‘Mired in al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing, he over­saw the rain­bow na­tion’s most trou­bled pe­riod’

‘He gave a les­son in how to pro­tect your­self and build your own em­pire. He can still say he has never been con­victed in a court of law’

The Guardian - - WORLD - Ja­son Burke

Ja­cob Zuma’s res­ig­na­tion as pres­i­dent of South Africa ends a nine-year rule seen by many as the most trou­bled pe­riod for the “rain­bow na­tion” since the end of the racist apartheid regime 24 years ago. Zuma’s de­ci­sion came after days of in­tense pres­sure from op­po­nents within the African Na­tional Congress (ANC), the deeply di­vided rul­ing party. The 75-year-old po­lit­i­cal vet­eran leaft of­fice mired in al­le­ga­tions of wrong­do­ing, rang­ing from im­proper re­la­tions with a fam­ily of wealthy busi­ness­men to eco­nomic mis­man­age­ment. He has de­nied all al­le­ga­tions against him.

Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy pres­i­dent and stan­dard bearer of the re­formist wing of the ANC, will now take power as in­terim pres­i­dent pend­ing elec­tion by par­lia­men­tary vote. The news will please the busi­ness com­mu­nity, mar­kets and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors. Mil­lions of South Africans from all com­mu­ni­ties who were con­cerned about the longterm con­se­quences of Zuma’s rule for a coun­try strug­gling to over­come many of the most dam­ag­ing lega­cies of its trou­bled his­tory will also be re­lieved. Some are talk­ing about a “Cyril Spring”.

“He’s a good man. He [Ramaphosa] has the coun­try’s in­ter­ests in his heart, not his own or some fam­ily’s,” said Gwede Dube, a 39-year-old car­pen­ter, as he queued in cen­tral Jo­han­nes­burg for an over­crowded minibus to re­turn to his home on the dis­tant out­skirts.

Ramaphosa, 65, a for­mer union leader and mul­ti­mil­lion­aire busi­ness­man, won the lead­er­ship of ANC in a hotly con­tested in­ter­nal elec­tion and will lead the party into gen­eral elec­tions next year.

Zuma had led the ANC since 2007 and was South Africa’s pres­i­dent since 2009. His ten­ure in both posts was con­tro­ver­sial. Many ANC loy­al­ists ac­cuse him of hav­ing un­der­mined the im­age and le­git­i­macy of the 105-year-old party that led South Africans to free­dom in 1994 and has ruled since. Others on the left of the party say Zuma was a rad­i­cal re­former who tried to help South Africa’s poor­est, but fell vic­tim to the “forces of cap­i­tal­ism”. “Our past legacy is op­pres­sion and theft. These cap­i­tal­ist forces de­cide who can be a pres­i­dent in our coun­try. He never as­sessed this reality … so his ap­proach was wrong,” said Billy Tsotetsi, an ANC of­fi­cial and TV com­men­ta­tor.

The ANC still dom­i­nates the coun­try’s po­lit­i­cal land­scape but its pop­u­lar­ity has been dented by a fail­ure to trans­form the lives of the coun­try’s poor. The party lost con­trol of sev­eral cities in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions in 2016 and, even with Ramaphosa in power, may be forced into a coali­tion after the 2019 vote.

It is un­clear if Zuma, who was born in a re­mote vil­lage and grew up in poverty in what is to­day South Africa’s south-eastern Kwa Zulu-Natal prov­ince, ne­go­ti­ated any deal to pro­tect him­self from prose­cu­tion on cor­rup­tion charges. But his stub­born re­fusal to leave power did not sur­prise an­a­lysts.

“He gave a les­son in how to pro­tect your­self and build your own em­pire. He can still say he has never been con­victed in court. He can still say ‘show me what I did wrong’,” said Susan Booy­sen, a pol­i­tics pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Wit­wa­ter­srand, Jo­han­nes­burg. His de­feat at De­cem­ber polls, when a new ANC pres­i­dent was elected, sig­nalled his weak­en­ing. It was clear that power was slip­ping away. Less than two months later Zuma, the con­sum­mate in­side op­er­a­tor, is on the out­side.

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