How long can Zuma zoom on? Part 2
Continued from yesterday
For a while, another series of missteps pushed Nkadla-gate to the background. In a sudden decision, on December 9, 2015, President Zuma replaced Finance Minister Mr. Nhlanhla Nene, with an apparent loyalist, Mr. David Van Rooyen, a member of parliament. Mr. Nene was said to have opposed increased subsidy of the persistently under-performing South African Airways, refused the government to make a huge investment in a nuclear facility and rejected buying a presidential jet. In reaction to the sack, the South African Rand dropped famously and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange lost 177 billion Rands ($11.6 billion) on the announcement.
A cabinet minister said that the decision was a surprise as it was not discussed at the cabinet meeting of the same day that the official decision came out. The ANC was at a loss to explain it either as it appeared not to have any information. The ensuing public uproar was so much that four days later the President changed the decision and redeployed newly appointed Mr. Van Rooyen to another post, and named Mr. Pravin Gordhan as new minister of finance. Mr. Gordhan had served reputably in the same post from 2009 to 2014. It was historic that South Africa had three finance ministers in four days. President Zuma, to deflect the rancour, was projected as a listening leader who bowed to the wish of the people. There were many though who said that the decision showed poor judgment, lack of consultation and tendency to cater to special interest.
Did the Gupta family have any hand in the sacking of Mr. Nene? The question was on some lips but was not openly stated as such. The cat was let out of the bag, literally, by former ANC member of parliament, Ms. Vytjie Mentor. She stated that the Guptas had offered her a ministerial post provided that she would “drop the SAA flight route to India and give it to them.” The Deputy Minister of Finance, Mr. Mcebisi Jones, publicly declared that before President Zuma announced the change of ministers, members of the Gupta family made an offer to promote him to Minister of Finance and that he categorically refused it. He said that such a proposition “made mockery of our hard earned democracy, the trust of our people and no one apart from the President of the Republic appoints ministers.” A former cabinet spokesperson, Mr. Themba Maseko, revealed that the President asked him to help the Guptas out by favouring them with government adverts. The debate on “state capture” of South Africa by the Guptas and special interest went from a rumble to an eruption.
The heat around the president became intense. Would President Zuma resign? Would the ANC recall him? Would he announce something about cutting short his term of office which is three years to go? The usual voices pressured that Zuma should go or be impeached. The supporting voices asked for time to look deeper into the matter.
Another blowup was just around the corner. A court case by DA and EFF on Nkadla-gate came to a conclusion at the Constitutional Court. The unanimous judgment was that President Zuma should refund the money spent on his homestead of Nkandla which were not security upgrades. The presidency, the Parliament, the ANC, and President Zuma had been wrong in their position on the non-security categorisation and expenses on them. The court ruling stated that the president “failed to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the land…”
It was the last thing that President Zuma would have wished for. Yet another major slip that could erase any of his good actions, such as his leadership of a national surge to rein in HIV and AIDS, his success at getting many highly qualified and deserving South Africans into senior posts in the international system, including Dr. Dlamini Zuma, his divorced wife and long-serving senior official of ANC and government, as Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and his continuing to provide leadership for South Africa’s roles in peace keeping and peace building initiatives in conflict and war-torn countries. The President’s string of scandals increasingly makes his friendly description as comical, colourful, charismatic, and convivial to be subsumed by his critical characterisation as controversial, corrupt, crooked, and cronyistic.
Again the usual voices demanded impeachment or resignation. What was new was that unusual voices added new dimensions to the anti-Zuma groups. A joint letter by the foundations of Oliver and Adelaide, Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, some of the founding fathers of the ANC and notable leaders of liberation, urged the ANC leadership to “take urgent corrective action in the best interest of South Africa and its peoples.” “We are deeply concerned about the current course on which our country is headed. We believe this course is contrary to the individual and collective legacy of our founders.”
A strongly worded statement signed by Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Ziphozihle Siwa, said that the president should “do the honourable thing and resign to save himself, the ANC and the nation as a whole from further embarrassment and ruin…If this does not happen, we the people of South Africa must put pressure on the ANC and Parliament to ‘assist’ the President to vacate office peacefully and constitutionally. The president’s embattled term of office has been marred with too many unresolved claims and scandals including Nkandla, the arms deal debacle, and the recent revelations of alleged State Capture by the Guptas and the time has come to put the country first.”
What is next for President Zuma? Following the ruling by the Constitutional Court, he went on the air to apologise and blamed his erroneous decision on advice from lawyers. The ANC has started its own investigation to assess the extent of “state capture.” The opposition parties have tried another of the many parliamentary motions for impeachment of President Zuma though it was dead from its conception given the ANC super majority.
With his expanded laughter and a reassuring wave to the crowd, President Zuma may just zoom on as he has done in the past, counting on his strong bases within the various arms of the ANC and his reputation as the man who has many lives.
• Bunmi Makinwa is the CEO of AUNIQUEI Communication for Leadership