Let's Think

Removing Zuma should be start of a second transition

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The removal of Jacob Zuma as president of both the country and the ANC might be an important first step, but not a silver bullet to South Africa’s recovery.

It is also a fallacy to argue that project ‘rainbow nation’, launched at the Codesa negotiations of the early 1990s, started going wrong with Jacob Zuma’s election to his present positions. The process leading to the present malaise in the country is a lot more complex and nuanced than that.

Some of the roots of the present problems can, in fact, be traced back to mistakes made during those very same constitutional negotiations. And, as we argued before, some of the rot was facilitated by the ANC’s construct of ‘two centres of power’.

Probably one of the biggest mistakes made at the Kempton Park negotiations was that while a smooth transition at the level of political power was secured, just about the opposite happened at the level of the civil service.

Alert to the needs and fears of their traditional power base, and under pressure from right-wing elements, the pre-1994 power structures actively made it possible for experienced technocrats and career civil servants to leave the civil service – with, among other things, special early retirement packages.

This situation made the transfer of skills almost impossible and created a vacuum in the civil service, which together with an ANC policy of cadre deployment, almost destroyed the professionalism of the service, something without which a modern state can hardly function properly.

It also assisted in the development of a patronage network, which made state capture – an ever-present danger in states globally – all that much easier.

The sudden disappearance of Mr Zuma and his networks of power, influence and patronage – including the state security establishment – might not only create a new vacuum, but also lead to a new round of witch hunts that can destabilise the civil service.

Red lights are already flickering in some of the local governments where the Zuma-controlled ANC has lost the political power in the recent local government elections. The threats by new incumbents to send previous power bearers to jail, as was threatened in Tshwane, are probably not helpful to ensure a calm, rational transition to a new dispensation.

And just think of the scary implications that, in the onslaught on the country’s Treasury, the wider loss of professional, experienced civil servants might just have caused at this crucial institution.

It might also happen at the South African Reserve Bank – that is, if the plans of some elements in ‘team Zuma’ become reality.

If not carefully managed, especially at national level, a post-Zuma era could see the country plunged into chaos and a downward spiral that will not be easily arrested.

Whoever takes over from Mr Zuma, will have his or her work cut out to ensure a smooth transition to a better dispensation.

Solid plans and programmes with strong leadership and management will be needed to repair the damage that has been done to South Africa’s civil service over more than two decades. It will not happen overnight and will take a sustained effort for a decade or more.

Also readEnd game for Zuma is on – SA on the edge

                  How ANC's path to corruption was set in South Africa's 1994 transition

by Piet Coetzer

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