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President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks to the media while visiting a shopping centre that was damaged after days of looting, in Durban, July 16 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD
President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks to the media while visiting a shopping centre that was damaged after days of looting, in Durban, July 16 2021. Picture: REUTERS/ROGAN WARD

There are lots of parallels, a few perpendiculars, and some squiggly lines that make no sense at all.

Both Donald Trump and Jacob Zuma were “strongmen”  dogged by legal, financial and sexual scandals that their supporters dismissed as fabricated. Both were contemptuous of any rule of law.

Both believe they have a monopoly on truth and are heroic victims of evil plots. Both have created chaos and are finally facing various kinds of loud legal music now that they cannot use the fortress of a presidency to protect them. Both were not above using insurrection to try to save themselves.

Zuma, however, has gone even further than his former American counterpart. SA is in chaos. His bloody fingerprints are all over the carnage, and he can be sure there will be a reckoning.

Before this point, Zuma could count on the bittereinders in the cabinet to fight a rearguard action on his behalf. This campaign was largely motivated by selfishness, because they knew that if Zuma went down they might too. So they manned the barricades on his behalf, slowing things down and fighting to the last tender to prevent him from facing justice.

That is now over. All but a tiny percentage of South Africans have been horrified by the anarchy that exploded over the past week. It is the one thing that unites the majority of South Africans right now: whatever that was, we don’t want it.

With Zuma acolytes apparently involved in instigating the mayhem, the former president will now find himself entirely friendless, even inside the ANC’s national executive committee. With the population united in their rejection of what happened, nobody who considers themselves even an amateur politician can afford to be seen as being in the Zuma camp. The PR is simply too bad.

It’s hard to calculate what exactly the gangster cabal in KwaZulu-Natal was hoping to achieve when it lit the fire that tore through the country, fed by poverty, despair and unfairness. Were they aiming to make the country ungovernable and thus open to regime change? Were they hoping for a mid-size display of dissent? We can’t know. Partly because they probably don’t.

SA politics won’t be the same after this. We have seen the beast slouch towards Bethlehem through the ash, rubble and stolen flat screen televisions. The centre did not hold this time. It all feels different now.

Ironically, Ramaphosa may now find his position strengthen by the activities of the Zuma militia. Now that this unlovely crew is the face of anarchy, by comparison the president is the face of stability and safety. And it is pretty obvious to which of these faces the public (no matter where they sit on the economic ladder) will run.

There is a saying in politics that a crisis is a terrible thing to waste. This crisis has presented Ramaphosa with the opportunity to clean house. With a Bond-style political licence to kill. With the chance to rid himself of the state capture monsters whose fight to the end has crippled his presidency thus far.

Let’s hope he uses it.

• Davenport is chief creative officer at Havas Southern Africa.


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