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President Jacob Zuma

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South Africa

A passer-by in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold observed, the South African Police would never have raided the enormous, high-walled compound of the Gupta family if President Jacob Zuma were not on the brink of being removed. But early Wednesday morning, the police did exactly that.

The Guptas, three Indian immigrant brothers who became extremely rich due to their close partnership with Zuma, used to be untouchable. They were accused of ‘state capture’ in the media, but they were safe because of their alliance with Zuma. He did very nicely out of the deal too.

All that’s over now. One of the Gupta brothers was arrested in the raid, and the other two cannot be far behind. It was a signal to Zuma that the gloves were coming off, and fifteen hours later he was gone. He had clung desperately to the presidency since the African National Congress (ANC) voted him out as its leader in December, but on Wednesday evening he resigned “with immediate effect”.

Jacob Zuma joined the ANC, the country’s main liberation movement, in 1959, and had an illustrious career. He served ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, fled abroad in 1975, and became chief of the ANC’s Intelligence Department during the 1980s.

A man who served as his chief of staff in those years, a white South African now living abroad who has no reason to seek Zuma’s approval, told me recently that he was a brilliant strategist. He had admired Zuma greatly, he said, and like many others he was as much puzzled as dismayed by what Zuma became during his later years. After the decades of
sacrifice and dedication, it has been a tragic fall from grace.

Technically, Zuma still had a year left in his second term as president, but the ANC wanted him out now because he was blighting the party’s chances of winning next year’s election. Friendly hints and subtle pressures were not shifting him, so on Tuesday the ANC’s newly elected National Executive Committee ordered him to resign from the state presidency.

Zuma was still telling various media that he would refuse to quit until late afternoon on Wednesday, although it was clear that there was no way he could win. The state president is elected by parliament, not by a popular vote, and parliament can also remove him by a non-confidence vote. The ANC has a majority in parliament, and such a vote was already scheduled for the 22nd.

Why did he hang on so long if he was bound to lose in the end? Probably because he was hoping to negotiate some sort of amnesty deal in return for going quietly. But that’s a hard thing to do in South Africa, as the government does not control the courts.

Until recently Zuma’s exit plan involved getting his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chosen to succeed him as ANC president. She would then protect him from the many corruption charges that awaited him after he left the state presidency, at least in theory. But the ANC elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its president instead.

After that, Zuma’s only hope, if he wants to stay in South Africa after leaving office – which he clearly does – was an amnesty deal. But if the ANC is to rebuild its credibility with the voters there must be no amnesty, and Ramaphosa has said publicly that it is not on the cards. That is probably true.

In any case, it’s over now. Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a very rich businessman, will probably take over the state presidency only briefly now, choosing some other ANC worthy to serve out the last year of Zuma’s term. He would prefer to be elected state president next year in his right. But in fact he will already be running the show behind the scenes, and much will be expected of him.

South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Zuma’s nine-year reign, in large part because both foreigners and local people were reluctant to invest in a country whose government had become so corrupt. There needs to be a massive cleansing exercise within the ANC, and it needs to start now if the results are to be visible before the election.

Zuma may stay to face the music – or, more likely, he will move abroad and live in the $25 million palace that the Guptas reportedly bought for him in Dubai. (He has categorically denied owning any property abroad himself, but the denial was carefully phrased.)

The ANC has fallen a long way from its glory days, but it is a legitimate and democratic political party that still commands the loyalty of many, perhaps most South Africans. Now that Zuma has finally quit, Ramaphosa, a competent and by all accounts an honest man, can get started on rebuilding the party’s reputation.

If he succeeds, the ANC could still win next year’s election and another five years in power. Whether that is the best thing for South Africa, given that the ANC has already been in power for a quarter-century, is another question.

South Africa – Is Zuma to Blame?

South Africa is now verging on the status of economic basket case. GDP growth last year was around half of one percent, the country’s currency has been in free fall for the past year, and its bonds face an imminent downgrade to “junk” status. So is the South African economy doomed to a long period of low or no growth no matter who is in charge – or is President Jacob Zuma to blame?

“Zuma is no longer a president that deserves respect from anyone,” said Julius Malema, leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party, in South Africa’s parliament last month. And as Zuma tried to give his eighth State-of-the-Nation speech (he became president in 2009), the EFF members of parliament chanted “Zupta must fall”. (“Zupta” is a reference to Zuma’s close ties with the immensely wealthy Gupta family).

Julius Malema does not qualify as an unbiased observer, but his view of Zuma is shared right across the political spectrum in South Africa and beyond. “No-one believes anything he says,” concluded veteran political analyst William Gumede. And yet Zuma continues to be in charge of Africa’s largest economy – which is now deteriorating practically by the day.

Post-apartheid South Africa was never a great economic success. After the end of apartheid in 1994, there were high hopes that the economy would grow at 6 percent annually or better and create half a million new jobs a year. In reality, growth averaged just over 3 percent in the next decade – and then fell off a cliff after the global financial crisis of 2008.

South Africa joined Brazil, Russia, India and China as a member of the BRICS in 2010, but it didn’t really qualify. While its fellow BRICs powered through the great recession of 2009-2012 with undiminished growth rates, South Africa’s economy fell to 2 percent growth a year,, then one percent, and now half a percent.

It is no crime that Zuma was born poor and never went to school. Neither is it a crime that he has never worked in the private sector: all his jobs, from the age of sixteen, have been in the service of the now-ruling African National Congress (ANC). But it is remarkable, given these facts, that he has nevertheless become very rich (at least $20 million).

Zuma has never been jailed for corruption, but his principal financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2005 for corruption and fraud. The judge said that the evidence of a corrupt relationship between Shaik and Zuma was “overwhelming”, and Zuma was immediately fired as deputy president by then-president Thabo Mbeki.

Police raids on two of Zuma’s homes yielded evidence that led to charges of money-laundering and racketeering in connection with a multi-billion dollar arms deal. Just three days before Zuma was installed as president in 2009, the charges were dismissed on grounds that the evidence had been tampered with, but a recent High Court decision has reinstated the charges.

Then there was the Nkandla scandal, in which Zuma got his government to pay for the $23 million expansion of his country home in KwaZulu-Natal. (He was eventually forced by the courts to pay back some of the money.)

Or consider the astounding events of last December, when South Africa had three ministers of finance in the same week.

The first finance minister, the widely respected Nhlanhla Nene, had annoyed Zuma by refusing to approve some very large contracts in nuclear energy and the state-owned airline. (Nene may have suspected that big kickbacks were involved.) So he was dismissed.

The second finance minister was David van Rooyen, an unknown party wheelhorse with no financial experience. It was soon discovered that he had close ties to the Gupta family, which gave rise to speculation that Zuma was helping the Guptas to capture control of the state’s financial policies. He was forced to resign after four days.

The third man, Pravin Gordhan, was respectable and competent, but by then South Africa’s stock market had collapsed, its currency had tanked, and the Standard and Poor’s ratings firm had reduced the country’s credit rating to just one notch above “junk” status.

So Zuma does bear the blame for the collapse in international confidence in the South African economy – but not for its long-term failure to grow as fast as was expected. What is to blame for that?

South Africa was already a developed country when apartheid ended. It was a very strange sort of developed country, with around ten million people living in a modern economy among thirty million others who filled menial roles or lived by subsistence farming. But it was already urbanised, already industrialised, and therefore not eligible for the once-only bonus of high growth that some big “emerging economies” enjoyed.

The best that South Africa could ever have expected was the 3 percent growth that it had in 1996-2008. That would have been barely enough to meet popular expectations for rising living standards. The main cause for its failure to meet those expectations, and for any political upheavals that may subsequently ensue, is Jacob Zuma.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 8 and 9. (“Police…money”)