He survived eight previous attempts to remove him as president, but he caved in at the ninth time. Will Jacob Zuma face the music after his inglorious exit or not? WALE ELEGBEDE writes on the uncertain future of the once-upon-a-time charismatic leader
He is simply known as Jacob Zuma but his middle Zulu name is Gedleyihlekisa, which translates “one who smiles while causing you harm.” But with his premature resignation last week, it appears that the smiles on his face have ceased.
Piling up scandals upon scandal in his nearly a decade tenure, last week’s resignation of Zuma as the fourth president of South Africa wasn’t exactly a surprise to many, but the big puzzle was how and why it took so long. In a 30-minute national television address, the scandal-tainted Zuma said he had “come to the decision to resign as President of the republic with immediate effect.”
His party, the African National Congress (ANC), had threatened to eject him from office via a parliamentary vote-of-no-confidence. But with these words, he dropped his mandate “I have come to the decision to resign as the president of the republic with immediate effect.
No leader should stay beyond the time determined by the people who they serve. No leader should seek an easy way out simply because they could not face life without the packs that come with the political office. I do not fear exiting political office.”
He noted further that, “I did not agree to exit with packs and benefits. It is my party that placed me before the representatives of the people to be elected. It is my party that availed me to serve on basis of the Constitution.
“I respect the prescripts of the constitution on how we enter and exit political office. I must accept that if my party and my compatriots wish that I be removed from office they must exercise that right and do so in the manner prescribed by the constitution.
I fear no motion of no confidence or impeachment.“I thank citizens of South Africa for the privilege of serving as president since 2009. It has been an honour that I will cherish as long as I live. I wish to thank members of the cabinet, deputy ministers, and the whole government.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-apartheid activist, trade union leader and businessman, who was until last Thursday, Deputy President but ANC ‘sPresident, was subsequently inaugurated in Zuma’s stead as the fifth president of South Africa. Born on April 12, 1942, in Nkandla, a rural hamlet in KwaZulu-Natal province, Zuma had an extraordinary political journey despite his humble beginning.
Popularly called ‘JZ’, the uneducated youngster was raised by his widowed mother. He joined the ANC at the age of 17 and became an active member of its military wing – uMkhonto we Sizwe, in 1962.
Convicted of conspiring to over-throw the apartheid government as a member of the ANC military, Zuma spent his 20s in jail alongside Nelson Mandela for the alleged crime. When he was eventually released in 1973, Zuma fled to Mozambique, which is a neighbouring country to South Africa, and there he recruited and trained young South Africans to fight in the ANC’s underground movement.
Perhaps, he got inclined to armed struggle following the time he spent in Russia as a guest of the Soviets. His return to South Africa in 1990 collided with when the political ban was lifted on the ANC and he drew support from trade unions and other parties with his gospel of wealth redistribution from rich white South Africans to poor blacks.
Expectedly, his populist policies gained ground and he became popular. He was subsequently elected the ANC’s deputy president and by 1999 he was the deputy president of the country. Zuma, who said his “education” was at the feet of the elders on Robben Island, became Thabo Mbeki’s deputy in 1999, when Nelson Mandela declined a second term.
He had looked fine and had appeared to be headed to succeed his boss, as the latter had successfully succeeded Mandela, but the cookie bust in 2005 when Mbeki sacked him.
His personal financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, was found to have bribed Zuma to win a $5 billion government weapons contract. Interestingly, Shaik was sentenced to 15 years in prison, but fraud charges against Zuma were dropped on a legal technicality. But like a cat with nine lives, Zuma bounced back.
With Mbeki falling out of with members of ANC, it was an auspicious time for Zuma to have his pound of flesh on him. He skillfully seized the moment and cut his way to the presidency with the assistance of ANC Youth League and Cosatu. He first ousted Mbeki as the president of the ANC in 2007 and 18 months later, president of South Africa. When questioned on his supposed influence in the removal of Mbeki, he said: “I was one of those who said we should not recall Mbeki, because we would create a bad precedent. Of course, I was defeated by the majority.”
But with time, Zuma’s presidency began to deteriorate as he was increasingly becoming both politically and morally corrupt. Notable among his unforced errors was the usage of government funds amounting to $20 million for renovations of his sprawling family estate. On the general stead, Zuma presided over an era of increasing economic inequality, with high unemployment and extreme poverty in the country.
His infamous rape trial is still fresh in the minds of South Africans. For many people all over the world, it was a painful trial to watch. Although he was acquitted of the charges, his infamous defence for having sex with an HIV positive woman still remains a classic for any day.
He admitted knowing the health status of the victim, but said he had a shower after the exercise, implying that he washed away whatever could have infected him. Already, analysts have sketched several scenarios for Zuma.
These include prosecution over series of corruption charges and then securing a presidential clemency from his successor, Ramaphosa. Zuma may also face charges over state corruption arising from his links to a controversial Indian business family, the Guptas.
There are reports that the National Prosecuting Authority is going to recommend that some of the charges against Zuma be reinstated, having lined up more than 200 witnesses to testify against him. He also is likely to face 18 main charges of racketeering, corruption, money laundering, tax evasion and fraud related to the arms-deal corruption involving his former financial adviser – Schabir Shaik.
South African media has reported that Zuma’s sons have extensive business interests in Dubai and have received personal guarantees from the UAE’s leaders. What it means is that Zuma and his family would likely be beyond the reach of South African prosecutors in the sunny emirate.
Some also averred that he may also quietly disappear into retirement in his home province of Kwa-Zulu Natal – or even skip the country. Whilst there is a high probability that Zuma may soon have his day in court, one thing is however clear, he might have quit the presidency, but he is by no means gone from the South African political arena.
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