Globe: Zuma's Nine Lives


An earlier edition of this column, Zuma’s Fiefdom, explored post-apartheid South Africa, and its leader, Jacob Zuma. When that article was published, South Africa was in a deplorable state; the economy was becoming increasing fragile, the nation was experiencing an AIDS epidemic, and violence was becoming an increasingly common phenomenon.

The South African government, and Jacob Zuma particularly, has done little to alleviate these maladies. This failure has not gone unnoticed. Jacob Zuma has seen his popularity plummet, and his party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been losing power (and even the lives of a few of its members) in local governments. Since the liberation of South Africa from apartheid, the African National Congress, a left-wing political party allied with the trade unions and communists, has ruled South Africa. When the ANC ascended to power, it was ruled by Nelson Mandela, who crusaded for unity and recovery as South Africa transitioned to a free country.

Nelson Mandela’s successors did not share Mr. Mandela’s vision for South Africa. As to be expected in human affairs, the leaders of South Africa following Nelson Mandela’s exit from power, first Thabo Mbeki and now Jacob Zuma, have utilized identity politics as a source of political expediency. This has done nothing but lead South Africa to a sharp decline.

Jacob Zuma is notorious for his corruption, and there have been many attempts to oust Mr. Zuma from power because of it. Jacob Zuma has more charges of corruption than he has weeks in office – 786 corruption charges, to be exact.

Some of the scandals Mr. Zuma has either been proven to have committed, or is accused of, include a 2016 ruling by South Africa’s highest court that found he used government funds to build his mansion; commodities such as a chicken run, swimming pool, amphitheater, and a visitor center were provided unbeknownst by the South African taxpayer. Mr. Zuma has since apologized and has repaid the money.

In 2005, he was charged with a multibillion-dollar arms deals, which were dropped when Mr. Zuma became President. Also in 2005, Zuma was charged with rape, to which he was acquitted in 2006. Jacob Zuma has recent been alleged to have been profiteering from the Gupta family, a powerful South Africa business dynasty. Both Zuma and the Guptas have denied these claims. And there are of course the 786 charges of corruption, of which none of the proceeding scandals are included. This paints a clear portrait of Jacob Zuma, and his opposition has attempted to oust him eight times. They have failed six times.

Opposition to Jacob Zuma comes from both inside the African National Congress and from outside parties. Within the ANC, the removal of Mr. Zuma from party leadership has been a source of division for some time, with the divisiveness intensifying in the days preceding the vote of no confidence that came on August 3rd. To rally support behind him before the vote, Mr. Zuma held a policy conference.

Zuma intensified his populist positions by advocating policies like the redistribute of land. Despite these efforts, opponents of Zuma were still present. When the South African president would appear, opposition members in the ANC would signal the “substitution” gesture from soccer, symbolizing their desire for a change in leadership. Mr. Zuma was not deaf to the opposition; at times, he would allocate blame to the courts, referring to them as a representing the interest of a minority.

As of now, it appears that the struggle for the political future of South Africa will be held within the ANC, despite recent gains made by opposition parties. The most prominent opposition party to the ANC is the Democratic Alliance (DA), a center-right party led by Mmusi Maimane. The DA currently occupies 83 seats of the 400 seat National Assembly (the ANC holds 249 seats). The DA is facing adversity in the public relations sphere, seen by many South Africans as representing the interests of whites.

With a track-record of corruption charges that seems to be increasing every day, a country that has seen nothing but decline in the last few years, and a growing opposition within his own party, Jacob Zuma seemed the perfect target. Protests toward Zuma have become commonplace, and the credit rating of South Africa has been demoted to “junk” status. These have led to the sixth no confidence vote against Jacob Zuma.

While in the past, Zuma could count on the ANC to protect him in the legislature, he could not cling on to that hope for the latest vote. In an unexpected move, the no-confidence vote would be by secret ballet; meaning that ANC members who chose to vote against Mr. Zuma could do so without fear of the political repercussions. Despite the secret ballot, and despite the hundreds of corruption charges, for the sixth time, Jacob Zuma survived a no-confidence vote. Partisanship has won again.

Despite his victory, Jacob Zuma’s time in power is limited. Even before the announcement of the vote, Zuma agreed to allow a successor to be chosen in December. While many in oppositions parties want an emergency election, as of now it appears that whomever is chosen as Zuma’s successor as the leader of the African National Congress in December will be the next leader of South Africa. One of the leading candidates for the position is one of Mr. Zuma’s four wives.

As Jacob Zuma’s term in power is ending, South Africans and the members of the ANC must ask themselves whether they will allocate such an astounding degree of political tolerance to their next leader, as they did with Jacob Zuma. Should that happen, South Africa should only expect decline.