All over the world, Valentine’s Day was not necessarily a joyous moment for many people, families, and individuals.
In Parkland, Florida, USA, tragedy struck when a 19-year old gunman identified as Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at his former high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people in the process; wounding many more and thus sending American families into wailing and gnashing of teeth. The gunman has been arrested and detained for further questioning.
On the African continent in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa, the President, Mr. Jacob Zuma, was finally thrown out as he was forced to resign with “immediate effect”.
Yes! Jacob Zuma has fallen. His 9-year old reign has come to a clangorous end amidst jubilations by South Africans who were just too happy to see Zuma out of De Tuynhuys. The long-drawn battle between him and his party has finally come to a close and another chapter opens up.
He would be the second South African President forced to resign amidst political crisis within the ruling party, African National Congress. Nine years ago, Mr. Thabo Mbeki was similarly forced to resign thus paving way for the emergence of Jacob Zuma.
Indeed, Jacob Zuma played a strategic role in the ouster of Thabo Mbeki then. Now the nemesis of Zuma was Cyril Ramaphosa who has gathered enormous political clout as the political crisis unfolded.
But the crisis is not just political alone according to conventional understanding but that of a State exclusively dominated by one party, African National Congress. It was similar to the crisis experienced by Nigeria’s People Democratic Party which culminated in losing power in the 2015 general elections where for sixteen years the PDP dominated the State machine.
While the western media analysts would like us to believe that democracy in South Africa is virile because there have been relative peaceful transition of power from one President to another, it belies the fragility and/or instability within the ruling party and its elite. This instability is rooted in the legacy of the past. It was the same type of instability that rocked the Afrikaaner apartheid party as exemplified by the ouster of Pieter Botha and the emergence of Frederick de Clerk which finally paved way for the termination of apartheid in early 1990s.
That was the time Nigeria was struggling to install democratic rule but which was mischievously aborted by Ibrahim Babangida-led military dictatorship.
Nelson Mandela who had just been released from 27-year imprisonment emerged the first democratically-elected black President of South Africa – exactly the same way that Chief Olusegun Obasanjo was plucked from Abacha gulag to be elected President in 1999.
But African National Congress has come a long way from the time it was founded in 1912 thus making it one of the oldest political parties in Africa. The internal governance regime has been shaken by crises from time to time in its evolutionary growth to what it is today – while still giving it a semblance of democracy and rule of law.
After Nelson Mandela voluntarily relinquished power in mid-June 1999 the internal governance regime went into a tailspin, gyrating furiously as different factions within the ANC went for each other’s jugular while jockeying for vantage positions. Of course, there was no breakdown of law and order to warrant military intervention as Nigeria experienced before 1999. But there was enough tension within the party to cause the fall of Presidents such as Thabo Mbeki who came on board on June 16, 1999; and now Jacob Zuma.
Mbeki occupied the office of the presidency from 1999 till September 2008 following his defeat during 52nd National Conference of the ANC in Polokwane, Limpopo, on 16 December 2007.
On September 21, 2008, Mbeki handed in a resignation letter to the former speaker of parliament Baleka Mbete and announced his resignation as President of South Africa on television nine months before his second term of office expired.
Of course, there were economic reasons for the downfall of Mbeki. South Africa was at the cusp of economic crisis necessitating a change of policy which did not go down well with South African global alliance development partners. Mbeki’s faction within the party was at dagger-drawn with COSATU that spearheaded Growth, Employment and Redistribution programme and the movement away from Reconstruction and Development Programme. This was seen as Mbeki’s total disregard of the alliance.
The final stroke that broke the camel’s back was the power struggle between Mbeki and Zuma which can be traced to 2005 when Zuma was yanked off his duties as Deputy President due to his implication in the corruption scandal. It was a cut-throat struggle that eventually caused a split in ANC between Mbeki’s allies and supporters of Zuma. Zuma’s faction prevailed.
At the height of tensions between the factions, Mbeki once again stood for election as president at the ANC conference in Polokwane in December 2007 but lost to Jacob Zuma, who went on to become the ANC’s presidential candidate in the 2009 general election. The ANC Youth League played a pivotal role before and after the election putting pressure on Mbeki to step down. Mbeki was shoved out.
Mbeki had no choice than to leave on the grounds that the constitution must be respected which were also the same arguments canvassed by Zuma when it was his turn to leave.
That is the degree of the internal crisis within the party, a political risk that now poses a mortal threat to the hegemony of the party in the long run – the same way that PDP in Nigeria was brought down from its vulgarized height in 2015.
In the case of Zuma, many factors and forces were also at play to push him out. The various corruption allegations against him, though many of them could not be successfully proved, became political and moral albatross to him.
The corruption allegations against him were weighty enough. But it was not just a corruption of one man but a systemic or structural problem that South Africa has had to face since the end of apartheid. This is one of the promises by Cyril Ramaphosa to tackle corruption from the structural base where it is rooted and has its tentacles. It is not a one-man affair but that that of a widespread social disease inherited from the past. It is the past that is haunting South Africa today.
Perhaps most important is the fact that there was no more love lost between him and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa. Indeed, a power struggle has since broken out for the past months, if not since last year as evident in the ways Ramaphosa has gone his own ways and technically lashing out at Zuma at every available opportunity.
While Zuma was moving towards the end of term in office, he had been overtly planning to replace himself with his former wife, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma (born 27 January 1949), who is also a political heavyweight. After vying for the leadership of ANC she was defeated by Ramaphosa at the 54th National Conference of the ANC in December 2017.
The days of Zuma were increasingly numbered after the crushing defeat of Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma. It became clear that it is just a question of time before Zuma would be shown the door out of De Tuynhuys.
Zuma has been in a power struggle with multi-millionaire former businessman Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president. Ramaphosa is a former trade unionist and Mandela ally who led talks to end apartheid in the early 1990s and then became a hugely wealthy businessman before returning to politics.
Zuma’s chummy relationship with the Gupta family was also used against him. The Gupta brothers, have been accused of unfairly obtaining lucrative government contracts and even being able to choose Zuma’s ministerial appointments.
The party’s national executive committee ordered his recall from office on Tuesday, February 13, after a 13-hour meeting at a hotel outside Pretoria. He was presented with an ultimatum: Resign or be impeached!
ANC officials had said that if Zuma did not resign by the following day, the party’s lawmakers in the Cape Town parliament would impeach him on Thursday.
On Ash Wednesday, (also Valentine’s Day), February 14, Jacob Zuma resigned with immediate effect so as to avoid the humiliation of being impeached and possibly stripped of his immunity that could lead to his prosecution for all the corruption allegations leveled against him in the recent past.
Supremacy Contest between the State, Party and the Constitution
In his resignation speech, Zuma threaded a fine boundary between the Party, the State and the Constitution – the very fulcra of the political crisis. Zuma said that when he accepted the responsibility of Presidential office “I undertook to subject myself to the supreme law of the land, the Constitution”.
But as it is, he is still subject to the dictates of the Party because he is still a member of the Party. “It is my Party that placed me before the representatives of the people in the National Assembly to be elected. It is my Party that availed me to serve on the basis of the Constitution as the supreme law of the land.”
Zuma then went on to query the action of the Party asking him to step down. “I do not fear exiting political office. However, I have only asked my party to articulate my transgressions and the reason for its immediate instruction that I vacate office.
“This was important in view of the discussions I held with the President and Secretary General of the Party that were aimed at uniting our organization, the ANC.
“It is indeed true that there was an agreement, that even if the need arises that I should vacate the office before the end of term, there is a need to have a period of transition, during which I would delegate some of the functions to the Deputy President of the Republic.
“Of course, I must accept that if my Party and my compatriots wish that I be removed from office, they must exercise that right and do so in the manner prescribed by the Constitution”.
Zuma, just like Mbeki, was boxed in between two extreme poles: the Party and the Constitution. Zuma did not deny the allegations against him. But he asked them to be articulated. He finally bowed down to the power of the Constitution. “However, I respect the prescripts of the Constitution and its consequences on how we enter, stay in and exit political office and Government.” The Party calls the shots.
His charisma and oratorical power failed him at the moments he needed them most. Once the party got fed up with him, he was dumped by the roadside like a piece of rag.
He is a man known for hubris and peccadilloes which shaped his worldviews and mindsets at the psycho-social levels. He is a man known for thumbing his nose at the public outrage against his conducts unworthy of a leader.
The relevant questions are these: Is the Party supreme? Who is the custodian of the Constitution: the State or the Party?
What happens to ANC now?
What could have gone wrong with ANC over the years? Is ANC suffering from a kind of post-apartheid political post-traumatic stress disorder? Why is there so much instability within the party that has prevented two Presidents from completing their two terms of office?
After the departure of the main icon of the party, Nelson Mandela, the falcons seem no longer able to hear the falconers. The party that had once prided itself on being a movement of the people now seemed lost in the maelstrom of its self-generated political crisis.
ANC is without doubt at a crossroad.
At a time when various African nations are shrugging off long-ruling demagogues, Zuma’s successors will need to find a new path. “South Africa finds itself in its current situation because the country has succumbed to … patriarchal and elite interests,” wrote Cheryl Hendricks, a professor of political science at the University of Johannesburg. “But changing the president, though necessary, won’t be sufficient to get South Africans out of this quagmire. South Africans need new leaders as well as new forms of leadership that understand the driving forces of post-colonial states and their proclivity towards non-democratic forms of governance.”
But it is probably not only the poisonous patriarchal and elitist ethos swallowed by ANC. Zuma also brought into the party the divisive issue of ethnicity which the party has not been able to overcome, a problematique that has haunted the whole African continent till date. In fact a school of thought claimed that Zuma was a victim of ethnic rivalry within the party. Both Mandela and Mbeki were Xhosa men while for instance Zuma is a Zulu. Some suggested it was time for a Zulu president to rule both the ANC and the country. People of Zulu ethnicity represent approximately 20 percent of South Africa’s population, and numerically they are the largest ethnic group in the country. But then Zuma came and messed up his Zulu tradition.
When and how did ethnicity creep into the mores of ANC? During the liberation struggle, ethnicity was blurred if not non-existent. It only became pronounced after apartheid has been defeated and black majority rule came into being. This sort of ethnic nationalism was unprecedented in ANC politics. Throughout its history, the ANC had derided “tribalism” and sought to unite black South Africans of all ethnic groups and also welcomed whites and Indians committed to the fight against apartheid. Tragically, Zuma was the first leader to openly mobilize support along ethnic lines.
In addition, even though the South African economy is acknowledged to be the largest on the African continent, contesting with the Nigerian economy, ANC since it ascended power in 1994 has had to struggle with slow economic growth, continuing racial inequality and record unemployment that have come to fuelled public frustration with the ANC political leadership. In local polls in 2016, the ANC recorded its worst electoral result since coming to power in 1994 with Nelson Mandela at the helm as white-minority rule fell.
Ramaphosa and ANC then face an uphill battle in revitalizing economic growth, creating jobs and stamping out a culture of graft in a nation still polarized by race and inequality more than two decades after the end of white-minority rule.
Still, Zuma’s departure provided evidence of the interplay of political forces but more so the relative strength of South Africa’s democratic institutions, from the legislature to the courts; from the media and the constitution.
Ramaphosa, in brief remarks to parliament ahead of his first state of the nation address said he would work hard “not to disappoint the people of South Africa”, the usual clichés that we have heard from African leaders. “The issues that you have raised, issues that have to do with corruption, issues of how we can straighten out our state-owned enterprises and how we deal with state capture (influence-peddling) are issues that are on our radar screen,” he said.
Hope for the Future?
There is a new economic outlook for South Africa as its stocks index rose as much as five per cent shortly after the departure of Zuma putting the main index on track for its biggest one-day gain in more than three years. The currency remained on the front foot, soaring to its firmest since early 2015, in the wake of Zuma’s exit.
The blue chip Top-40 index surged four per cent to 52,665 points, pulling back from a high of 53,072 achieved earlier but still on course for its biggest one-day gain since Sept. 2015. The broader All-share index was up by 3.72 per cent at 59,533 points.
The implication has been that Zuma’s presidency has weighed heavily on the South African political economy. But with Zuma out, the weight, at least has temporarily, lifted.
“South African incorporated, banks, retailers and the like are all looking sharply better as a result,” said Independent Securities’ trader Ryan Woods.
South African banks considered the barometer of both economic and political sentiment were a feature on the gainers’ list. The banking index surged 5.8 per cent with Nedbank rising 5.37 per cent and rival FirstRand up 6.4 per cent. Banks have largely borne the brunt of Zuma’s policy decisions that included the sacking of two respected finance ministers, Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan. That, along with a weak economy, contributed to sovereign credit ratings downgrades to junk by S&P Global Ratings and Fitch.
In reaction to Zuma’s resignation, ratings agency Moody’s said it was focused on the new leadership’s response to economic challenges. S&P Global Ratings said the leadership change would not immediately affect the credit status. South Africa’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated to grow by less than one percent this year.
Task before Ramaphosa
One key issue facing Ramaphosa is policy uncertainty in South Africa’s mining industry, an important economic engine, which has been fighting in court with Zuma’s mines minister, Mosebenzi Zwane, over an increase in black ownership targets.
But some analysts said that the former union leader’s to-do list is way too long to make an immediate impact.
In the foreign exchange market, the rand advanced to levels last seen in February 2015. “The good gains the rand has made could be extended toward 11.55/dollar, and move toward 11.00/dollar baring any further credit rating downgrades for S.A. and a credit positive budget,” said Investec’s Chief Analyst Annabel Bishop in a note.
“The economy is coming off an extremely low base so there is good chance the optimism will be around for some time, but Ramaphosa has to very soon move from the honeymoon phase to the doing phase,” said Chief Executive of Canon Assets Management Adrian Saville.
Zuma’s departure without doubt brought to an end “a painful era for the country”, in comparison with Zimbabwe when Robert Mugabe was successfully pulled out of power after more than three decades of ruinous rule. “One chapter in South Africa’s political soap opera has finally ended with the resignation last night of President Jacob Zuma,” NKC African Economics analysts wrote in a note.
“It would be gratifying to see the dedication and purpose the ANC put into ridding itself of Zuma now be directed into rebuilding the economy, dealing with the corruption still residing in the ANC and improving its shoddy governance record.”
“This decision provides certainty to the people of South Africa at a time when economic and social challenges to the country require an urgent and resolute response,” said the ANC’s deputy secretary general, Jessie Duarte.
One important lesson from South Africa is that African leaders must learn how to read the handwritings on the wall. This is with equal strength applicable to Nigeria. African leaders should learn to leave the stage when the ovation is loudest.
For many, Zuma’s resignation was a much-needed affirmation that after a bruising few years, South Africa’s young democracy was still intact. After calling foul on the Zuma administration time and again, the nation’s tenacious press, civil society, and legal institutions finally pushed the hand of the ruling party to self-correct.
“At the beginning, the ANC was in total denial, and we actually got here,” said William Gumede, executive chairman of the Democracy Works Foundation. “It tells you something about civil society in the country. It’s extraordinary.”
But to many here, the most destructive aspect of his legacy was his failure as an anti-apartheid struggle veteran to deliver on the promises of a democratic South Africa. Zuma substituted his selfish interests in amassing wealth for that of the prosperity of South Africans. Almost twenty-five years after Mandela rose to power promising a nation of shared prosperity, the country remains one of the world’s most unequal, with many black South Africans living in conditions much like those they endured under the white-nationalist government.
For years, Zuma refused to acknowledge that reality, living in the cloud, driving tens of thousands of South Africans into the streets to call for his resignation.
The success of South Africa’s democratic experiment is not simply of domestic importance, either. “If, despite all this, South Africa slides inexorably backwards, cynicism about the future of the African continent will grow in the rest of the world,” Financial Times columnist Gideon Rachman warned. “Some Africans will be infuriated by this tendency to generalize about the fate of an entire continent from the events in just one country. But the drama of South Africa’s recent history and the sophistication of its economy mean that it inevitably has become a standard-bearer for Africa.”
All over the world, Valentine’s Day was not necessarily a joyous moment for many people, families, and individuals.