Will President Jacob Zuma exit or not? That is the question that’s held the nation in suspense since the decision was taken last week to postpone the State of the Nation Address (SONA)) which he was supposed to deliver.
President Zuma has, to all intents and purposes, lost power. The SONA is an important event, which marks the opening of Parliament and sets government’s agenda. The President writes to the Speaker asking for a date to address a joint sitting of Parliament during which he reports on the status of the nation. A lot of preparation goes into the SONA both logistically and financially. That President Zuma’s request to deliver the SONA has not taken place speaks to his loss of power.
It is clear that the postponement happened because his own party was not comfortable with him delivering the address. The decision to postpone the SONA was taken by the Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete ably assisted by the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces Thandi Modise. The two are members of the ruling party and they would not have taken the decision without running it past their party bosses.
Forget about the afterthought comment that President Zuma himself was considering writing a letter to the Speaker to ask for a postponement. Effectively, his party took the decision – a first since the dawn of our democracy.
The behind the scenes talks between President Zuma and ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa – though we have so far been kept in the dark about the content of these – and the revelations by Paul Mashatile at a meeting of mining business leaders all conspire to one conclusion: Zuma has lost the confidence of his own party.
He lost the confidence of the opposition many moons ago and has undoubtedly lost the confidence of the majority of the electorate. He now enjoys the support of only his faction within the ANC, with some of his former supporters themselves deserting him because of the corruption allegations and scandals that surround him. It is a pity that President Zuma would not see the writing on the wall and stepped down by now.
The question has to be asked: what is it that Zuma has which has made it difficult for the ANC to dispense with him when it could do so with ease with former President Thabo Mbeki a few years ago? In terms of character, ability and achievements for South Africa, Zuma pales into insignificance when compared to Mbeki. Yet getting rid of the scandal-ridden Zuma has so far proven to be difficult for the ANC. Whatever Mbeki’s flaws (and they certainly were not of Zuma’s magnitude and quantity), he ran an efficient administration, a more united ANC and a growing economy.
But this is where the broad church’s politics becomes puzzling to some of us. In a strange twist of logic, the ANC has these moments when it prefers mediocrity over excellence. That is a matter for another day. One just hopes that those in the ANC who are prepared to risk its 106 years legacy for the sake of one man whose track record in office is, at any rate, less than impressive are in the minority.
Those in the know say Zuma has a lot of aces up his sleeve and the ANC and Ramaphosa in particular are careful how they are playing their cards too. Zuma has the potential to destabilize the ANC and the country too, we are told. Of the latter, we are certain. He has wreaked havoc on the country through his dubious friendships and decisions. We do not know if he can do the same to a 106 years old organization. That is for the ANC to assess. One can opine that it would say a lot about the ANC’s resilience if it were to be too cautious about a Zuma early exit.
As one writes this article, the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) will be holding an emergency meeting while the country awaits word on whether Zuma will resign. Many of us would want to see this matter resolved and the country moving forward. We cannot be held to ransom by a president who has shown more regard and concern for the welfare of his friends (the Guptas) than he has for the welfare of the country. Zuma must be relieved of his position and if he understands that it is his party that deploys then he must accept its decision. Mbeki did and emerged with his integrity intact. For that, ANC members and society in general still hold him in high esteem.
The Zuma chapter has been one of scandals, embarrassment and trauma for the nation. Indeed, Zuma is one political experiment that went horribly wrong. The sooner we close his chapter the better for South Africa.
PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)