We put Jacob the Deceiver in command

President Jacob Zuma is not ashamed that the world is pointing and laughing at him. (Madelene Cronjé)

President Jacob Zuma is not ashamed that the world is pointing and laughing at him. (Madelene Cronjé)

In the years since 2009, when Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma ascended to the presidency of South Africa, we have gone backwards on every conceivable front. We are losing our way.

The principles embodied by our founding fathers are under siege; the poor are treated with disdain; the powerful and politically connected are looting the coffers of the state; while the masses of our people are becoming increasingly desperate and have only government handouts to thank for their survival.

Under Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, government debt was reduced from the disgraceful apartheid levels (52% of gross domestic product in 1994) to less than 30% of GDP. Under Zuma it has ratcheted up dramatically to 45.9%.
Unemployment is ticking up, while economic growth has deteriorated sharply since 2009.

Statistics South Africa’s quarterly labour force survey found that the jobless rate rose to 26.4% in the first three months of 2015 – the highest level in 11 years. In all, 8.7-million people are unemployed, if we include those who have given up looking for work. Gross domestic product grew by an annualised 1.3% quarter on quarter in the first three months of 2015.

That is worse than the miserable 1.5% growth of 2014. Worse, though, is that GDP contracted an annualised 1.3% from the first quarter of 2015. GDP growth has deteriorated steadily under Zuma: 3.6% in 2011, 2.5% in 2012, 1.9% in 2013. The trend is set to continue up to 2017.

Zuma was re-elected for a second term in May 2014, at exactly the same time as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. At the time India’s inflation was running at 9% and economic growth had slowed to less than 5%. When Modi celebrated a year in office, inflation was down to 5%, and the International Monetary Fund was forecasting that India’s economy would grow by 7.5% in 2015. The same institution believes South Africa will struggle to achieve 2% growth.

Unemployment is the single most dangerous issue facing South Africa today. It is creating a great mass of anger and frustration. As the young and hopeless watch Zuma and his cronies eat and ask for more from their mothers and fathers in taxes, rates, etolls (highway tolls) and other charges, they begin to ask themselves: Why, and for how long?

Police Minister Nathi Nhleko reported to Parliament in May this year that there were a staggering 14?700 incidents of unrest – community and service delivery protests – reported to the South African Police Service (SAPS) in the previous year.

There will be howling from Zuma and his cronies at all these things, I say. They will allege all sorts of things. They will accuse me – as they have accused every black person who dares to call them out on their looting – a coconut, a sellout, a tool of whites and of the West.

To them I say: it is black people, my people, that you are betraying. It is black people who are unemployed, whose taxes you steal, whose lives you condemn to hopelessness and despair. It is black people who suffer when the institutions of state are rendered useless and cowed. It is black people – who the Zuma administration claims to be working for – who bear the brunt of the failure of the police, the courts, the state, to deliver on their mandates.

These people didn’t fight and defeat apartheid for this. They didn’t fight and defeat apartheid to see their leaders feed at the trough while thousands go to bed hungry and cold. If they did, then indeed I am a sellout. Then indeed every man and woman of conscience who stands up against the spread of corruption and the betrayal of the liberation ethos espoused by Mandela and others is a sellout.

Are we a failed state? No, not by a long shot. Are we a Syria or an Eritrea or a Libya? Not at all. We have a beautiful country, a peace that defies belief and a people committed to the democracy we have painstakingly built over 21 years. That is why we need to take heed of the warning lights that are flashing.

Failure, disaster and collapse can arrive very quickly. Sometimes it can take years of the drip-drip effect, of small things going wrong and being left unfixed. One day you look around and realise that everything is broken, that your country has been stolen. That is what I fear the Zuma presidency has been doing to South Africa since the man came to power in 2009.

The Zuma bus is taking us over the cliff. And if we stay quiet, if we don’t point out the sharp decline that he has brought about, both in the quality of the ANC’s leadership of society and in the quality of leadership in government, then we are laughing with the bus driver, the thief-in-chief from Nkandla.

What is going on? On the day the public protector comprehensively proved that a crime had been committed against the taxpayer over the building of Zuma’s palatial home, and that he had benefited unduly from this crime, he gave a speech in which he did not even see fit to mention her findings.

You see, he is not ashamed at all. He is not ashamed that he is exposed, that he is naked, that the world is pointing and laughing at him – and at us. He has no shame. Without this sense of shame, this acknowledgement of wrongdoing, he will sit in office and continue as if nothing is wrong. I believe that, in his warped view, the only thing that would lead to his being removed from office would be a jail sentence.

We are sliding from our high ideals into a free-for-all in which politicians are a law unto themselves and accountability is a word used only for PowerPoint presentations. Not a single member of the ANC’s national executive committee is prepared to raise their hand and say to Zuma: thus far, and no further. In the NEC, the rot is now endemic.

It is, of course, easy to point fingers and accuse Zuma and his cronies of all sorts of things. The truth is, they are not the only guilty party here. We are guilty too.

South Africans deserve these leaders. We deserve a Zuma, because we have rewarded him for his scandals: Guptagate, Khwezigate, Malawigate, the spy tapes, Schabir Shaik …

The list of scandals is long. Yet we chose the man at the heart of them all. Not just once. Twice.

This is an extract from We Have Now Begun Our Descent by Justice Malala, published by Jonathan Ball Publishers.

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