How can the ANC defend a leader so venal?

In the past week, hundreds of leaked e-mails have provided further details of the alleged levels of state capture and how the so-called “shadow state” operates. It makes for chilling reading and the president sits at the heart of it.

It’s the drip-drip effect.

Last year, the Public Protector’s State of Capture report provided a deeply disturbing insight into the way in which the state under President Jacob Zuma was operating. Zuma’s response was to take the Public Protector’s recommendation that the Chief Justice appoint a judge to oversee a Commission of Inquiry into the allegations, on review. Zuma would clearly prefer to appoint the judge himself. One can almost see a Seriti Commission Mark Two into state capture which takes years to complete and exonerates the president and his cronies.

We are told there are tens of thousands more of these leaked e-mails which will be released into the public domain.


Despite all these dramatic allegations, Zuma survives.

It is as if the president lives in a parallel universe. On Wednesday and Thursday last week Zuma was in Parliament presenting the Presidency’s Budget Vote. He did not look or sound like a president under pressure, but that is his wont. Instead, Zuma boldly defended his record in government.

The problem, however, is that Zuma comes to the podium as the leader of a party divided and as a man who has torn apart the tripartite alliance. Zuma has been the destroyer-in-chief of the ANC. His greed and corruption have torn apart old alliances forged over decades as Cosatu and the SACP try to get to grips with allegations of state capture. There are very few places Zuma is welcome these days and he seems to retreat to the comfort and sycophancy of his KwaZulu-Natal heartland when things get politically rough.

He commands very little if any respect from those on the opposition benches and repeated Afrobarometer surveys have shown that citizens’ trust in the president has waned dramatically over the years. Yet, like all strong men, Zuma remains in power propped up by those who benefit from his incompetence and corruption and who themselves are mired in scandal in some way.

So Zuma already starts every speech at a distinct disadvantage. His delivery in Parliament on Wednesday was pedestrian at best. He is entirely disengaged from the content of his speeches, mouthing off “plans” and promises with very little understanding of how anything might be achieved. His repetitive referencing of the National Development Plan seems near farcical when it is unclear, even after all these years, how departments and ministries are actually developing a co-ordinated approach to the NDP.

But aside from the platitudinous nature of the speech, it was Zuma’s reply on Thursday, interspersed with chuckles, that probably offended the most. Here was a man the ConCourt found had breached the Constitution, who has several serious corruption allegations hanging over him, yet continues to govern with a degree of over-confidence that is staggering.

One wonders what former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan thought as Zuma responded to questions about the economy. Low growth and rising debt do not create conditions conducive to growth. Added to that, corruption and state capture undermine our ability to deal honestly with our economic challenges.

There is very little in the economic numbers that suggest we can even begin to deal with the triple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Zuma jokingly referenced government’s “9 point plan”, answering a question by DA MP David Maynier. Maynier was “obsessed” with the plan, Zuma said, grinning again.

In fact, the reason Maynier keeps mentioning it is because Zuma could not recall what exactly the nine points were during a previous Question Time session. He has since made the effort to write them down and say them out loud.

The uninspiring reply wended its way to a comment about “radical economic transformation”, except we were referred to the empty ANC Mangaung resolutions. To add to the empty rhetoric, Zuma now refers to “robust” economic transformation. Apparently “robust” is “radical” too. The question is how do we build this “capable state” that is so necessary for the restructuring of the economy when we are drowning in a cesspool of corruption?

Zuma himself is a major stumbling block to a growing, healthy economy that in some way tries to deal with the structural injustice of the past. So when he refers to the SME Fund and the relationship he has forged with the Top 100 CEOs, it’s hard to take him seriously. How does Zuma think that relationship will continue to function now that he has betrayed the trust of business leaders who were trying to build on what Pravin Gordhan was starting to achieve after Nhlanhla Nene’s unceremonious axing?

Zuma cannot speak with any legitimacy or credibility on the economy since he has single-handedly done more to undermine and destroy the economy that any post-apartheid president.  Who can now take him at his word – on anything? His shallow talk about the mining charter and an economy that works for all is undercut by the corruption we know is happening in the allocation of mining licences and the application of BEE policies.

Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane has a cloud hanging over him given his association with the Guptas. How can we trust him to deal with mining matters equitably and for the benefit of communities? Doubtless, the new Mining Charter will be a proxy for further corruption and enrichment of the politically connected.

But it was Zuma’s comments on state capture and unemployment that indicated one thing – his disdain for us is complete. “State capture is a big thing,” he said. And “Unemployment is man-made, not natural.”

This was the same day the Quarterly Labour Force Survey statistics were released. They paint a grim picture of an economy in crisis. Yes, crisis. South Africa’s unemployment rate is now at 27.7% (according to the narrow definition) meaning 6.6-million people are unemployed.

The president did not mention this statistic at all. The poor, after all, are mere chattel in the pursuit of his personal wealth.

So, the president leads the discussion of the South African economy thus: “Unemployment is man-made.”

While the Democratic Alliance and the EFF were possibly short-sighted not to attend the President’s Reply – for it provides him with too convenient a stick to whip them with – it is not hard to understand their frustration. It is impossible to engage with Zuma on the deep questions of economic transformation and how to meet our country’s challenges. His responses are glib, shallow and an insult to our collective intelligence. His chuckle is arrogance writ large.

After this abysmal parliamentary performance, one wonders how it is that South Africa has sunk so low and how anyone in the ANC is able to defend someone so venal and so dismissive of the people of South Africa? The defenders are equally corrupt and equally to blame. History will judge them accordingly.

*This article was published in The Daily Maverick. To view the article on their website click here.


Judith February is a consultant on governance matters and affiliated to the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice.  Prior to that she was Executive Director of the HSRC’s Democracy and Governance Unit and also Head of the Idasa’s South African Governance programme.  Judith has worked extensively on issues of good governance, transparency and accountability within the South African context.  She is a regular commentator in the media on politics in SA and in 2009 served on an ad hoc panel to evaluate the effectiveness of South Africa’s Parliament. She is a regular columnist for Media24 and also an occasional columnist for the Daily Maverick and other publications.  She is the co-editor of “Testing democracy: which way is South Africa going?” March 2010, Idasa. She was awarded a summer fellowship in 2009 at the Freeman Spogli Institute for Democracy Development and the rule of law at Stanford University, California and in 2012 was awarded a Spring Reagan-Fascell Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC.

To see Judith February's extensive list of publications on our website please click here.

Comments are closed.