Why Zuma must step down

The new political year inaugurated by Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) Judge Louis Harms on Monday has made one thing clear: Jacob Zuma must decline to be the ANC’s presidential candidate in the forthcoming election. Any other political solution to his legal problems would continue the erosion of constitutional foundations, which both he and his party did so much work to lay.

It has become heretical to say so in the wake of the Chris Nicholson judgement and the sacking of Thabo Mbeki but the ruling party needs to find another person to carry its torch at the polls and in government.

A Zuma presidency, with or without a criminal trial, would hurt South Africa at just about every level: social, economic, political and institutional. And his candidacy would hurt the party.
While further legal proceedings against him may inflame the already-committed base, they will further alienate the doubters and hand the DA and Congress of the People fresh ammunition.

That these concerns are beginning to be aired anew among members of the ANC’s national executive committee is encouraging. There is some comfort to be drawn from the fact that the party did not greet Zuma’s defeat at the SCA with a fresh attack on the judiciary. The ruling party’s restraint is a sign that it realises how seriously its attacks on the courts last year backfired. It is, sadly, not a sign of any fundamental change in intent.

Zuma’s supporters are now planning a less frontal attack, which will subvert democratic institutions from within rather than besieging them from without. As we report this week the ANC president’s team will attempt to persuade prosecuting authorities to drop their case against him in the interests of averting serious national instability. This is a gambit it has been trying for some time and it effectively amounts to the threat of a coup.

It is a threat couched as a warning and if it fails, as it surely must, the suggestion is that the National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) can be replaced. Acting NDPP Mokotedi Mpshe is proving unexpectedly resolute, which is no doubt why there is such urgency about finalising the sacking of Vusi Pikoli, who, Harms said, had been obliged in the face of the evidence to bring charges against Zuma.

Parliament’s presiding officers are making much of their efforts to consider whether they will confirm President Kgalema Motlanthe’s craven decision to dismiss Pikoli, establishing a joint committee of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces, before taking its recommendations to a vote. That process, shoe-horned into the dying days of the parliamentary term, however, is already descending into bitter farce.

That the ANC could choose Oupa Monareng, a man convicted of bribing police officers in 1996 when he was caught driving an allegedly stolen car, to be co-chair of a committee that will evaluate the fitness for office of a man recognised by his peers as 2008 international prosecutor of the year, is a stark illustration of the topsy-turvy political morality of the battle to save Zuma.

Decisions taken at Polokwane mean the ANC cannot choose another presidential candidate unless Zuma relinquishes his claim. If he and his party really have the interests of the people—rich and poor—at heart that is what he must do, before it is too late.

Banking on change
A jittery corporate South Africa is getting its knickers in the knot about a potential constitutional change, which will allow the Reserve Bank’s ­mandate to be altered to include a broader set of imperatives than interest rates alone.

The ANC’s refusal to state clearly what its monetary and fiscal policy intentions are after the elections is not helping matters. The manifesto launched last week speaks vaguely of changes but does not define these. It is no bad thing that the Reserve Bank should also consider employment and other developmental imperatives—we are, after all, a developing country in Africa, not a highly developed Western economy.

The fact that unemployment, at the expanded rate, is now nudging higher again, is a crucial indicator of economic policy and the financial crunch is threatening to push poverty levels up from an already crippling rate of more than 40%. It’s a no-brainer that a country like ours cannot adopt an orthodox model of monetary policy and it’s no use scaremongering because moves are afoot to change this. Instead, the ruling party should state that it will use both elements of the bank’s mandate (to protect the currency and encourage sustainable growth) to ensure that joblessness comes down substantially. But it must also restate support for an independent Reserve Bank and ensure that the Bank does not become the plaything of the populists, who are about to storm the ramparts of the Union Buildings. The lessons of Zimbabwe are apposite.

Of course, the creation of employment depends on many other factors, such as business confidence (the private sector is still the largest site of job creation), and on simplifying the system of hiring and managing labour. It is on these matters that the ANC is silent as it contemplates a rate of statist policymaking out of touch with modern politics and economics. It’s right that we write a new job description for Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni but quite wrong that Karl Marx provide the full script for a South African economy circa 2010.

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