Zuma Watch

A new, post-Zuma, South Africa, is emerging

Facilitating a new political dawn

The quantum shifts presently taking place in the South African body politic are about much more than Jacob Zuma, Nkandla or even Guptagate.

It is about correcting a much deeper fault line that developed in the country’s democratic processes post-1994, of which Nkandla, state capture by the Gupta clique and the ANC and Mr Zuma’s inadequate response to a Constitutional Court judgement are but symptoms – and there are more.

The real or fundamental problem is how power elites succeeded to mount successful state capture operations across almost the full spectrum of the South African household. Besides the Nkandla and Gupta affairs, that is reflected in:

  • How, in the realm of foreign relations, state machinery like the South African Defence Force (SANDF) could be mobilised for personal gain in dodgy deals with other heads of state, as we report elsewhere;
  • How the state’s security apparatus could be misused for factional and broader political battles, as we warned in an article as far back as September 2014;
  • How that same apparatus was used to control the flow of information from parliament in February 2015 during the opening of parliament;
  • How state apparatus have been used against party-political opponents and perceived opponents, like the staged internet ‘leaks’ of alleged links to America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 2014; and
  • How law enforcement agencies have been used earlier this year to settle personal scores in the ping-pong battle between Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in the so-called ‘SARS Wars’.

Root of the problem

The root of the problem lies in two key elements of the political landscape post-1994:

  • the absolute dominance the ANC succeeded in establishing in election after election, blunting the role that parliament should play in keeping government accountable, so well-illustrated by the Nkandla affair; and
  • the development of centralised power in the hands of the ANC’s headquarters, Luthuli House, discussed in detail in our column Let’s Think.

This has resulted in a situation that whoever can capture power or hold dominant power inside the deeply fractured ANC, has also made a huge leap in the direction of state power.

One of the results of this state of affairs is that the person or group who has achieved that then has to create a network of patronage to keep its powerbase together. This is illustrated by the record-setting size of the South African broader government executive structure.

It is instructive to revisit the process by which Mr Thabo Mbeki was removed from office and Mr Zuma brought to power. It, for one, gave prominence to the South African Communist Party (SACP) in the executive. And it came at a time when Mr Mbeki was in the process of marginalising the SACP.

The traumatic experience of the ANC during that transition, with its various factions at one another’s throats and deepening divisions since, probably lies at the heart of its inability to take decisive action in the face of the growing crisis surrounding Mr Zuma and his power clique.

New dispensation emerging

While the root of the present crisis of governance in South Africa can be found in the hegemony the ANC succeeded to establish at the ballot box, that is also where it should and will change.

Despite all the uncertainty and dangers involved in the political drama of the moment, as we also argue in Let’s Think, there is no doubt that we are living in the dawn of a new era in South African politics – a maturing that had to come at some stage after the transition of 1994.

There are already signs that a new culture of coalition politics is emerging, if for now only occasionally around specific issues, as happened among parliamentary opposition parties during the motion of impeachment brought against Mr Zuma.

The chorus of dissent has come has become just too big and the momentum of resistance – both inside the ANC sphere of influence and structures and broad society – for things to return to what they were before the Zuma era.

The damage to the ANC-led alliance has already gone beyond the point of no repair. No-one can “put Humpy Dumpty together again”.

Besides the after-effects of the Nkandla affair and the Constitutional Court judgement, the final impact of the Gupta factor is probably still to come, and so is the court decision about the possible reinstatement of corruption charges against Mr Zuma.

But the real issue, in the final analysis, is much bigger. It is up to the South African electorate to say “never again” at the ballot box – a process that is likely to start at the upcoming local government elections in August.


Although it is not flawless, and dangerous and uncertain times still lurk, South Africans have reason to be very proud of their constitution negotiated during the early 1990s.

While some power cliques succeeded largely in capturing the legislative, executive and parts of the administrative power in the country, other key elements of the constitutional construct like the judiciary, Chapter Nine institutions, civil and individual rights and the independence of the media remained intact.

It is a combination of these elements and the interaction between them that has delivered the dawn of a new, more promising political dispensation.

by Piet Coetzer

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