli House. Judges will have a field day in drawing the line between what is corruption for gross personal gain, and what is implementation of national policy.

The Ramaphosaist ANC is faced with the elephantine task of continuously moving fast and definitively, forward only, to differentiate itself from those who had brought disrepute to the ANC. The fragility of the reprieve that South Africa has gained economically and in terms of positive national mood will dissipate if this does not happen.

The question is how fast and effectively, if at all, a new and convincing ANC can emerge from the Zuma ruins. Further evidence is required that Zuma’s power spell, if not dirty political game, has been broken. DM


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