Editorial: Check the madness of King Zuma

A giant poster of Zuma's face was hung up at the ANC's Mangaung conference. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A giant poster of Zuma's face was hung up at the ANC's Mangaung conference. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

When a battle between the president of the country and his three most powerful lieutenants spills out so visibly into the public arena, you know there’s cause for concern. Until recently the ANC’s internal machinations and wrangling around President Jacob Zuma took place behind closed doors, with the public privy to select details only, thanks to leaks to the press.

  But recently Gwede Mantashe, Pravin Gordhan and Cyril Ramaphosa have dispensed with such niceties in dealing with the increasing madness of King Zuma. The Mail & Guardian reports in this edition on the trio’s work to clip the president’s wings when it comes to patronage and the pillaging of state resources. We show how public comments from Zuma and the group have diverged on key issues.

Together, the trio is in charge of an influential government department and two internal party processes that have the power to block Zuma’s decisions and future plans. In the treasury, Gordhan’s comments on the need to stabilise SAA and its board are in direct contradiction to Zuma’s satisfaction with the parastatal and its management. Similarly, at an ANC Gauteng event, Zuma once again defended his disastrous decision to appoint Des van Rooyen to the finance ministry – and accused his own senior comrades of castigating him. This belies statements by Ramaphosa, who said replacing Van Rooyen with Gordhan was akin to fixing a mistake.

The president’s latest remarks on the existence of state capture also stands at odds with an official investigation by the ANC into the alleged influence of powerful families on ministers and senior ANC leaders. The party’s last national executive committee tasked Mantashe’s office with collecting evidence of this alleged influence – of state capture.

So why have these attempts to bring Zuma into line spilled into the public? Because ways to take action against Zuma in the party have been closed.

As the ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini so eloquently put it, the “smallanyana skeletons” that “all the NEC members” have in their closet are preventing the ANC from taking action. This could also be why Ramaphosa and Gordhan have made appeals to the public – not to ANC members specifically – to save the ANC and protect South Africa’s democratic institutions.

Ramaphosa told professionals and academics in Sandton to flock back to the movement and reclaim their place within it. Gordhan used the Lenasia funeral of an Umkhonto weSizwe veteran, Shirish Nanabhai, to warn against state capture. Mantashe has called on churches, nongovernmental organisations, veterans and the foundations of ANC stalwarts to raise their concerns about the ANC with his office, in the hope that the national executive committee will consider these views and take appropriate action.

These actions are to be applauded. But South Africa cannot always rely on individual leaders to resolve political stand-offs or to turn the tide in crises. What is required is a functioning and reliable system that cannot be manipulated to protect the corrupt. We don’t need personalities to save us: we need systems we can depend upon.

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