Demands grow for South Africa’s Zuma to go

Demonstrators carry banners as they take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma in Johannesburg, South Africa April 7, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

JONATHAN MANTHORPE: International Affairs
April 15, 2017

It is fitting symbolism that one of the most intense of the many mass demonstrations in recent days, demanding the removal of South African President Jacob Zuma, was in the square in front of Cape Town’s City Hall.

Jacob Zuma at the 2009 World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town, South Africa, June 10, 2009. Photo by Matthew Jordaan, © World Economic Forum

It was in this same square on the evening of February 11, 1990, that tens of thousands of South Africans thronged to hear the first public speech by Nelson Mandela after his release from Victor Verster Prison earlier that day.

The mood that night as Mandela spoke from the steps of City Hall was full of wonder, optimism and promise. A few days before, the white minority government of President F. W. de Klerk had formally lifted the apartheid laws of racial segregation and opened the door to negotiations towards equality and democracy.

Twenty-seven years later – ironically, the same number of years Mandela spent in prison for battling apartheid – much of that promise is unfulfilled and the rest lies in the dust. Very many South Africans are convinced that they need look no further than their president, Jacob Zuma, to identify what has gone wrong. About 30,000 people turned out for the Cape Town demonstration a week ago and on Wednesday, April 12, Zuma’s 75th birthday, some 80,000 were at a similar protest outside the Union Buildings in the country’s administrative capital, Pretoria.

Zuma is accused of massive corruption and of gross incompetence as South Africa’s government leader and ultimate economic manager. South Africa’s natural and human resources, its infrastructure and industry, mean that it should be a stellar performer in Africa. But investors and credit rating agencies give it junk status as Zuma has chewed through finance ministers for reasons which allegedly have more to do with the interests of his cronies than of the country.

Unemployment among adults is just over 27 per cent and forecast to rise in the coming years. Among young people in the 15 to 24 age range unemployment is over 50 per cent, according to the World Bank.

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A recent Stellenbosch University study says that less than half South African school children pass their high school graduation exams.

Average life expectancy among South Africans is under 50 years, near the bottom of the World Health Organization’s rankings.

A feature of apartheid South Africa was that the white regime refused to admit that most of the country’s black people actually lived there. The infamous townships of home-made shacks without electricity or water were, in the eyes of the white regime, merely places where black workers camped during the week while they worked in white-owned industries. The workers’ real homes were, in this fantasy, their villages in the black bantustans. (Because of this ideological delusion, Soweto, with over 5 million people and Africa’s second largest city after Nigeria’s Lagos, didn’t really exist. It appeared on no maps and there were no road signs.)

Since the political settlement in 1994 the government has provided more than 2.5 million proper houses and another 1.2 million serviced sites. Yet over this period, the number of homes needed has increased from 1.5 million to 2.1 million. At the same time, the number of “informal settlements” – shanty towns – has gone up from 300 to 2,225, an increase of 650%.

Meanwhile Zuma and the new wealthy aristocracy of the ANC, its friends and relations, seem to get richer and richer. Various estimates now put Zuma’s personal wealth at over $US20 million, much of which is alleged to have been acquired through his association with the mega-rich Gupta family. The Guptas moved to South Africa from India in 1993 after the end of apartheid. The family’s various businesses have prospered mightily in what others have found a very challenging market.

The Guptas’ influence has grown to the extent that, through their links with Zuma, they are accused of “capturing the state.” There are claims among opposition politicians and even senior ANC figures that Zuma has allowed the Guptas to gain so much power that they can and do hand out ministerial positions in his government — including the Minister of Finance — to people who will guard their interests.

Zuma ousted the charisma-lite President Thabo Mbeki from the ANC leadership in 2007 and won the presidency in national elections in 2009. But even before he gained power, Zuma’s life heaved with scandal and controversy. Even as he fought the 2009 elections he was facing rape and corruption charges. He was acquitted of rape in a trial that tested the bounds of judicial impartiality, but he has found corruption allegations more difficult to leave in his wake. There were questions about a 1999 $US5 billion arms deal. The National Prosecuting Authority dropped the case just weeks before the 2009 election, but courts have now been asked to review the authority’s decision.

Then, when he won the highest office, there arose the question of the public money spent on his family compound in his village in Kwa-Zulu Natal. The improvements were ostensibly to boost the compound’s security, but were found to include a cattle enclosure, an amphitheatre, a swimming pool (a water reservoir in case of fire was Zuma’s explanation), a “visitor centre” (read guest cottage), and a chicken run. Last year South Africa’s Supreme Court ruled that Zuma had violated the constitution and ordered him to repay most of the government money used for the upgrade.

Zuma’s gathering storm of scandals has seen his public popularity drop to 40 per cent and he faces a vote of confidence in parliament soon. If more than 50 of the 249 member of the ANC parliamentary caucus join with opposition parties to turn thumbs down on his presidency, Zuma will face removal from office well ahead of 2019, when his current term in office ends.

The vote was scheduled to be held on Tuesday, April 18, but the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, has appealed to the Constitutional Court to require a secret ballot. It is unclear at this point when the court may make a ruling. The DA figures, apparently with good reason, that with a secret ballot the necessary 50 plus ANC members will vote against Zuma.

What the effect would be of a vote in parliament of no confidence in Zuma is uncertain. He is due to be replaced as ANC leader in December, after serving the two terms allowed, and would continue as South Africa’s president until the next elections in 2019.

However, there are several reports that many senior figures in the ANC are concerned that Zuma is tainting the party’s reputation and prospects. This is at a time when the aura of being the party of Nelson Mandela and “liberation” from apartheid doesn’t carry the magic or draw the instinctive loyalty from voters that it did a generation ago.

Demonstrators take part in a protest calling for the removal of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, in Pretoria, South Africa April 7, 2017. REUTERS/James Oatway

The battle against apartheid created a unity and discipline that obscured the profound cultural, ethnic, regional and political differences among South Africans. Nearly three decades after the end of apartheid and faced with an evidently corrupt and dysfunctional President, these differences are coming to the fore.

These sometimes jarring differences are no more evident than in the groups and visions arrayed for and against Zuma.

Zuma’s supporters are predominantly rural people who follow a traditional village lifestyle. They have little interest in or appreciation for their urban brethren’s fixations on housing, education and the country’s advancement as a technological and economic hub of Africa. In South Africa’s villages Zuma’s display as a traditional chieftain is a political bonus, as is his personal life. Many urban South Africans find distasteful Zuma’s enthusiastic and proud polygamy. He has four wives at the moment and did have two others. One divorced him and the other committed suicide. Zuma has also paid the lobola — bride price — to become engaged to at least one other woman. He has had several other mistresses, including the sister of the first judge at his rape trial, who had to recuse himself because of the relationship. Zuma has at least 20 children from his various liaisons and in his first year as president the amount of government money he received for “spousal support” amounted to the equivalent of $3 million.

The main opposition to Zuma in the political area is the Democratic Alliance, which has 99 seats in parliament. This party has its roots in the Progressive Party, founded in 1959 by white South Africans who objected to apartheid. The party, however, was always envisaged as a non-racial grouping and is now led by Mmusi Mainmane. The DA’s main strength is in Western Cape province, where the ANC has never been the dominant opposition party, even during apartheid.

In the last couple of weeks three ANC members have resigned from parliament in protest against Zuma’s leadership. If the ANC fractures further, both in parliament and out among its grass roots supporters, the Democratic Alliance will likely be the largest beneficiary.

But not everywhere or among all classes of South Africans. Prominent organizers and participants in the recent wave of demonstrations against Zuma have been the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by expelled ANC youth leader Julius Malema.

Malema was expelled from the ANC in 2012 after being convicted of using “hate speech.” It was his custom at ANC Youth rallies to sing an old “liberation” song “Dubula iBuni” (Shoot the Boer). His antipathy towards white Afrikaans farmers – Boers – has continued. Malema advocates the expropriation of white-owned farmland without compensation, very much like the campaign Robert Mugabe launched in neighbouring Zimbabwe in 2000, and which has led to the near-complete economic and social destruction of the country. Malema also argues for the nationalization of all mines in South Africa, a position shared by the very large National Union of Mineworkers, but rejected by the ANC government. Mining generates 60 per cent of South Africa’s exports.

The EFF has 25 seats in parliament. And Malema is the kind of populist who can take advantage of the disenchantment generated by the ANC’s limited record of success in dealing with the country’s grinding social and economic problems.

Outside the political parties, several civil society groups have called on Zuma to resign, including some veterans organizations and the South African Council of Churches.

Nelson Mandela speaks to reporters, including Jonathan Manthorpe (top), in the garden of his old house in Soweto two days after his release from Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.
Nelson Mandela speaks to reporters, including Jonathan Manthorpe (top), in the garden of his old house in Soweto two days after his release from Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.

There is also major opposition to Zuma from within the powerful Congress of South African Trade Unions. COSATU was a crucial body in the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and 1980s. The largest member of COSATU – the National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union – has publicly called on Zuma to resign. Other affiliates are expected to follow that lead, and if the removal of Zuma becomes official COSATU policy it would be a deadly blow to his presidency.

When COSATU was formed in 1985, its first general secretary was the mine workers’ union organizer, Cyril Ramaphosa. In 1991 Ramaphosa made a significant career shift when he took on the post of general secretary of the ANC and became a key figure in the negotiations with the de Klerk government of a post-apartheid constitution. Many politically centrist South Africans of all skin colours hoped at the time that Ramaphosa was on his way to ANC leadership, and thus the country’s presidency. But it was not to be. At the time the ANC was convulsed by triumphalism, and honouring the dedication and sacrifices of its own senior members, as well as bowing to the party’s internal factions. Thus the “internal” leader Mandela was followed by the representatives of the “external” ANC exiles Thabo Mbeki. Mandela was a Xhosa of the East Cape region. Mbeki is also Xhosa from the Western Cape, but Zuma is a Zulu, South Africa’s largest ethnic group and perhaps its most culturally traditional.

Ramaphosa was born and brought up in Soweto, where his father was a policeman, and thus does not carry the same kind of ethnic identity as other ANC leaders. Ramaphosa became a member of parliament in the 1994 elections, but left politics in 1997 when he was bested by Mbeki for the ANC leadership. He went into business and has become one of South Africa’s richest men, with personal wealth of more than $US600 million, according to “Forbes” magazine. Among Ramaphosa’s holdings is a 20-year franchise on McDonald’s 145 fast-food outlets in the country.

In 2012 Ramaphosa again became active in the ANC as the party’s deputy president and in May, 2014, Zuma appointed him South Africa’s Deputy President and Chairman of the National Planning Commission. Ramaphosa is thus poised to make good on the prize that eluded him in 1997 and succeed Zuma as ANC leader and South Africa’s president.

But Ramaphosa is not a shoo in. His main opponent at the moment is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the departing chairwoman of the African Union, which is the association of all 54 countries of the continent. As well as her record in this demanding post, she has been South Africa’s Minister of Health, Foreign Minister, and Minister of Home Affairs.

She is also one of Jacob Zuma’s ex-wives and all the indications are he favours her to succeed him as ANC leader in December, which could put her on the path to the national presidency. The speculation is that he will give her a cabinet post when she gets back from the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Copyright Jonathan Manthorpe 2017

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Manthorpe B&WJonathan Manthorpe is a founding columnist with Facts and Opinions and is the author of the journal’s International Affairs column. He is the author of “Forbidden Nation: A History of Taiwan,” and has been a foreign correspondent and international affairs columnist for nearly 40 years. Manthorpe’s  nomadic career began in the late 1970s as European Bureau Chief for The Toronto Star, the job that took Ernest Hemingway to Europe in the 1920s. In the mid-1980s Manthorpe became European Correspondent for Southam News. In the following years Manthorpe was sent by Southam News, the internal news agency for Canada’s largest group of metropolitan daily newspapers, to be the correspondent in Africa and then Asia. Between postings Manthorpe spent a few years based in Ottawa focusing on intelligence and military affairs, and the United Nations. Since 1998 Manthorpe has been based in Vancouver, but has travelled frequently on assignment to Asia, Europe and Latin America.



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