from Africa in Transition

South Africa’s Jacob Zuma’s Nine Lives

November 10, 2016

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Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

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The publication on November 2 of the South Africa Public Protector’s report on “state capture” by the president and his cronies, the Gupta family, would seem to indicate Jacob Zuma’s direct involvement in corruption. The publication has created a media stir, with the quality Western media devoting more extensive coverage to it than is usual. Yet, the report does not contain a “smoking gun,” but rather calls for an extensive (and well-financed) formal investigation.

There is speculation that the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is moving toward the removal of Zuma from office. Such speculation underestimates Zuma’s sources of strength within the security establishment, among certain provincial governors, and the persistence of his patronage network. Indeed, arguably the public protector’s report has generated more excitement abroad than at home, where its broad outlines were already known. Nevertheless, the report is yet another in a string of mostly legal reversals since December 2015 that have progressively weakened Zuma’s political strength. Zuma has lost the support of erstwhile allies ranging from at least some of the party apparatus, known as ‘Luthuli House,’ after the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg, the South African Communist Party, and some of the large trade unions. One ANC elder statesman after another has called on Zuma to resign or for his removal otherwise from the presidency.

Even if subsequent investigations of Zuma do produce a “smoking gun,” which is entirely possible, his removal from office by impeachment in parliament is unlikely. The ANC, despite dramatic losses in the August 2016 local government elections, retains a huge parliamentary majority, and many of the MP’s are close to the president. He survived yet another close call today, November 10, 2016, when ANC parliamentarians refused to vote him out of office.

The story appears to be different within the ANC. Many party chieftains view the August 2016 elections as a wake-up call, and see the party’s reverses as a lack of confidence in the Zuma administration. Others deeply resent the influence of the Gupta’s over the president, his appointments, and his policies. Others resent Zuma’s apparent corruption, still others are genuine democrats and resent his seeming assault on South Africa’s constitutional institutions.

Under South Africa’s system of proportional representation, the president is not directly elected. Instead, he (or she) is chosen by the victorious party, and is usually the head of said party. The party could, therefore, remove Zuma as the president of the ANC. Were it to do so, following the precedent of Thabo Mbeki who Zuma defeated as party president in 2007, he would be expected to resign the presidency. In effect, the party would recall Zuma from the presidency.

A party effort to topple Zuma would most likely occur at the party’s national convention. The next is scheduled for December 2017. However, it could be moved forward. If that happens, the likelihood that Zuma will not finish his term increases.

More on:

Sub-Saharan Africa

South Africa

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Political Movements

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