Let's Think

Zuma a deadly symptom, not the illness

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South Africa’s body politics is very seriously ill and developments around President Jacob Zuma is the most acute symptom in need of urgent treatment to save the patient.

South African Communist Party (SACP) general secretary, Blade Nzimande, last week again called on President Zuma to step down, but refused to get involved in an anti-Zuma campaign.

He said it was a mistake ten years ago to believe that removing then president Thabo Mbeki and replacing him with Zuma, was the cure.

While we agree with him on that score, and welcome his admittance that the election of Mr Zuma was a mistake, he and the SACP should also accept responsibility for not following through on the changes they sought at the time – a need that is clearer than ever.

In his own words: “We are back where we were 10 years ago. We dealt with the symptom and not the fundamental problems.”

Top of the short list of his analysis with which we agree, is that the country’s purely proportional representation (PR) system is dangerous and gives political parties too much power – a mixed system, which allows parties to select its MPs and constituency-based elections, allowing voters to directly elect MPs is the least that is needed .

The blame for this fault line can be traced back to the pre-1996 constitutional negotiations.

Also read: Time to admit fault line in South African constitution

However, to leave the present crisis surrounding Mr Zuma unattended to will be an even bigger mistake. Mere suggestions him to that it would be “appropriate” for Mr Zuma to step aside as president by the SACP and trade union federation Cosatu, is simply not good enough.

By now it must be crystal clear that their “suggestion” will not only be ignored by Mr Zuma, and the parasitical bacteria associated with him, but needs to be aggressively fought.

Nzimande, and others in the ANC alliance thinking like him. should not ignore the growing signs of militancy and intimidation from the Zuma faction.

As we warned last week, the country is already running the risk of a resurrection of an “armed struggle” – camouflaged battles dress, combat weapons and all. Urgent, but careful surgery to remove the tumour is called for.

Also read: South Africa drifting into a new armed struggle?

To leave these “symptom” untreated, will only see it becoming deeper and deeper entrenched, leaving the patient – South Africa – without any hope of recovery. To think it can be left until 2019 might be fatal and even cause a situation that makes treatment by a “free and fair election” impossible.

All not lost

Despite the negligence of Dr Nzimande and co – including moderate members of the top leadership of the ANC – all is, however, not lost. There are plenty of signs that there is a wide range of “antibodies” at work in the broader body-politics of the country.

One of the positive, and more hopeful, signs from last week, was the formation of the “Freedom Movement” by all the major opposition parties. Beside fulfilling the need of keeping the momentum of protest action going, it can serve as an excellent training ground for coalition politics and for cooperation across ideological and party political dividing lines, something we believe is essential in a highly diverse society like South Africa.

Also read: South Africa’s massive chance to a fresh start towards national unity

We also think the leaders of the Save SA lobby group did the right thing to remain at arm’s length from the Freedom Movement, with a principled stance that “organised civil society and political parties had different roles to play.”

It is the role and function of political parties to deliver changes in the formal structures of political power, like the composition of parliament in session.

In the meantime, organised civil society can do some very important work to prepare for the process of national reconstruction and the development of a more inclusive and unified society. For instance Archbishop Thabo Maklouba has suggested a land and economic Codesa.

And, in the meantime Dr Brigalia Bam, chair of the trustees of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation announced a series dialogue meetings in cooperation with several other foundation, including the FW de Klerk-, Desmond & Leah Tutu-  and Helen Suzman Foundations to promote consensus on what should be done about the socio-political, moral and economic crisis in the country.

Final thought

We also think Dr Nzimande, and some other commentators, is out of touch with reality in claiming that it is a mistake to make an anti-personality (Zuma) campaign the focus of present protests actions. They misjudge the importance of symbolism and focus in mobilising the masses.

Masses are not geared for debates about complexities and, by the way, is that not what Nzimande and others did in 2007 in their campaign to replace then president Thabo Mbeki with Zuma – even though it was in the relatively focused environment of an ANC elective conference.

Mass action is called for since the calls for corrective action from inside the fractious ANC had the exact opposite reaction to what was intended – the parasitic forces’ hold on state power seem to have been emboldened and tightened.  

Fact is, ”patient South Africa” is in a dangerous condition in intensive care, and multi-pronged treatment is required to get it back to full health – with, or without the ANC in government.

by Piet Coetzer

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