President Jacob Zuma waves during a rally.   Picture: THE HERALD
President Jacob Zuma waves during a rally. Picture: THE HERALD

When Zuma Goes
Ralph Mathekga
Penguin Books

As more details emerge about the extent of the Gupta family’s hold on the reins of power in the highest office of the land and at a key state-owned company, voices clamouring for President Jacob Zuma’s resignation are reaching a crescendo.

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But, warns political analyst Ralph Mathekga in his impeccably timed book, what eludes many people about Zuma is why he has no match within the ANC — "someone who is able to get rid of him".

"There is no doubt that Zuma has been a step ahead since the day he set foot in the Union Buildings, perhaps even before then," he writes.

Mathekga’s only misstep, which should not detract from his excellent analysis of the political culture in SA and the ANC that produces leaders such as Zuma, is that he predicted the Hawks would not expedite a criminal case against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Mathekga’s portrait of the political system and society that gives rise to a leader such as Zuma is crucial for understanding how the mess was created and for ensuring the mistake is not repeated.

Zuma’s presidency is worthy of deep analysis, Mathekga writes, because in some ways justice has not been done to the man — it is because SA is becoming a nation that perpetually seeks a scapegoat.

"Instead of confronting the evils of our society, we look for a way to normalise them and thus ourselves, by pinning our failings on individuals," he writes.

"If Zuma is simply dubbed a ‘failed leader’, the nation will get to move on once he is gone, absolved and cleansed.

"In the eyes of some within the ANC [Thabo] Mbeki was becoming a bad leader and so the party, instead of looking inward, found in Mbeki a scapegoat for its political shortcomings. So, the [governing} party unceremoniously removed him and thereby cleansed itself of the sin it had committed by failing to transform into a modern political party."

Mathekga says South Africans like to "manufacture" leaders for their own convenience and when things do not turn out the way they want them to, they demonise the leaders and blame them.

He believes SA’s downward trajectory cannot be blamed on Zuma alone — he is just one man and part of a much bigger system. When he goes, it will not be the end of SA’s troubles.

What has changed in SA’s political culture since Zuma became president is that politicians’ disdain for the courts has grown and the line between the ruling party and the government has blurred to the extent that when the ANC experiences a legitimacy crisis, government institutions suffer the same fate.

"If one listens carefully to some ANC members, government is only important to the extent that the ANC is in government. Other than that, there is no need to respect government," Mathekga writes.

He says there are many reasons Zuma should have left office by now. There is a litany of scandals and bad decisions, especially his failure to uphold the Constitution.

"If Zuma was unable to realise on his own that he ought to resign, then the ANC as a party should have served as another layer through which Zuma’s conduct in office could be evaluated.

"A sober decision should have been made to ask him to leave. Instead of the party taking a tough position on Zuma, the party asked the people to forgive him for his poor judgment on the Nkandla matter."

Mathekga says some might think that when Zuma goes, the scandals that have plagued the highest office in the land under his leadership will disappear with him. This, he warns, is highly unlikely.

But what Zuma has inadvertently created is space for opposition against corruption, patronage and the ANC’s disdain for the electorate.

Mathekga’s book provides several pointers on how South Africans, having endured Zuma’s leadership, can learn lessons that will help ensure they do not veer too far from common sense again.

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