Sometimes by losing a battle you find a new way to win the war ~ Donald Trump
Any informed political observer should know that it was never going to end well for the most colourful and controversial South African President since the end of apartheid in 1994.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma can rightly be described as the proverbial cat with nine lives. Born into poverty in the KwaZulu-Natal region of the country, his father was a policeman while his mother was a domestic worker, the boy who had little formal education was to rise to the glorious pinnacle of South Africa’s intricate politics after several struggles. But of course like they say, every story that has a beginning will surely have an end.
Trouble had been brewing for quite a long time with the once exiled leader waltzing through most of the obstacles like he would do in his favourite pastime of dancing. Having been dogged by several controversies including trials for rape and bribery all through his political life, Jacob Zuma must have thought all the strife had ended when he was sworn in as South Africa’s President in May 2009.
Indeed so it seemed, he was allowed to settle in and had little problems in the early years of his administration. However, an indication of where his presidency was headed turned up in March 2012 when the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the Democratic Alliance (an opposition party) could challenge a previous court ruling that let him off some corruption charges. Another corruption scandal erupted in March 2014 when the Ombudsman stated that part of the $15 million refurbishments at Zuma’s luxurious residence was unlawful and ordered him to repay same. Buoyed by the likelihood of an electoral victory in the upcoming presidential polls, a stubborn Zuma was to ignore this order which ultimately proved to be his Achilles heel.
If anyone thought that Zuma’s travails would cease when the ANC won a majority of votes in the May 2014 polls to ensure he will have another five-year tenure as South Africa’s Numero Uno the person had another think coming. That notion once again proved to be illusory two years later as the country’s highest court ruled that Zuma had trampled on the constitution by refusing to reimburse part of the tax-payers funds used to renovate his private home. He was subsequently ordered him to refund some of the money.
The recalcitrant leader apologised in a national broadcast over the issue which he admitted had “caused a lot of frustration and confusion” and promised to abide by the ruling but still denied any wrongdoing. That public address appeared to trigger a roller coaster of woes for Zuma because less than a month on, another court ruled that prosecutors acted “irrationally” by dropping 18 charges of over 700 fraudulent payments brought against him in 2009. The decision was to be reviewed thus opening an avenue for the charges to be reinstated.
That chapter was supposed to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. But Zuma clung on. As his party lost further ground when the opposition took key cities in the municipal elections of 2016, some cabinet ministers called for his resignation in a rowdy meeting that was reportedly close to fisticuffs. Zuma then pulled the same old wool over their eyes by blaming the west for his travails. How often have we seen African leaders pull off that obsolete stunt? In the end attempts to remove him as president failed.
The onslaught continued as the opposition parties mainly the Democratic Alliance and the fierce Julius Malema who leads the Economic Freedom Fighters continued to call on Zuma to step down. Indeed Zuma faced about three no-confidence votes in 2016 but still came through all. And in a calmer 2017 he narrowly escaped once more when another no-confidence vote was defeated by 198 to 177 votes in a secret vote that held in parliament.
However, calls for his resignation from his party continued unabated and by October 2017 the country’s apex court upheld an April 2016 High Court ruling to reinstate corruption charges against Zuma. It was coming thick and fast, and in the run-up to December 2017 date to elect a new party president Ivor Chipkin, an Associate Professor at the Public Affairs Research Institute (PARI) and a leading public affairs analyst penned an op-ed for the New York Times in which he detailed the president’s corrupt romance with the notorious Gupta family and described his 9 year era as “a decade of leadership that has seen Africa’s oldest liberation movement become a caricature of corruption and factionalism”.
It now appears that the election was the beginning of the end for Zuma as an equally radiant Cyril Ramaphosa defeated Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife and preferred candidate, to become the ANC leader. Constitutionally, Zuma’s tenure should run till 2019, but given the crisis within the ruling party and of course Ramaphosa’s overt political ambition there was little hope of dousing the increasing tension. An unsavoury twilight loomed for the man who had become known as the “Teflon President”.
Now the die is cast after the parliament postponed the state of the nation address, the ANC held a marathon meeting for about 13 hours and unanimously agreed that President Jacob Zuma should throw in the towel. A letter to this effect was personally delivered to him on February 13, 2017, by the party’s secretary general Ace Magashule who also held a press conference to announce same.
Going by the tradition of African leaders as recently exemplified by the ‘Mugabe palace coup’ many expect that Zuma will cling on to his office given that his fifth wife had previously said that “it’s about to get ugly”, an indication that her husband is going nowhere. However, the shining examples of Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Ghana’s John Mahama must be nurtured to endure. A leader should accept defeat in good faith, be it external or internal. It, therefore, behooves prominent African leaders to covertly call Jacob Zuma and advise him to ponder Donald Trump’s words above. The final battle is lost, its just a matter of time but he can still use the Mugabe tactic to avoid the greater humiliation of jail time. South Africa should and must move on.
As we stay glued to the screen searching for feelers as to the next dimension the protracted drama will assume, an incongruous uncertainty definitely hangs over the Rainbow Nation. Tick tock tick tock…