The municipality elections were held in South Africa on August 3 2016. The African National Congress (ANC) which had emerged from the post-apartheid regime in 1994 with an iron grip, for the first time since then, lost considerable support. The ANC lost in three important cities. They lost the capital city Pretoria. They also lost Nelson Mandela Bay metropolitan area in the Eastern cafe, which includes Port Elizabeth, to the Democratic Alliance. For close observers though, this did not come as a surprise at all.

Trouble has been brewing for Jacob Zuma before he was elected as President. Controversy started with the charge that corruption was strife in the arms deal signed in 1999. Zuma was charged but a committee which probed the corruption deals concluded that there was no evidence to indicate that corruption had taken place. The opposition alleged that the charges were not investigated with all earnestness.

After Zuma became the Prime Minister, the Gupta family became close to him. The Gupta family migrated from India in the 1990s and set up their business in South Africa with a small company called Sahara Computers. Currently, they have an empire in mining, transportation, technology and media. In addition, they also own a newspaper and television network known for its pro-Zuma stance.

In 2013, news emerged that a family plane carrying around 200 wedding guests landed at Waterkloof Airbase near Pretoria. The military base is normally reserved for visiting heads of state and diplomatic delegations. The 200 guests were accompanied by Police envoys as they went in a convoy of luxury vehicles to the Sun City holiday resort in Rustenburg in the North West province. The wedding was between Guptas’ niece and a Delhi businessman.

Then came the Nkandala Report which was an investigation into allegations of misuse and corruption when Zuma’s home was upgraded. In 2014, South Africa’s anticorruption watchdog Thuli Madonsela, had ordered him to repay the portion of money that was not related to security related upgrades. Madonsela had found that Zuma had benefited unduly from building a swimming pool. Also, later, he was found guilty over the use of US $ 23 million which had a pool, amphitheatre, cattle enclosure and chicken run. The court ruled against Zuma and also condemned the parliament for failing to hold Zuma accountable.

In her investigation titled “Secure in Comfort”, Madonsela directed Zuma to reprimand the cabinet ministers for the highly inefficient manner in which they handled the whole Nkandala episode. Zuma reprimanded the Cabinet ministers by mentioning in the letter of reprimand the following

“The Constitutional Court has affirmed the direction by the Public Prosecutor, amongst others, that I am required to reprimand the Ministers involved in the Nkandala project....I hereby deliver the reprimand required.” This would have ranked as one of the most ridiculous methods in the world by which a reprimand was delivered by a political leader.

In December 2015, Nhlanhla Nene, who had a clean name and image, was removed as Finance Minister and a little known person was appointed on his behalf. There were strong rumours that the change itself was done to facilitate things (the ease of doing business) for the Gupta brothers. In order to offset the accusation, Jacob Zuma again, in a week, again replaced him with Praveen Gordhan, who had done a good job earlier as a Finance Minister.

Thus one can see scandal after scandal rocking the Zuma government. But there were no indications that lessons were learnt. It is true that Zuma still has considerable support in rural areas. The ANC should have seen these defeats as signals that all things were not right in the party and it is time to make some quick changes. One of the changes would have been to change the leadership of Zuma. With so many scandals hitting at the party, almost all of them due to Zuma, the ANC does not require a Zuma at the front. In fact, it has to ensure that it does not have Zuma as the face of ANC in the next elections.

The next event of importance is the ANC congress at the end of 2017 when the party president who would lead the party into the next national elections in 2019 would be elected. Even if opposition was to mount, a slippery Zuma might go all out to ensure that his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, who is also the present African Union chairperson, is the replacement for him. It would also help him handle the volumes of scandals against him. A challenge is expected to be posed by the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in case that happens. But what is happening currently?

The ANC still commands 54 per cent of the national vote while the DA has received 27 per cent. Instead of taking the first steps to cleanse the party after seeing the election results, Zuma has startled people by announcing that he would directly supervise the state enterprises that have long been the source of public corruption. Also his allies, instead of going after “the real cause of defeat”, are targeting Pravin Gordhan, the current finance minister, who has built a clean reputation for himself. But what can Zuma do? If he has to cleanse the ANC, then the first thing he needs to do is remove himself from power. That is not a small sacrifice for any human being to do. As for the South African people, if there is no change in the ANC, they can change the ruling party itself....

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are those of the author.

Harish Venugopalan is a Research Assistant with the Observer Research Foundation. He has done his Masters in International Relations from the Dublin City University (DCU) in 2011-2012. His current research interest is ‘Conflict Management in Africa’.

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