Zuma gives in to pres­sure af­ter scan­dal-hit nine-year pres­i­dency

The New Zealand Herald - - WORLD -

Christo­pher Torchia anal­y­sis

As scan­dal af­ter scan­dal un­folded, South African Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma main­tained an af­fa­ble de­meanour in public, ral­ly­ing his sup­port base, dis­patch­ing lawyers to fend off court chal­lenges and, it is al­leged, en­abling his cor­rupt as­so­ciates.

Fi­nally, the as­tute po­lit­i­cal op­er­a­tor whose on-stage danc­ing and singing de­lighted loy­al­ists ran out of op­tions, his rep­u­ta­tion shat­tered by rev­e­la­tions of sys­temic graft in gov­ern­ment.

Aban­doned by once-stead­fast al­lies in the rul­ing party, Zuma was forced to re­sign yes­ter­day, end­ing a pres­i­den­tial ten­ure of nearly a decade, much of it marred by ques­tions about his con­duct and char­ac­ter.

In a 30-minute farewell ad­dress to the na­tion, Zuma said he dis­agreed with the way the ANC had shoved him to­ward an early exit af­ter the elec­tion of Cyril Ramaphosa as party pres­i­dent in De­cem­ber, but would ac­cept its or­ders.

“I have there­fore come to the de­ci­sion to re­sign as Pres­i­dent of the repub­lic with im­me­di­ate ef­fect,” Zuma said.

“Even though I dis­agree with the de­ci­sion of the lead­er­ship of my or­gan­i­sa­tion, I have al­ways been a dis­ci­plined mem­ber of the ANC,” he said.

Zuma has de­nied any wrong­do­ing. But the steady flow, and then flood, of al­le­ga­tions of im­pro­pri­ety on his watch re­in­forced a sense that South Africa had failed to live up to the hopes of its young democ­racy when apartheid ended in 1994.

Cer­tainly, South Africa’s eco­nomic in­equity and other sweep­ing prob­lems could not be pinned on any one per­son, and Zuma could point to sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments since the end of white mi­nor­ity rule, in­clud­ing dur­ing his pres­i­dency. But the cul­ture of cor­rup­tion and im­punity that flour­ished in his or­bit could take years to over­come.

As public opin­ion turned against Zuma, some mem­bers of the rul­ing African Na­tional Congress party be­gan to see him as a risk to its hold on power ahead of 2019 elec­tions. His ap­pear­ances in Par­lia­ment turned chaotic as protesting op­po­si­tion mem­bers were re­moved from the cham­ber.

The grow­ing dis­con­tent over Zuma was ev­i­dent in 2013 when mourn­ers booed him dur­ing a Jo­han­nes­burg sta­dium memo­rial for Nel­son Man­dela, South Africa’s first black Pres­i­dent and global states­man.

Be­fore that, Zuma had presided over one of demo­cratic South Africa’s proud­est pe­ri­ods — the stag­ing of the World Cup foot­ball tour­na­ment in 2010. He was also leader dur­ing one of the most hor­ri­fy­ing events — the Ja­cob Zuma (above) fa­tal shoot­ing by po­lice of sev­eral dozen pro­test­ers dur­ing labour un­rest at a plat­inum mine in Marikana in 2012.

De­spite his fum­bles and pe­ri­odic scan­dals, Zuma was re­mark­ably re­silient and showed a deft touch dur­ing his ca­reer. In 2007, he beat then-Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki in a race to lead the ANC party, open­ing the way for him to be­come Pres­i­dent in 2009.

Zuma, 75, was born in what is now Kwa-Zulu Natal prov­ince, which later be­came a bedrock of sup­port for the rul­ing party. South Africa was in the grip of apartheid dur­ing his youth, and he joined the armed wing of the ANC in 1962 af­ter the anti-apartheid move­ment was banned.

He was soon ar­rested and spent a decade on Robben Is­land, the prison where Man­dela was held for many years.

Af­ter his re­lease, Zuma re­sumed his anti-apartheid ac­tiv­i­ties, later work­ing as head of the in­tel­li­gence sec­tion of the ANC.

Af­ter the party took power in the first all-race elec­tions in 1994, Zuma grad­u­ally worked his way to the top of its lead­er­ship.

He was pop­u­lar among some South Africans for his per­sonal warmth and pop­ulist poli­cies, and some ap­plauded him for em­brac­ing what they saw as tra­di­tional African val­ues in his per­sonal life.

He had four wives and more than 20 chil­dren, ac­cord­ing to the web­site of the South African pres­i­dency. Polygamy, though, is not widely prac­tised and was seen by some as old-fash­ioned.

Ad­di­tion­ally, there were ques­tions about what kind of ex­am­ple he was set­ting by hav­ing mul­ti­ple, con­cur­rent sex­ual part­ners in a coun­try that was en­dur­ing an Aids epi­demic.

In 2006, while be­ing tried on charges of rap­ing an HIV-pos­i­tive fam­ily friend, Zuma was widely crit­i­cised for tes­ti­fy­ing he took a shower af­ter ex­tra­mar­i­tal sex to lower the risk of Aids. He was ac­quit­ted of rape.

Still, Zuma called for ear­lier and ex­panded treat­ment for HIV-pos­i­tive South Africans and urged his coun­try­men to get tested for HIV.

One of the big­gest scan­dals to hit the Pres­i­dent in­volved Zuma’s pri­vate Nkandla res­i­dence, where more than US$20 mil­lion ($27.1m) was spent for al­leged se­cu­rity up­grades that, ac­cord­ing to the state om­buds­man, were fi­nan­cially “ex­ces­sive and ob­scene”. Zuma later paid back some of the money.

His re­la­tion­ship with the Gupta fam­ily of In­dian im­mi­grant busi­ness­men also drew wide­spread public anger. Emails leaked to South African me­dia last year de­tailed how the Gup­tas at­tempted to use their prox­im­ity to the Pres­i­dent to in­flu­ence po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ments and se­cure busi­ness con­tracts for their sprawl­ing me­dia, min­ing and tech­nol­ogy con­glom­er­ate. Both Zuma and the Gup­tas de­nied wrong­do­ing.

Vot­ers reg­is­tered their dis­sat­is­fac­tion when in 2016 the ANC had its worst show­ing at the polls in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, see­ing its vote share fall be­low 60 per cent for the first time and los­ing con­trol of key ci­ties, in­clud­ing Jo­han­nes­burg and the cap­i­tal, Pre­to­ria.

Zuma now faces the pos­si­ble re­in­state­ment of cor­rup­tion charges tied to an arms deal two decades ago.

In De­cem­ber, even as his ten­ure as the leader of the rul­ing ANC was com­ing to an end, Zuma re­mained de­fen­sive in the face of scan­dal, say­ing that “be­ing black and suc­cess­ful is be­ing made syn­ony­mous to be­ing cor­rupt”.

The newly elected ANC leader, Ramaphosa, quickly made high­pro­file state­ments against cor­rup­tion — and held pri­vate talks in re­cent days with Zuma on a power tran­si­tion. As Deputy Pres­i­dent, Ramaphosa be­came the act­ing head of state af­ter Zuma re­signed and is ex­pected to be elected as Pres­i­dent by the ANC­dom­i­nated Par­lia­ment and de­liver a de­layed state of the na­tion ad­dress by the end of the week.

ANC chief whip Jack­son Mthembu said be­fore Zuma an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion that Ramaphosa could be sworn in as new head of state as early as to­mor­row. Ramaphosa, 65, was the ANC’s chief ne­go­tia­tor with South Africa’s apartheid rulers dur­ing the talks that led to the end of white rule, and is seen as a con­cil­ia­tory fig­ure who could help heal di­vi­sions that widened un­der Zuma. — AP

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