POLITICS
15/02/2018 05:56 SAST | Updated 15/02/2018 05:56 SAST

Zuma's Reckoning: Our National Nightmare Is Over

President Jacob Zuma's presidential term, beset by corruption and criminality, is over.

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ANALYSIS

Jacob Zuma has resigned the presidency.

South Africa's fourth democratic head of state told South Africans during a televised address on Wednesday night that although he disagrees with the decision to recall him, he will leave "with immediate effect". It is an ignominious, but deserved, end to a term of office beset by corruption, bad governance, opportunism and criminality.

POOL New / Reuters
Jacob Zuma's inauguration in May 2009. He was sworn in by then chief justice Pius Langa.

Zuma, disgraced, will depart the presidency 12 years and four months after he was sacked as deputy president in June 2005, 10 years and two months after he claimed the leadership of the ANC in December 2007 and nine years and three months after he was elected president in May 2009. He bestrode South Africa's political and national terrain like a colossus, dominating discourse, in absolute control of his party and directing the affairs of state.

Zuma became president under a cloud of corruption and amid deep doubts about his integrity. But he did so with the support of a large part of the electorate who was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

He now faces prosecution and vilification and is likely to be ostracised by a party that once aided and abetted his pillaging of the state, but that will now have to distance itself from its former leader.

Zuma became president under a cloud of corruption and amid deep doubts about his integrity. But he did so with the support of a large part of the electorate that was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Many believed that once he was elevated to the position once occupied by a figure no less than Nelson Mandela, he would be able to rise to the occasion and that he'll be more effective than his predecessor Thabo Mbeki in advancing the national project of building a new society.

Rogan Ward / Reuters
Jacob Zuma after an appearance in the high court in Pietermaritzburg on charges of corruption in 2008.

Zuma, however, repurposed the state in service of his project of grand corruption and state capture, undermined and wounded state institutions, violated the Constitution, abused his office, reduced the ANC to a patronage network, destroyed a culture of accountability and service in government and bruised our post-1994 project.

THE STATE

Zuma saw the state as his personal protection racket, a network he could use to dispense patronage and wealth. But he was also determined to use his office to manipulate key institutions to ensure that he stays out of jail – his biggest fear.

He cleaned out the South African Revenue Service, installing a minion as its commissioner who engineered the wholesale gutting of one of the jewels in the civil service.

He quickly took control of the justice and security ministerial cluster – the police, intelligence, justice – as a means of insulating himself against the prospect of prosecution. He installed a succession of weak and subservient political heads at the police (Nathi Mthethwa, Fikile Mbalula and Nathi Nhleko) to protect him and his network, while the National Prosecuting Authority was reduced to a lapdog, riven by internal conflicts.

Once he was safe and secure in the knowledge that those institutions that are supposed to serve without fear or favour were neutered, he turned his attention to the economic sphere.

Reuters Photographer / Reuters
Then president Thabo Mbeki announces in the National Assembly that he has dismissed Jacob Zuma as deputy president on 14 June 2005.

He cleaned out the South African Revenue Service, installing a minion as its commissioner who engineered the wholesale gutting of one of the jewels in the civil service.

Next up was National Treasury. His good friends and his family's benefactors, the Guptas, felt Treasury was "a stumbling block" to their greedy ambitions and needed access to state coffers. In December 2015, and again in March 2017, Zuma obliged and removed two ministers of finance without warning, without consulting and without any scruples. All in service of his personal project of stripping the state of credibility and resources.

PARLIAMENT

Sumaya Hisham / Reuters
Then president Jacob Zuma answers questions in parliament on 2 November 2017. He was routinely protected from scrutiny by the ANC in the legislature.

Besides enlisting the executive in his project, Zuma also corrupted Parliament, with speaker Baleka Mbete and the ANC's deployees in the legislature stridently and forcefully defending and shielding him from all accountability and all scrutiny. A succession of parliamentary committees exonerated him from any blame in the Nkandla issue and minister after minister publicly bought into the Zuma victim complex, accusing the media, civil society and the Public Protector of furthering a CIA and Western agenda.

Zuma took the reins of a governing party with an electoral majority of 69,69% and in control of all metropolitan municipalities bar one.

The bankruptcy of Mbete and the ANC's office bearers in Parliament was exposed not once, but three times by the Constitutional Court: neglect of duty with Nkandla, conspiring to prevent the media broadcasting from the opening of Parliament in 2016 and failure to put in place measures to keep the president accountable.

THE ANC

Zuma took the reins of a governing party with an electoral majority of 69.69% and in control of all metropolitan municipalities bar one.

He then handed over control of a much-diminished party to his successor, with the losses of the municipalities of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay compounded by a sharp drop in popular support in both the last general and local government elections.

SIPHIWE SIBEKO1 / Reuters
The faces of ANC presidents adorn a mural in the reception area of the ANC's headquarters, Luthuli House, in Johannesburg.

The party suffers from deep divisions. Its national elective conference in December 2017 led to a fragile and uncertain détènte between battling factions, one attempting to reform the party and the other determined to use it as a vehicle for maximum rent-extraction from the state.

It is paralysed by ideological inconsistencies and contradictions, unable to counter the emergence of populist politics and hobbled by an inefficient state.

THE END

Zuma moulded the ANC in his image. He became the ANC and the ANC became him. The party came to believe itself to be above society, with citizens left to be thankful for the party's generosity while allowing those in government to gorge themselves on finite resources.

PHILL MAGAKOE via Getty Images
People watch South African president Jacob Zuma speaking on television during an interview with the South African Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC) at the Union Buildings on February 14, 2018, in Pretoria.

South Africa has now lost its innocence. The Zuma years did not break the country, but served as a warning that, although it is an exceptional place, it shouldn't fool itself into believing its exempt from kleptocrats and corruption.

It reminded South Africans of the lofty ideals they set themselves during the formation of the democratic state, it enabled the rise of a feisty and robust civil society and it exposed some heroes as self-serving, dishonest and criminal. It showed that the country is a constitutional state, governed by laws, with a strong and independent judiciary. Zuma was always going to fall.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
South Africa's President Jacob Zuma leaves after announcing his resignation at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, South Africa, February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Nkandla, the Guptas, Schabir Shaik, Bathabile Dlamini, Air Force Base Waterkloof, Mosebenzi Zwane, state capture, Mokotedi Mpshe, Shaun Abrahams, Marikana, Standard & Poor's, Life Esidemeni, Sassa, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Prasa, budget deficits, Richard Mdluli, Eskom, Tom Moyane, downgrades, Brian Molefe, Lynne Brown, the rogue unit, Nene, the spy tapes, Vladimir Putin, white monopoly capital, Kebby Maphatsoe, Omar al-Bashir, Berning Ntlemeza, Twitter bots, Bell Pottinger, Trillian, denials, dismissals and Zuma.

It's over.