Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS
Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

Bertolt Brecht’s warning in a satirical play from 1941 taking an allegorical swipe at Adolf Hitler and the Nazis resonates in modern SA, where former president Jacob Zuma and his coterie went rogue and pushed the state to the brink of an economic disaster.

The problem is, as the German playwright and thinker points out, even with Zuma gone and an eminently sensible replacement found in the form of President Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the country and the ANC, the underlying conditions that gave rise to Zuma continue to resonate and fester.

Zuma's career as president of country and party began unravelling in an unsettlingly close internal party battle at the ANC conference last December swung by David Mabuza, an allegedly corrupt politician from Mpumalanga who was rewarded with the position of deputy president.

Brecht’s play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, contains a shrewd observation about the rise of Hitler and his National Socialist (Nazi) party that citizens of SA would do well to consider in tempering their hopes that Ramaphosa can force through clean governance and cauterise corruption in the ANC: “Don’t yet rejoice in his defeat, you men! Although the world stood up and stopped the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”

The ANC’s leadership is struggling for control of the party, which is showing every sign of being in complete disarray in the scramble to avoid accountability or charges of malfeasance; to secure positions; and to gain favours and a chance to gorge at the gravy train's feeding trough.

Zuma is shameless and unapologetic about his chronic mismanagement of the government and country since being sworn in as president in May 2009. His track record before that should have been a warning to his party that corruption was about to spiral out of control —  he featured prominently in the criminal conviction in 2004 of business person Schabir Shaik for corruption and fraud. 

Zuma’s casual relationship with ethical and moral government and the blind eye he cast at similarly minded cabinet ministers and the leadership of state-owned companies have left a cancerous rot on the landscape of SA's politics that is almost impossible to repair.

Media reports have placed Zuma at the heart of a plot hatched with senior ANC figures to oust Ramaphosa as the president acts on commitments he made to investigate and prosecute corruption in government structures. Zuma has a lot to lose if Ramaphosa remains in power and supports fresh investigations into his predecessor's activities and a day in court to ventilate old charges of corruption as a way to send the clearest possible message that he is serious about clean governance.

Ramaphosa does not yet have enough political clout to remove Zuma’s people from the cabinet and other government positions. The widely held hope is that a decisive victory in the national and provincial elections next year will give him the mandate to make the changes he wants and needs to effect to restore local and foreign confidence in the SA story.

A New York Times story recently outlined the political assassinations of 90 people so far this year as mainly ANC-aligned people kill whistle-blowers or vie for positions of influence in the government.

Ramaphosa has had to accept the resignation of Nhlanhla Nene after the finance minister told the Zondo commission into state capture about visits to the Gupta family compound in Johannesburg. The Guptas played a key role in corrupting and looting state-owned companies, dragging several cabinet ministers into their schemes. Zuma and the Guptas were close. The family gave his son a position in their enterprise and drew him into many of their nefarious schemes.

If even half the stories about criminal activities pertaining to Zuma are true, there is little doubt that he allowed a cesspool of corruption to spread around him and to drip through the organs of state into the lowest reaches of officialdom.

The task Ramaphosa and the pragmatic team around him face is Herculean, if not impossible: to restore ethical leadership throughout the ANC and the government where vested interests and self-preservation currently run strong.

The longer rampant corruption, gross incompetence and mis-governance continue, the more impossible it becomes to remove the “bitch” that has given birth to this dismal and pitiful state of affairs, leaving it “in heat” to continue spawning a grabbing, self-interested, corrupt government.​