Editorial: Zuma won’t be taking his mess with him
South Africa is watching, and waiting, listening and hoping for news that this time, unlike the last time, President Jacob Zuma will be forced to step down.
It’s like repeatedly watching a video of Donald Trump clambering up the stairs to Air Force One, with one gust of wind parting Trump’s hair, revealing a bald scalp. Just as we may have proof of Trump’s baldness, we also have proof of Zuma’s frailties. It may appear tawdry to laugh at Trump but his obsession with appearance renders his baldness fair game. And although it may appear premature to take pleasure in Zuma being forced on to the back foot, he does not deserve any sympathy.
He accrued power through an intricately woven web of personal finances happily colliding with the generosity of business people. He accrued power through the systematic manipulation of the ANC and its alliance partners to create the cult of his personality.
And he has stayed in power by outwitting his opponents — all while unemployment spiked, state-owned enterprises lie in ruin and the ANC lost control of three more metros. These are just few of the sins for which Zuma must account.
Then there is his ability to live up to his name, laughing while his enemies hurt.
Of the ruins that are the political careers of Blade Nzimande, Zwelinzima Vavi and Julius Malema, it is only Malema who has been able to successfully reconstruct himself after falling out with Zuma. With both Vavi and Nzimande, the jury’s still out.
Zumapolitick is unrepentant in its ambition. It is relentless in its mission to accrue the kind of power that insulates its principal from being directly linked to all the wrongs carried out in its name. Zumapolitick is patient. And it does bounce back.
This, however, is surely the end.
But watching the spectacle of Zuma’s political death unfold so agonisingly has revealed much about the gaping holes in the ANC leadership, who are all too ready to postpone the State of the Nation Address (Sona), and to decide to hold a national executive committee meeting to vote Zuma out, only to postpone that too.
Watching this spectacle has also revealed how dependant we are on what politicians say. At some point this week, we have all had our ears trained to the ground, listening for talk about the transition talks. It would be ridiculous if it wasn’t also the daily reality of how political journalism is done.
So the ANC postponing Sona in an apparent attempt to force a decision is exactly Zuma’s kind of politics. It is also the surest sign yet of the president’s political demise.
Although it may also appear tawdry to take pleasure in the end of the career of an elderly statesman, a liberation fighter and a Robben Island prisoner, when it comes to Zuma, he is fair game. There is nothing of the Zuma presidency that we will miss. There is nothing about Zuma we will miss.
However, it is imperative that we pause and look beyond this space, where our idea of Zuma and what he represents are reinforced by everyone who has similar ideas about the man. The danger of this is clear when rumours like Zuma readying himself to fire Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, or Russian President Vladimir Putin coming to rescue Zuma are given enough credence to pass for news.
For many South Africans, it does not matter who runs the country — it will not change their lives. In the Mail & Guardian this week, we spoke to a man who earns a living as a malume, driving school children to and from Ntolwane Primary School, where Zuma votes at election time, who pointed out, for the majority of South Africans, there are no spoils in this war.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about it,’’ he said “For me, it doesn’t really matter. If he stays, we don’t get anything. If he goes, we don’t get anything.’’
We must be clear: Zuma should have resigned a long, long time ago. He has been at the helm of abuses of the state and has now effectively rendered South Africa rudderless.
The party that is now so engrossed with ensuring him a dignified exit ought to have recalled him a long, long time ago. He ought to afford himself the dignity of resignation sooner rather than later.
So Zuma’s exit should be hailed as an important moment for South Africa. But let’s not get carried away. His departure will not suddenly remedy South Africa’s ills.