The folly of the Zuma Must Fall campaign

Mutumwa Mawere

Mutumwa Mawere

ON Wednesday, 10 December 2015, President Zuma announced his decision to relieve Hon. Nhlanhla Nene of his duties as Minister of Finance and replacing him with Hon. Desmond van Rooyen.

The news broke at night and the impact of the removal and appointment decisions will continue to be subjects of an important debate about the quality, utility, limits and true opportunities of the post-apartheid and colonial democratic constitutional orders.

When Hon. Nene was appointed by President Zuma on 25 May 2014, the market was less hostile to the appointment decision but his removal has sparked unprecedented anger from principally predictable quarters who hold strong views about President Zuma’s credentials and alleged fatal judgmental inadequacies to preside over Africa’s most diversified and developed nation-state.

The rand, South Africa’s currency, fell to record lows when the market learnt of the removal and the appointment decisions and actors began to process the perceived implications and alleged underlying rationale for the timing and decisions that only President is constitutionally empowered to make.

In any functioning democracy, the power to appoint and disappoint Ministers is vested with the President yet the content and context of the anger in relation to the two decisions seem to suggest that a case is being made that in respect of the decision to remove Hon. Nene, the President acted in an unspecified illegal, irregular and even unconstitutional manner.

When former President Mbeki removed the then Deputy President Zuma, the market was neutral and indifferent yet the decision ultimately invoked a spirited debate and actions within the ANC resulting in the removal of President Mbeki in a democratic manner.

The dispute between President Mbeki and his then deputy, although national in character, was resolved within the four corners of the African National Congress (“ANC”). 

However, Hon. Nene’s position has no constitutional implications but in reacting to the removal decision, a mischievous attempt has been made to distort the legal standing of the decisions.

It is common cause that Ministers are appointed and not elected.  These are men and women that serve in the state at the pleasure of the President yet the removal decision has been misconstrued to imply unwarranted political interference in a supposedly technocratic system.

One of the key considerations that delayed the de-racialisation of South Africa was a forceful argument that was being asserted by the colonial and apartheid practitioners that anything short of qualified franchise would undermine the promise of progress and prosperity.

One, therefore, is compelled to locate the reaction to the removal and appointment decisions in a far much broader social, economic and political context especially in respect of the natural consequences of opening the democratic space to the majority poor.

It is an objective fact that non-tax paying poor South Africans who are in the majority determine the appointment of a President of the Republic. 

In as much as the economically productive and vocal South African citizens may wish otherwise, the reality has been the same since 1994 when former President Mandela was elected as the first democratic leader of the post-apartheid state.

It is a reality that often clouds and distorts any discussion about the legitimacy or otherwise of President Zuma, the most unlikely person to be a President based on his perceived lack of wisdom that is unfortunately linked to his limited formal education, yet it cannot be argued that the difference between the people and the party that made it possible for both Presidents Mandela and Mbeki to assume the highest office in the land is not the same.

All the three Presidents including their predecessors did not write any exams to be eligible for election as is the case universally. 

Notwithstanding, it is often convenient for people who should know better to expect the incumbents to be men of wisdom without any regard to the natural and obvious consequences of the enterprise of democracy in an unequal and racially divided nation.

If anything, the Zuma Presidency ought to have provided a unique opportunity for people to decide not on his personal suitability but on the inherent citizen obligations of democracy.

Democracy is expensive because it allows marginal but majority economic actors to play a decisive role in placing a person they may consider to represent their interests in the state system.

President Zuma did not apply to be President but finds himself in the pole position to appoint people who may not think and act like him.

Calls have naturally been made that President Zuma must appoint people who after appointment must act independent of him.  No rational proposition has been made so far as to who should rise as the democratically elected Zuma falls.

Our generation has been privileged to witness many falls including the infamous physical Berlin Wall and socialist and communist systems in Eastern Europe. 

The Chinese also turned their back on the disastrous Cultural Revolution and we have also seen the emergence of new viable economic nation-states to allow us to be more cautious as we react to what may seem absurd to the few enlightened vocal talking heads.

We have seen what has happened after the storm of the spring uprisings in North Africa.  Gaddafi and Mubarak are both history but the post-revolution reality compels all right-thinking people to pause and reflect on the implications of glorifying anarchic regime change tactics and strategies.

I had the privilege of meeting the Foreign Minister of Libya recently at the China-Africa summit held in Johannesburg who was quick to point out that there are two functioning governments now in the country.  He also pointed out that the unitary state that Gaddafi presided over is no more.

The idea of agitating for non-market related fall of things including statues, fees and people is so offensive to a democratic constitutional order yet the key proponents of the Zuma Must Fall campaign are the very people who benefit from order and not disorder.

It has been alleged boldly that the removal decision was motivated by ulterior motives and also that the appointment decision is inherently defective and irrational as the new incumbent ought to pass a litmus test of competency when no such requirement or obligation is legally tenable and sustainable.

The law confers on the President to appoint even fools as his Ministers or assistants. 

The regime change agenda is dangerous and counter-productive. 

Those who sought to prosecute the same agenda in respect of President Mugabe are now eating humble pie after squandering opportunities to retire him.

In the quietness of President Mugabe, a view is and must be entrenched that if he were to contemplate retirement or any similar enterprise, the true and authentic promise of independence and self-determination would be undermined.

Instead of encouraging him to gracefully exit, the regime change practitioners failed to convince the majority poor Zimbabweans who naively think that the true role of the state is to empower through playing a Robin Hood redistributive role to dump him.

President Mugabe is now a Life President of Zanu PF and the people who were pushing for his unconstitutional and unorthodox removal are not only fragmented but rudderless.

The political arithmetic in unequal societies does not favour the few wise and economically powerful who are tempted to believe that their anger can be contagious and easily communicated to the majority.

The Zimbabwe case ought to have provided a living laboratory of the limitations of ill-conceived and executed regime-change plans.

It would not take a genius to know that the real political gravity in South Africa is skewed in favour of the poor and economically excluded whose conception of the role of a President and the role of the state is antithetical to the ideas that inform the choices and actions of the proponents of regime-change schemes.

The hashtags #ZumaMustFall could easily radicalise the poor who have been led to believe that they occupy the poverty and unemployment spaces because of the past and machinations of whites. 

President Mugabe has now become a global icon in using the race-card to entrench his position.

In the context of South Africa, a real danger exists that instead of President Zuma looking forward to his exit after his second term, the current actions may encourage him to ensure that his successor should be an intolerant populist.

No one can dispute that President Zuma has taken insults gracefully and one only needs to cross the Limpopo to know what can be different. 

Freedom is certainly not cheap because it requires the means to assert and enforce it. 

However, when the majority are continuously made to apologise for their inherent power then the propensity to use the same power to limit the democratic space can be the inevitable and predictable harvest of futile campaigns.

President Zuma’s political legitimacy does not arise from a bedroom but from random, sovereign and independent acts of political expression by the governed, the people of South Africa. 

It is significant that unlike Zimbabwe, South Africa has had three Presidents in 21 years and the transition has not been facilitated with guns. 

The foundations of democracy in South Africa are in place but are definitely at risk when people think that anarchy can be a viable alternative.

The voters are and should be the raw materials for people who want to serve as state actors. 

Indeed, ill-conceived politically motivated demonstrations can equally remove the existing space for constructive dialogues about what kind of society people want to have and how to achieve it.

In the case of Zimbabwe, we all watched helplessly while the advocates of the rule of law lost their rights in relation to property including land resulting in the few members of Zanu PF believing that they have been anointed by default to misbehave in the name of the people.

The people responsible for transforming the then Sir Robert Mugabe into a villain know the consequences of their mischief as they constructively sought to remove him by playing the man, Mugabe, as they are doing in South Africa in the case of Zuma.

The people clothed with the legitimate power to consider removing him are the members in good standing of the ANC yet the reported 60,000 persons that have associated themselves with the campaign to remove him may very well be non-members of the party and, therefore, inconsequential.

Imagine, if the talking heads that are vociferously calling for Zuma’s head had chosen to join the ANC and seek to change it from within, President Zuma would have had no choice but to listen and pay attention to the alleged widespread anger. 

Is it not, therefore, ironic that the anger so eloquently expressed in the media may be missing in action where it really matters i.e. the ANC?

The ANC is a member-based organisation and there can be no viable alternative than for the people angry to be the face of a peaceful change where it matters.

Those who believe that they cannot achieve the change through constitutional means must also know that they have no monopoly as to how chaos can be invoked and implemented.

The tactics that worked for the ANC in de-racializing the country can easily be borrowed to deal with campaigns whose true intend can very easily be misconstrued and politically manipulated.

We have seen that although President Mugabe may be fatigued, the idea of exiting and passing the button to a person he holds in low esteem is so offensive and too ghastly for him to contemplate like it must have been the case for President Mbeki.

Malicious and serious allegations have been made against President Zuma and the presumption of innocence, a fundamental tenet of the rule of law, has effectively been taken away from him in a distasteful and contemptuous manner.

A bitter harvest becomes an inevitability if wrong tactics are used even for a seemingly noble objective of bending the arc of the moral universe towards justice, merit and equality.

One cannot say that Nene, under the watch of Zuma, acquired unique and exceptional skills without his active participation. 

His tenure as Minister cannot be separated from Zuma’s alleged foolishness.

Among 55 million people, it must be accepted that it will always be impossible to find a mechanism that can yield consensus regarding the human selection of a few to assume state positions in an objective and transparent manner. 

Equally, one would not expect Zuma to deploy his enemies to assume state positions in his administration or Mugabe to voluntarily acquiesce to another inclusive governments even in circumstances where needed skills may not exist in his party.

We must accept that even the mightiest and powerful actors in life are human after all susceptible to make errors and operate subjectively.

Our job as concerned citizens should be to seek to correct the errors in a peaceful and respectful manner. 

Mandela taught us to reject white domination with the same force and vigour as black domination.

The future of Africa is truly in our hands. 

Let us all pause and reflect on the direction and destination where we think our successors would be proud of our choices and actions.

Ignorance and prejudice ultimately are best friends. 

Those that believe they have a better claim on the future must step up to the plate and use their knowledge to lift the majority up so when decisions have to be made as to who should be the face in government, we are all operating on the same page.

We have already witnessed how popular and durable irresponsible actions can be to allow us to fold our hands and keep talking to the converted about our apprehensions and fears.

President Zuma may be what his adversaries claim him to be but it would be a sad day when his smile is replaced by a fist.

We need him to continue to smile while we are negotiating a future that balances the ills of the past with the promise of tomorrow.

Each day he is in office is practically a day less and those who wish to assume his current position must emulate the manner in which he exercised calm even when provoked.

History has no record of Zuma leading a march himself aimed directly at discrediting Mbeki and the people who claim to have assisted him in taking over the reins of power cannot deny that under his leadership, the majority of South Africans chose the ANC in highly contested elections as the vehicle to deliver the promise of a better life not just to the members but to the whole population.

Finally, even Nene is a product of an imperfect system and no one can legitimately claim that in office Nene managed to escape the alleged fatal limitations of a democratic order that allows Zuma to appoint judges and other actors who after appointment then often and conveniently seek to create their own self-serving higher moral pedestals.



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