from Africa in Transition

The Painful Exit of South Africa’s Jacob Zuma

A man watches as President Jacob Zuma responds to calls for him to step down, in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 14, 2018. James Oatway/Reuters

February 14, 2018

A man watches as President Jacob Zuma responds to calls for him to step down, in Johannesburg, South Africa, February 14, 2018. James Oatway/Reuters
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Zuma is not out yet, but he will be by February 15. Today, Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbete moved the motion of no confidence originally scheduled for February 22 to Thursday, February 15. The vote will not be by secret ballot, so the public will know if any MP votes for Zuma. Most, if not all, of the opposition parties will also vote for the motion, which is likely to be carried by a huge majority. Once passed, Zuma and all the members of his cabinet will be required to resign. The speaker will assume the presidency until the national assembly elects a new president. The African National Congress (ANC) has said that immediately after the no-confidence vote, it will elect Cyril Ramaphosa to the presidency of South Africa. (Under the South African constitution, parliament elects the president, and the ANC still has an overwhelming majority of MPs.) Ramaphosa will then proceed to appoint his cabinet.

In another clear sign that the Zuma era is finished, the South African police raided the Johannesburg residence of the Gupta family, closely associates of Zuma, business partners of his son, and widely linked with corruption, known as “state capture.”

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The motion of no-confidence that parliament will vote on is originally the product of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), who proposed the motion on February 2. It was then tabled for a vote on February 22 by Speaker Mbete (a member of the ANC). Today, the speaker agreed to move their motion forward to February 15 and to incorporate ANC amendments that outline the governing party's reasons for Zuma’s removal. This jockeying for ownership of the motion represents the broader struggle between opposition parties and the ANC to be able to take credit for Zuma’s departure. 

Pending a successful vote of no-confidence, Zuma will face the humiliation of being utterly rejected by the party to which he claims to have devoted his life. Of course, right up to when the vote is taken, Zuma could resign. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe only resigned when parliament was about to vote on his impeachment. Whether Zuma is toppled by a no-confidence vote or he resigns, he will keep his pension and the other emoluments of a former president.

Nobody ever accused Jacob Zuma of being gracious. Many party leaders had hoped that the transfer of presidential power would be dignified and graceful, with Zuma voluntarily resigning the presidency after Ramaphosa defeated his preferred candidate (his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma) in the race for party leadership. ANC tradition is that the party leader is the state president; when Thabo Mbeki was defeated as party leader in 2008, he resigned the presidency following his recall by the party. Zuma’s dignified resignation would have helped the ANC move past the divisions apparent at the party conference in December, but Zuma prides himself on being a “fighter,” and has placed his personal interest ahead of his country and his party. He may believe that the patronage networks he has constructed may yet save him. Mbeki, Zuma’s predecessor, has had a distinguished post-presidential career as an African elder statesman; it is difficult to foresee Zuma in such a role.

Instead of announcing his resignation in a February 14 radio broadcast (when many expected him to do so), Zuma whined that he had done nothing wrong and that the party leadership had never told him why he was being told to resign. The answer is quite clear to everybody else; something of a consensus has emerged in South Africa, including within the ANC, that Zuma is corrupt and that he was seeking to undermine the country’s democracy and its adherence to the rule of law. The ANC’s leadership concluded that unless it gets Zuma out quickly, there will be a popular anti-ANC backlash in the national elections of 2019. Nevertheless, it is unlikely that the ANC leadership, long intimidated by Zuma, has ever spoken to him in such plain terms.
 

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