POLITICS

Ferial Haffajee: Zuma Raging Against The Dying Of The Light

The president will soon be a lame duck. Here's how he is resisting the inevitable loss of direct power.

02/10/2017 15:16 SAST | Updated 02/10/2017 16:42 SAST
Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
President Jacob Zuma looks on during the swearing in of new cabinet ministers following a reshuffle that replaced Pravin Gordhan as finance minister in Pretoria, South Africa, March 31, 2017.

ANALYSIS

Lame-duck presidents can choose two options: to go quietly or to hang on to power and target proxies to create longevity when term limits mean they have to leave office.

This is the dilemma facing President Jacob Zuma, who is revealing what kind of lame duck he will be. The term refers to the rapid loss of power by leaders in the last phase of their terms of office. Zuma has two-and-a-half months before he is a lame duck president as he steps down as ANC president in December -- that marks the beginning of his end as president of the country.

Under his presidency, Zuma moved the epicenter of political authority and power from the Union Buildings, the seat of government, to the ANC's headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

Because South Africa runs a party-based system of political power, Zuma's authority will be significantly weakened from December when a new ANC president takes over. Under his presidency, Zuma moved the epicentre of political authority and power from the Union Buildings, the seat of government, to the ANC's headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

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Four young women hold posters during President Jacob Zumas speech at the IEC briefing after the 2016 local government elections on August 06, 2016 in Pretoria.

That system means his authority may be unravelled more quickly than he had intended. Four recent events and one process reveal Zuma is scalded by events and nervous about the end of his term, and he will use his remnant power and resources of office to dig in his heels. The four events and the process -- which reveal Zuma will end his era by digging in his heels rather than opting out -- are:

1. The president's decision to commission his own legal opinion on whether or not to appeal a high court finding on the legitimacy of the ANC's leadership in KwaZulu-Natal. The ANC has put in place an interim leadership task team and is trying to find a political rather than legal solution to its biggest province's woes. One in five ANC members hails from KwaZulu-Natal.

But the Rosgeo deal could enable Zuma to save face with the Russians. Reports have suggested facilitation fees have already been paid for nuclear.

2. The president's manoeuvre during the Brics summit in September to get PetroSA to sign a $400-million deal with Rosgeo to explore for gas off the south coast of South Africa. Cash-strapped South Africa does not need gas as a low-growth economy means we have an energy surplus and PetroSA lost between R14-billion and R15-billion in the last financial year. But the Rosgeo deal could enable Zuma to save face with the Russians. Reports have suggested facilitation fees have already been paid for nuclear.

This deal follows a high court decision in April 2017 knocking out of contention a deal to commission a fleet of nuclear power plants that Zuma had been a personal patron of in consort with Russian executives.

Weekend reports said Zuma was unhappy with parliament's recommendations for the permanent board of the SABC but the more likely explanation is that he is unhappy at the cleanout of his patrons there.

3. The president's decision to stall ratifying the appointment of a new board for the public broadcaster, the SABC. The term of the interim board of the SABC expired last Saturday and new members were chosen after an exhaustive and public process by Parliament. The president appoints the board members based on recommendations from Parliament. It is well-known that Zuma is angry at what happened to his personal appointees at the broadcaster. The president's friend, Ellen Tshabalala, was forced to resign as SABC board chairperson when reports emerged that she did not have the degree she had claimed. His confidante and associate Hlaudi Motsoeneng who held three leadership positions at the SABC has been fired by the SABC. Journalists who worked with him said Motsoeneng had Zuma on speed-dial. During a 2016 parliamentary investigation into the broadcaster, former acting CEO Phil Molefe said that Motsoeneng, the red-eyed boss-of-everything at the SABC, had threatened, "I'm going to Pretoria" when he was refused a R500,000-per-year annual increase. Weekend reports said Zuma was unhappy with Parliament's recommendations for the permanent board of the SABC, but the more likely explanation is that he is unhappy at the cleanout of his patrons there.

Perhaps it has something to do with how Redi Thlabi's book "Khwezi", which is based on the life of his accuser Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, has become a political phenomenon . . .

4. The president's decision at the weekend to give maskandi group, Izingane Zoma, a minibus as a thank-you to them for supporting him during hard times. The hard times the president referred to was his rape trial in 2006 when the group wrote a song for him called "Umsholozi", which they sang lustily outside court proceedings. Why did it take Zuma 11 years to thank the band?

Perhaps it has something to do with how Redi Thlabi's book "Khwezi", which is based on the life of his rape accuser Fezekile Ntsukela Kuzwayo, has become a political phenomenon shining a harsh light on the president. The gift felt like the equivalent act of thumbing your nose at your critics.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) shakes hands with South African President Jacob Zuma during the BRICS leaders meeting ahead of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey, November 15, 2015.

5. In addition, while an outgoing president of the ANC would be expected not to favour a successor, Zuma has thrown his weight behind the candidacy of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who is also his ex-wife. It's vital not to measure the candidate by her choice of an ex-husband, but Zuma is running his support for her as a proxy campaign.

Zuma is raging against the dying of his power and revealing every day that he will not waddle off quietly like a lame duck. Tighten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy landing.