Zuma must go or we'll be in deep trouble

Allister Sparks

President Jacob Zuma

WE are poised at the beginning of what is going to be the most testing year in the short history of the new South Africa.

One of two things can happen over the next 12 months. Either the Jacob Zuma administration will remain in power, plunging the country into economic recession, with a collapsing rand, rocketing inflation and unemployment, all carrying the risk of triggering a populist political uprising leading to chaos and violence.

Or the electorate will deliver a shock to the African National Congress (ANC) in the upcoming local government elections, strong enough to jolt it into "recalling" Zuma from the presidency, and replacing him with someone competent enough to stop the rot and get SA back to the economic growth path we were on before the Polokwane coup.

The firing of the highly competent Nhlanhla Nene as Finance Minister was the last straw. It showed, if any doubt still existed, that Zuma knows absolutely nothing about economics - and cares even less.

The burning question that still awaits disclosure is what Nene did - or declined to do - that caused Zuma to dismiss him so summarily. There are rumours about a dodgy deal involving the acquisition of aircraft for South African Airways that the chairperson of the airlines board, Duduzile Myeni - said euphemistically to be close to Zuma - wanted to conclude, but which the Finance Minister refused to approve. So Zuma got rid of him.

It then took a demarche by the six most senior party members to warn Zuma that unless he reversed his decision immediately, before the markets opened in the Far East, the rand would be slaughtered to the point where there might be a catastrophic run on the country's banks. He apparently had no idea that his irresponsible action might have any such result.

This shows that the man is a constant disaster waiting to happen in the presidency. He must go before more damage is done.
That is what makes this year's local government elections so important. They give the people of this country the opportunity to send that strong message to the ruling party that they are no longer prepared to put up with corrupt and incompetent governance. A message which makes it clear that if Zuma is not replaced  they will punish the ANC even more severely at the national elections in three years' time.

That is what democracy is all about. The power of the people to express themselves though the ballot box.

It is rightly said that countries get the governments they deserve. So if the voters of this country don't deliver that kind of message to the ANC at this year's elections, they will have no right to complain about the hardships that will surely befall them.

All investors, domestic and foreign, have now lost confidence in South Africa under Zuma. There will be no new investment, therefore no new jobs. All the rating agencies will rate us "junk" status, making loans harder and more expensive to raise. More local investors will move offshore. Money will start leaving he country - indeed it has started already. Double invoicing will become the name of the game.

Unemployment will balloon, food prices, aggravated by the drought, will rocket. So will all other living costs, education costs, transport costs.  Pensions will shrink, so will health services. 

I don't think we shall ever sink as low as Zimbabwe, because I have more faith in our people to stand up to a ruinous government. But we are on that same road. And, as with the Zimbabweans, it is the poor who will suffer most.

If we are to avoid that fate, removing Zuma will not in itself be enough. He must be replaced by someone more modern and more competent. Such people are still there aplenty in the ANC. Kgalema Motlanthe is one, Trevor Manuel another.  But at the moment the choice of heir apparent seems to have boiled down to two: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Zuma's divorced wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Dlamini-Zuma would be better than her ex-husband, but one critical factor must be recognised. She is being backed by the circle around Zuma, the so-called Premier League, for just one reason. She could be relied upon to keep in place the patronage system that President Zuma has so carefully put in place for his protection and their abundant benefit.

That leaves Ramaphosa as best choice. A capable man with a legal background and experienced in both business and labour leadership. His track record as a negotiator and consensus seeker is without equal, both qualities we badly need.

I guess the Zulu community would require some compensation for the loss of its dream of a long-running tribal dynasty.

Therefore I would suggest the capable Zweli Mkhize, a rising star in that community who is the ANC's treasurer-general and thus number three in the party hierarchy, as an appropriate choice to be the new Deputy President. That would make him Ramaphosa's natural successor.

What do I mean about sending a clear message through this year's elections? People tend to discount the importance of local government elections; they feel the national government is all that matters when it comes to determining the manner in which they are governed.

But our constitution devolves a fair degree of power to the local level, especially through our eight big metro-councils -- Greater Johannesburg, Cape Town, eThekwini (Durban/Pinetown), Tshwane (Pretoria), Ekhuruleni (East Rand), Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth/Uitenhage), Buffalo City (East London) and Mangaung  (Bloemfontein).

Those eight metros together account for more than 70% of our gross national product. They are the industrial engines that drive our national economy. They are hugely important.

Given the negative effect of Zuma's maladministration, I believe there is a possibility the ANC may lose control of Nelson Mandela Bay to the Democratic Alliance (DA), and fail to win a  50% majority in Johannesburg, Tswane  and  Ekhuruleni.

The ANC would then have to seek a coalition partner to form a government in those three big metros. Its choice would be between the DA and the Economic Freedom Fighters – and I imagine it would find the DA (which already controls Cape Town) to be the more comfortable fit.

That would pitch us into an era of coalition politics. Meaning collaborative politics, which would hopefully reduce the venom that has crept into our national discourse during the Zuma years and back some of the spirit of national unity that Nelson Mandela induced.

I have always felt haunted by Frederik van Zyl Slabbert's observation that the moment of greatest danger for any new-born African state was not its moment of independence, but when the party of liberation first faces the prospect of defeat.

How much better, therefore, if our moment of transition from ANC dominance could be cushioned by a series of coalition regimes.

All wishful thinking, some may think. But there is an old political saying that one should never let a good crisis go to waste. They are moments that call for bold action. And we are certainly going to face a Zuma-induced crisis in 2016.


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