Zuma’s Catastrophic Presidency Ends in Forced Resignation (1/2)
South African President Jacob Zuma resigned under intense pressure from his political party, the ANC, which ordered him to step down or face a no-confidence vote. Zuma has had a disastrous effect on South Africa’s nascent democracy, but a surging countermovement gives reason for hope, says Vishwas Satgar of Wits University. Watch part 2
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. After receiving 48 hours notice to resign from his own ANC Party as President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma finally did resign on Wednesday.
JACOB ZUMA: I have therefore come to the decision to resign.
SHARMINI PERIES: Zuma is facing a number of corruption scandals that plagued his presidency for the past several years, including a case of alleged rape. Now joining me from Johannesburg, South Africa is Dr. Vishwas Satgar. He teaches at the University of Wits in Johannesburg. I thank you so much for joining us today, Vish.
VISHWAS SATGAR: Thank you, Sharmini. It’s great to be on your show.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vish, this is a long moment coming. What is the mood in Johannesburg and what was the conditions under which Zuma was forced to resign?
VISHWAS SATGAR: Well, it’s just after midnight. There’s definitely a euphoric sense, both in the media commentary around Jacob Zuma’s departure but also on social media. I think what we got to put in perspective here is that the ANC has tried to choreograph his departure and has really tried to use machine politics and the kind of backroom negotiations to kind of a, give him a soft landing, but b, also come out looking good, both in relation to the opposition in South Africa’s political landscape but also in relation to the country.
Now, I don’t think this has really, really worked on their terms. I’m saying this for the following reasons. I think first, we’ve really got to historicize this catastrophe called Zuma and Zumafication as a phenomenon beyond just the individual. It has a history that’s almost 15 years old. It goes back to the rape trial of Jacob Zuma, his firing from the Mbeki cabinet as deputy president, and the kind of authoritarian populist politics that began the march almost 15 years ago through our society, through the ANC, and through our democratic institutions. And in that context, Zuma basically engendered a few negative dynamics in our society. I mean, the one was a cult of the personality, which coincided with the presidentializing of power within our neoliberal state that almost gave him, if you like, untouchability and almost license to do whatever he wanted in the state and with the state.
The other thing that emerged with Zuma was, if you like, a parallel state, a corrupt nexus of relationships that spanned the ANC, that spanned his family and a whole set of cronies, and that linked deep into the state. Those, if you like, shadow relationships of authority were given muster, were given license, right from the top, i.e., from the presidential office. That has set us back in various ways, in terms of our parastatals in South Africa, in terms of our constitutional institutions like our Public Protector, our National Prosecuting Authority. Everything was basically skewed around ensuring this corruption rackets could act with impunity while at the same time trying to lay the basis to protect a very compromised president.
I think the third thing that has come through with the Zumafication of South African politics has been a regression in our nation-building project and depolarization across the society. The most powerful trade union movement in the African context, COSATU, was split and divided with Zuma at the helm. We had the Marikana massacre in 2012 with him as president at that time. We basically saw increasingly a kind of crude masculinization of politics related to his performances as this conservative, traditional male. And we, of course, have seen an economy that has really not been able to, if you like, ride the globalization crisis and turn the corner and address inequality and unemployment.
In a sense, what has happened over the past 15 years has been disastrous for the society, but there has been a counter-movement to this. It’s what I would call the people’s effect, and the people’s effect has been about, if you like, standing up to this kind of regressive moment in our young democracy. It’s an effect that expressed itself through various institutions. It expressed itself through civil society groups building, if you like, a consistent narrative that connected the dots between Zuma, the president, and Zuma and the corrupt apparatus, and Zuma, the kind of destroyer of our democracy.
And this came through at various moments over at least the past 15 years from activists protesting during election times and really opening up debates around how people should choose, particularly after Marikana, particularly after the Nkandla scandal. You had feminists constantly reminding Zuma that his rape trial was really, if you like, a show of crude patriarchy in our society. You had, if you like, our media and our courts also putting certain limits and putting certain challenges to this president, our Public Protector being one of those stepping up, Thuli Madonsela, and actually, if you like, going toe-to-toe with claims about state capture, going forward without fear to confront him and his presidency about allegations that were made about a certain nexus of relationships, the Gupta family, his own family, and other cronies having reach into how the state works, et cetera.
Then, of course, over the recent period, particularly last year, I think he made some very serious miscalculations. When he fired the Minister of Finance, he basically unleashed, if you like, a more mass assertion against his presidency and the ANC state, such that people took to the streets on April 7th across the country. It was one of the largest post-apartheid mass mobilizations against his presidency. That spawned, if you like, greater mobilization amongst opposition parties. You just saw a rallying across society.
I think what I’m getting at is that what has happened tonight is a result of this people’s effect, and it’s very, very important to keep this in perspective, because one of the narratives and one of the ways in which, if you like, the business media in South Africa, the way the international press would want what has happened tonight to be understood and explained, will be the Cyril Ramaphosa effect. In other words, the new president of the ANC has made this all happen.
Actually, the Cyril Ramaphosa effect has, if you like, had to act out of necessity because of the crisis of legitimacy of the ANC that has come through because of Zuma and the counter-response through the people effect, if you like. There was no choice since December, since the election of the new ANC leadership. The writing has been on the wall, given the local government elections two years ago in which the ANC lost major ground in major metropolitan governments. This was seismic in the political landscape. It was clearly letting the ANC know that its political support in society, its deep roots, were unhinging. Cyril Ramaphosa and his leadership collective had to act because of the popular pressure and the increasing negative sentiment against the ANC. But even in his negotiations with Zuma, he tried to choreograph an exit for Zuma that wasn’t about humiliating him. It was going to be the soft landing and so on.
But actually after two weeks of negotiations, Cyril Ramaphosa’s strategy didn’t work, because tonight, Jacob Zuma when he resigned, I think his speech was very, very telling. He very explicitly said that he was not given a reason by the leadership of the ANC for his recall. He also indicated in the rhetoric that he used in that he was a victim in more ways than one. I think what was very clear is that Cyril Ramaphosa had to go to the NEC of the ANC after all the time spent negotiating with Zuma, and he had to use the NEC of the ANC and its recall as a means to deal with the Zuma challenge. So, in other words, Zuma refused to buy into an agreement with Cyril Ramaphosa. That’s very, very important to put into perspective here as well. The Cyril effect in my view doesn’t explain what happened this evening.
SHARMINI PERIES: Vish, I want to get this segment out into the press because the news has just broken that Jacob Zuma has resigned. And I’m very interested in the rest of the analysis that you’re providing, so let’s continue this conversation in segment two. I thank you for joining me for now.
VISHWAS SATGAR: Thank you, Sharmini. I will.