The South African Presidency should be a site to advance the struggle for social equality, for the righting of historic crimes against black people, for jobs, houses, healthcare and education, for human rights globally and at home. This struggle can no longer be lead by a person as compromised, divisive and ineffective as President Jacob Zuma. He must be recalled by the ANC.
We watched the dramatic reversal – after four days – of Zuma’s unilateral move to appoint a failed mayor as Minister of Finance. Minister Nene, while continuing the unimaginative macroeconomic policies of his predecessors, had performed with skill and integrity. As the Rand plunged to its lowest level ever, all four major banks were downgraded, and R30bn was wiped off state pensions, a combination of pressure from business, labour, ANC veterans and ordinary South Africans forced Zuma’s hand.
The interests and sway of white monopoly capital were likely decisive, and Zuma played right into their hands, sending a signal to millions of people that our government can’t be trusted with steering the economy. In so doing he set back the struggle to challenge entrenched economic interests in order to share wealth more fairly.
Here are five more reasons why I believe Zuma must go:
1. Under Zuma the colonial and apartheid order in rural South Africa is being re-established
In the post-Apartheid period nobody has done more than President Zuma to re-establish the hated system of ‘indirect rule’, a centrepiece of British colonialism, whereby people were ruled through conquered or compliant chiefs on government payroll. And he has resurrected Apartheid’s Bantustan borders to strip rights and turn citizens into subjects.
The Traditional Courts Bill attempted to deny rural black people the right to legal representation, and to centralise power in the hands of senior traditional leaders. The bill ignored living customary law and entrenched colonial distortions of custom. It sought to remove the right to opt out of traditional courts. The borders it recognized for chiefly authority were apartheid Bantustan boundaries, and it made it a criminal offence for people to reject those boundaries, or to challenge chiefly abuse of power. It was only pushed back when ANC members of provincial legislatures heeded the courageous struggle of rural women against the Bill.
Now the new Traditional and Khoi-San Leadership Bill seeks to do much the same thing. It re-entrenches the controversial Bantustan boundaries, thereby locking black people living in the former Bantustans into ascribed identities. It takes us back to the ‘tribal’ classifications of the apartheid-era, and entrenches stark legal divisions between the former Bantustans and the rest of South Africa. Its essence is a separate legal system for people living in the former Bantustans, turning rural black people, especially women, into subjects who are denied the full rights of citizenship.
Meanwhile land restitution and reform have been pathetically slow, and the reopening of land claims seems more about pleasing the royal houses than advancing the claims of people. And there is still no security of land tenure for millions of rural citizens.
Jacob Zuma is not a decolonizing president. He is a conservative nationalist patriarch who has betrayed the aspirations of millions of rural black South Africans, women in particular. His neo-colonial project must fall!
2. Under Zuma social spending and jobs are massively threatened
GDP growth is currently less than 1%, and for the first time SARS revenue intake is expected to be flat. So there will be no extra money for social programs. This can only hurt the vital struggles for free education, sanitation, textbooks, electricity and national health insurance.
The JSE lost 3% of its value after the announcement that Nene was “removed”. While historic white wealth can swallow this, 10% of the JSE is the Government Employees Pension Fund. In other words, President Zuma threatened the retirements of millions of his own employees. He is a risk not only to their pensions but their jobs: nurses, firemen, municipal workers, our mothers and fathers. The appointment of Gordhan may stabilise things, but to win social justice we need new leadership at the top.
To its credit, COSATU managed a half-hearted rebuke of the decision to remove Nene, although couldn’t bring itself to criticise Zuma by name. As everyone knows, there is no independent, internally democratic, robust, militant, fighting trade union federation left in South Africa. Across the board, the level of union organisation is weak, the age-profile of membership is increasing, the social distance between bureaucracy and base is widening, and a proper campaign hasn’t been run in ages. Mobilisation on the national minimum wage has been non-existent.
President Zuma has played a key role in fomenting internal divisions and supporting the expulsion of independent voices. COSATU has been domesticated into a loyal friend of the ANC hierarchy. This has been a gigantic blow to poor black people across Southern Africa – the near destruction of our principal social movement.
4. Under Zuma the institutions of democracy have been hollowed
President Zuma has a record of destruction. He has disbanded the Scorpions, compromised the NPA, used the intelligence services against opponents, mocked and disregarded the Public Protector, damaged the independence of the IEC, ignored the rules of Parliament, flouted judgments of the courts, and almost turned Treasury into a joke. The most basic duty of a President is to guard the Constitution but he laughs at it.
The institutions set up by the Constitution to support democracy are nowhere near enough to transform society, to undo colonialism and Apartheid, to realise the Freedom Charter, and to grant black people our birthright. But they are pillars holding open spaces in which we can take those struggles forward. We must defend them.
5. Under Zuma it is impossible to beat corruption
President Zuma has paid none of the R246m spent on his Nkandla private residence, though he has been under a legal obligation to do so since March 2014. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela found that Zuma “improperly benefited from the measures implemented in the name of security which include … the swimming pool, amphitheatre, and the cattle kraal with culvert and chicken run” and the “private medical clinic at the family’s doorstep”. She said it was “unconscionable, excessive”, a “misappropriation of public funds”. She found Zuma responsible because he “tacitly accepted the implementation of all measures at his residence” and must therefore “pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures as determined with the assistance of National Treasury”. In October the Supreme Court of Appeal recently held that Public Protector findings have “legal effect” and “cannot simply be overlooked” but the President continues to ignore the Public Protector and the Supreme Court of Appeal.
Last month the Auditor General, Kimi Makwetu, said that irregular expenditure across all government departments for the 2014-2015 financial year was R25,7bn. That’s 104 Nkandlas. It is enough to immediately fix half of all the schools in the Eastern Cape. The term “irregular expenditure”, doesn’t mean it is definitely fraud or corruption, but it means it could be. It’s a decrease on the previous financial year but still extremely high.
Corruption was in the DNA of colonialism and apartheid, and it greases capitalism’s wheels. It is not new! But it is real and it is big, and it hurts poor communities above all, because it takes books out of hands, medicines off the shelves and delays infrastructure of all kinds. The fight against it can’t be won when the President is corrupt. He must go!
Zuma is not a transformation President. He does not spend every day fighting for the disenfranchised black majority. What he says publicly is that the ANC is more important than the country. What he does privately is to put himself above both the ANC and the country. Enough is Enough! Recall the President!
This article first appeared in Ground Up on 14 December 2015