Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s le­gacy and what’s next for him

As the coun­try gets ready for Ja­cob Zuma to step down from the ANC hot seat we look back at his time as leader of the coun­try


BY THE time you read this, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma will have mere days left as head of the rul­ing party. Un­der his watch much has hap­pened – peo­ple have been hired and fired, the rand has plum­meted, the econ­omy has suf­fered and the state has been cap­tured. All of which has led many to re­joice at the fact that, come 2019, he will be­come “an or­di­nary voter”, as he puts it, at his lo­cal Nkandla branch of the ANC. Yet there is more than a year to go un­til the gen­eral elec­tions – and the mil­lion dol­lar ques­tion now is, will Zuma still wield power and in­flu­ence af­ter the elec­tive con­fer­ence closes on 20 De­cem­ber? We went look­ing for an­swers to this and other ques­tions as Zuma’s last year at the head of the party draws to a close.


Ex­pect Zuma to have some level of lever­age and in­flu­ence in ar­eas where he has a firm foothold, says Sanusha Naidu, se­nior re­search as­so­ci­ate at the In­sti­tute for Global Di­a­logue and a pol­i­tics lec­turer at the Uni­ver­sity of Cape Town.

He could also ex­ert in­flu­ence as an el­der and an out­go­ing pres­i­dent.

But can pres­i­dent of the party be sep­a­rated from pres­i­dent of the state? Naidu says we will have to wait and see. “At this point in time, ev­ery­thing is a grey area.”

But po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Daniel Silke be­lieves Zuma’s days are num­bered and doubts he’ll make it to the 2019 gen­eral elec­tion as head of state.

“Who­ever wins at the elec­tive con­fer­ence will want to re­solve the is­sues that sur­round Zuma and ce­ment them­selves as the pres­i­dent and leader of the coun­try,” he says.

An­a­lysts also be­lieve the ANC might have a bet­ter chance in 2019 if they get rid of Zuma now.


The first five years had some gems, an­a­lyst Os­car van Heer­den says in the Daily Mav­er­ick.

This in­cluded ru­ral de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes spear­headed by Zuma which brought ru­ral de­vel­op­ment “front and cen­tre with its own fi­nanc­ing and pri­or­ity in­vest­ments”.

He also did bet­ter than his pre­de­ces­sor, Thabo Mbeki, when it came to rolling out ARVs, an­a­lyst Ralph Mathekga says.

“There are also more chil­dren in early child­hood de­vel­op­ment pro­grammes,” Mathekga adds.

But the bad stuff far out­weighs the good – the ex­ces­sive spend­ing on his Nkandla

home­stead, the oust­ing of fi­nance min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene that brought the econ­omy to its knees, his friend­ship with the Gup­tas and state cap­ture.

“The dra­matic events of the past year have em­broiled the pres­i­dent and his fac­tion in state cap­ture and have put the fi­nal nail in the cof­fin of any last­ing le­gacy he might have wanted to leave,” Silke says.

All he will be re­mem­bered for is pre­sid­ing over a coun­try mired in graft. He has also lost the con­fi­dence of his own party.

Lukhona Mn­guni, an an­a­lyst from the Uni­ver­sity of KwaZulu-Natal, says un­der Zuma’s lead­er­ship there was “an un­der­min­ing and col­laps­ing of demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions”.

“If we ask, ‘do we have ef­fi­cient, ef­fec­tive and re­spon­sive in­sti­tu­tions of gov­ern­ment?’ the an­swer is no – which means his le­gacy can only be neg­a­tive. In short, the pres­i­dent will be leav­ing be­hind a di­vided ANC and a coun­try he led into cri­sis.”


The party is split by fac­tions and is deeply di­vided, Mathekga says.

“Zuma’s lead­er­ship has had a pro­foundly neg­a­tive im­pact on the ANC.”

It’s been felt at the polls too – un­der Zuma’s ten­ure the party lost con­trol of the City of Tsh­wane, the City of Jo­han­nes­burg and Nel­son Man­dela Bay, dev­as­tat­ing blows to the once all-pow­er­ful party.

The ANC has also lost a lot of cred­i­bil­ity in the eyes of the world. “SA isn’t seen as a coun­try that is mod­el­ling true democ­racy,” Mathekga says. “Peo­ple know more about Nkandla and other con­tro­ver­sies than any­thing else. And it’s not some­thing we can be proud of.”


The down­turn shouldn’t be blamed en­tirely on Zuma, says Dr Azar Jam­mine, di­rec­tor and chief econ­o­mist of Econometri­x.

“There was a sharp slow­down in global eco­nomic growth from 2011 to 2015 and that im­pacted di­rectly on us.

“There have also been ma­jor droughts, none of which were is­sues within Zuma’s con­trol.”

How­ever, our econ­omy has steadily un­der­per­formed com­pared with other emerg­ing world mar­kets, he adds. “Is­sues re­lated to com­mod­ity prices can be sig­nif­i­cantly at­trib­uted to the im­pact Zuma had.

“More specif­i­cally, the rise of state cap­ture and the ex­tent of cor­rup­tion un­der his stew­ard­ship, cou­pled with the in­ef­fi­ciency and in­com­pe­tence of man­age­ment at state-owned en­ter­prises all had a neg­a­tive ef­fect on the econ­omy.”

Jam­mine be­lieves the big­gest dam­age has yet to be felt. The full im­pact of this year’s sig­nif­i­cant down­grades to junk sta­tus will mean less eco­nomic growth and less in­vest­ment be­cause of in­creas­ingly low lev­els of busi­ness con­fi­dence.

There is a lot of un­cer­tainty about South Africa, Naidu adds – whether we’re at the tip­ping point in terms of our po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic land­scape and whether we can pull back from it.

The so­cial co­he­sion and na­tion build­ing that seemed so pos­si­ble in 1994 haven’t hap­pened as en­vis­aged, she adds.


Through sound lead­er­ship many of the is­sues can be ad­dressed, Jam­mine says. But he warns there will be last­ing ef­fects that will take a long time to get over.

“One ex­am­ple that’s a lit­tle less tan­gi­ble is the in­crease in racial po­lar­i­sa­tion that’s come about by de­lib­er­ate at­tempts to shift the blame for poor eco­nomic pol­icy on racist at­ti­tudes in South Africa.”

The in­com­ing party leader will need to en­sure sound pol­icy im­ple­men­ta­tion, Naidu says, in or­der to “re­cal­i­brate the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic land­scape”.

“But how long that will take is any­one’s guess.”

Who­ever wins at the con­fer­ence will need to first re­build con­fi­dence in the coun­try.


It isn’t all gloom and doom, Jam­mine says. “In the short term the econ­omy is ac­tu­ally do­ing some­what bet­ter than many peo­ple are giv­ing it due.

“It’s not ac­tu­ally col­laps­ing de­spite all the head­winds and that is a source of en­cour­age­ment – but a lot of dam­age has been done.”

He also points to as­tute lead­er­ship to turn the ship around. The next ANC pres­i­dent needs to act harshly against state cap­ture and cor­rup­tion. “And that’s quite a tall or­der.”

ABOVE: Brothers Ajay and Atul Gupta are at the cen­tre of state cap­ture and cor­rup­tion al­le­ga­tions. RIGHT: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa (FAR RIGHT) are both vy­ing for the po­si­tion of ANC pres­i­dent.

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