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Happy Valenzuma Day – but we don’t want flowers, just honesty and contrition

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An Wentzel is Daily Maverick night editor, specialist reporter.

Happy anniversary South Africa! Two years ago we and former president Jacob Zuma consciously uncoupled as millions of South Africans let out a collective sigh of relief and even a loud cheer or two.

All that hot air buoyed the nation, which keenly looked forward to better days… former president Jacob Zuma himself seemed in good spirits and did not quite deny that he did not jump so much as he was pushed.

What he did deny was any wrongdoing while proclaiming that he would serve party and country till the end, or till Jesus returned, whichever came first. 

Regardless of his utterances, many South Africans, in the modern way, held a just-divorced/newly-single I’m-so-much-better-off-without- you-good-riddance party and started a new romance. 

Giddy with relief at the bloodless coup, notoriously optimistic South Africa set about looking to the future and a new dawn.

Two months or thereabouts before that momentous Valentine’s Day 2018, when Zuma resigned as president of the country, Cyril Ramaphosa had been elected president of the ANC at the party’s 54th elective conference.

There was something in the air, and it moved across the country and South Africans felt the stirrings of hope.

The ANC had had enough, the relationship was not quite over but the red-hot romance was all but ashes, with the honeymoon very definitely in the distant past. We had reached the “it’s-not-me, it’s-you” stage of things. The ANC-Zuma-Gupta love triangle was burnt toast. 

There would be no more hand-holding and giggling and looking deeply into each other’s eyes; none of the parties in this relationship were getting Valentine’s Day roses, much less chocolates. Until “an elite South African police team” came with handcuffs,  which was almost the surprise gift of the day for some of our star-crossed lovers as there was a raid at a Gupta family residence at dawn on that fateful 14 February.

And while it seems clear that Zuma was most likely infatuated with the Guptas, the real love was between No 1 and the ANC.  

It took a few years though for the ANC to finally decide to break up with Zuma as calls for his resignation reached shrieking point in 2016.  

That he and his extended professional/political cohort had benefited by marauding the nation’s purse, while being feted by the Guptas and handing them the keys to the kingdom, had not gone unnoticed and the nation was not in a forgiving mood.

Following the Constitutional Court ruling on 31 March 2016 that Zuma had violated the Constitution when he failed to repay at least some of the around R250-million in taxpayers’ money spent on Nkandla upgrades, there were few who were silent on whether or not he should remain in the Presidency. 

But, in the midst of nationwide protests, the ANC stood by their man. Love… or something like it? In most relationships there is a balance of who does what for whom. 

It is not unusual for one party to do more than the other, or do more most of the time. Most relationships exist happily in such an often-unequal space – it is those relationships existing in an always unequal space that need to be reconsidered. 

The ANC clearly did most of the real work in the relationship, while Zuma said all the right stuff while acting the fool.

While Zuma claimed to love the ANC, the party’s theme song that year might have been, “You don’t bring me flowers anymore.”

News of the Gupta family’s hand in making decisions about ministerial appointments appears to have broken the scale that already tipped heavily against Zuma.  

While every day was clearly Valentine’s Day for Zuma in the embrace of the Guptas, the ANC was being publicly cold-shouldered and humiliated like an old-fashioned cuckold. The writing was on the wall.  

In a long-term relationship, where loyalties had been forged and proven over long decades, this was understandably a hard decision to make. 

And so the ANC found itself in the position of many a (life-long) loyal partner, having to weigh up damage done vs time served/sacrifices made… listening to the children of their union give their two cents worth, while realising that the children of the country’s Unions were possibly more unhappy.

Something had to give. Someone had to go. 

With corruption allegations and incidents spewing with regularity into the public realm, some voices inside the ANC became almost as loud as the voices outside the party. #Zumamustfall was no longer a call to protest, but an unavoidable reality – despite Zuma surviving a vote of no confidence in Parliament in November 2016. 

The party seemed to be about to implode. The ANC was in turmoil internally, under pressure from the alliance partners, the people, and almost the entire world.  

The love was not gone, exactly, but it was changing. And change is hard for most humans, which is what Jacob Zuma is. Human. Some do not want to admit it – a whole faction in the ANC will not admit it – but human is what he is.  

Which is possibly why it took such a long time to get him to resign. He had been asked to leave, then told to leave but only finally “decided” to leave when faced with what was basically an eviction notice, with the ANC preparing to proceed with a motion of no confidence against him to legally force him to resign.

Making his resignation speech, he said he had “come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect”.  

In Hollywood there would have been cheers and whoops and a fade to black as everyone lived happily ever after. 

In most long-term relationships there is very rarely a post-divorce happily- ever-after. 

But today, on this Valentine’s Day, as Zuma recuperates from an unclear medical condition, South Africans may be forgiven for hoping that the next big Valentine’s Day gift the former president bestows upon the nation is honesty (hopefully in court or at an inquiry) and the missing millions… and while we won’t hold our breath, we can hope that a generous Valentine would also pay back the interest. DM 

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