It has become commonplace for analysts to speculate on President Jacob Zuma’s future. Nevertheless, Zuma appears able to get away with anything, as he is doing right now, being exonerated in parliament from any responsibility for the upgrades at Nkandla.
Yet his tenure has always been unstable, even in the earliest years. This is because he brings no real qualities to the job. He is not really needed; he adds no value to government.
He was seen as the glue that would hold together a disparate range of forces that backed him; those who claimed he would advance a left programme, others representing sections of business, some from the underworld and a range of others discontented with President Thabo Mbeki or seeing their fortunes tied to Zuma rather than Mbeki.
But it soon became clear that Zuma could not hold this diverse group together. No sooner had he become president than this coalition started to disintegrate.
Over the years that have followed a record number of ministers, directors general and others have been appointed, then reshuffled or dismissed at great cost to the taxpayer.
Zuma has no political vision. He focuses unashamedly on accumulation of wealth for himself and his family and other associates. He does not burden himself with loyalties and many who sacrificed for his wellbeing have suddenly found themselves in the cold, as happened to the Shaik brothers.
Zuma is no fool. He knows what is good for him and for as long as this situation lasts he shares some benefits with others.
But Zuma’s tenure has never been unassailable. It depends on loyalty and that loyalty is related to relationships of patronage and corruption. Those ties bind people closely to Zuma but they are conditional. He is guaranteed support in exchange for benefits. The relationship must be secure, meaning that the returns for keeping Zuma in place stay safe.
However, being the central figure, Zuma must not be vulnerable to removal and conviction for criminal acts. For when that happens all or many of his beneficiaries may also be vulnerable.
Negative consequences may derive from the law taking its course, with associates of Zuma revealing unsavoury information, or Zuma himself revealing the dirt about some of them.
That time of vulnerability may now have arrived as he is under sustained but legitimate attack based on innumerable irregularities and is facing a strong likelihood of hundreds of corruption charges being reinstated.
His failure to answer questions or respond to recommendations from the Public Protector over Nkandla is throwing the entire running of parliament into chaos.
There may be a fresh Constitutional Court case to remedy this contempt for the law, again entailing millions of taxpayers’ funds in legal fees to protect Zuma. It may well be that the Constitutional Court will say he must answer the questions of the Public Protector and if that is so, it will be hard to sustain the claim that he has no responsibility for benefits obtained through irregularities.
This is happening as an atmosphere of instability hovers over the country. We watch and wonder what is happening to South Africa and our democracy.
Business is not saying much but they are surely worried and unhappy about the instability, that so many basic services are not met, that they cannot depend on electricity or water or road works. At a more basic level they cannot be happy about having to pay more under the table to secure contracts or licences.
It may well be that the ANC will be forced to ditch Zuma soon, not driven by ethical considerations but fearing that Zuma may take others down with him. If he is forced out some may still worry that he will be willing and able to implicate others in wrongdoing.
Or, with him knowing what he presumably does about many others through patronage and also his intelligence background, there may well be an apprehension that he can do much harm to others if he is removed.
This is a drama playing out while we, the people of South Africa, are cast as observers and that is the problem with the way in which our democracy is currently acted out. It is time that we, the public, reconfigured the relationship between political actors and ourselves, so that we become active in determining our own fate, for it is our present and future that is being compromised by Zuma and the wrongdoing of others.
It is important that business and other powerful players as well as citizens from all walks of life find a way of acting together, not only to remove Zuma but also to set in place a system of clean governance in accordance with the requirements of constitutionalism and democratic rule.
While some or most of those who will support such moves and definitely benefit most come from the poorest communities, they share with the wealthy in the need for stability and restoring democratic rule.
In order to achieve this we need to do more than remove Zuma. The relationships through which he has enriched himself need to be uprooted so that others cannot benefit themselves at the expense of the wellbeing of the people.
Professor Raymond Suttner, attached to Rhodes University and UNISA, is an analyst on current political questions and leadership issues. He writes a regular column and is interviewed weekly on Creamer Media’s Polity.org.za. Suttner is a former political prisoner and was in the leadership of the ANC-led alliance in the 1990s. He blogs at raymondsuttner.com. His twitter handle is @raymondsuttner
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