It is remarkably common for a leader, especially an example of the strongman ilk, to lose touch with reality and be unable to see what to everyone else is blindingly obvious. But to observe it up close, as we did on Wednesday during President Jacob Zuma’s "interview" with the SABC, was astonishing.
The overwhelming sense of Zuma was of a man who lives in a universe of his own creation. He was oblivious to the damage he has done both to the country and to his party. He was oblivious to the messages so many emissaries had conveyed to him in the past two weeks. And, most shocking of all, he appeared genuinely oblivious to the charge that in his time as president he might have done something wrong.
All of this tells us a lot about the personality and the politics of Zuma. While personality might be a bigger issue at play right now, it is the politics that is more relevant. Zuma has spent a lifetime in the ANC, more than two decades in government and almost a decade as head of the state — and in all that time he has never got to know or accept the concept of a conflict of interest.
The fact that Zuma can claim to have done nothing wrong at the very moment the Hawks are rounding up his family’s business partners is more than ironic. The arrests of members of the Gupta family and their associates are long overdue, but it should at the very least suggest that something has gone very wrong. Yet Zuma remains in stoical denial.
The fact that he still refuses to recognise the notion of a conflict of interest is the ANC’s fault. It has been wilfully blind to ethical issues and has gone out of its way to protect the corrupt. This approach combined with the fact that the organisation a long time ago lost control over the Zuma monster and allowed him to grow and flourish. The ignominious end that we are now observing was entirely predictable.
Zuma’s veiled threat that to dismiss him would result in violence was disturbing. This is the sword he has held over the ANC and the country for nearly four years as the controversy over the money spent on his Nkandla home raged.
Each time the ANC moved to debate his future or what he should do, it was cowed by the threat that to take action against Zuma would split the ANC.
We are now at that moment when action must be taken against Zuma. While there is no doubt that he can still do damage, sow dissent and perhaps even incite some violence, the evidence is that his ability to do so is not as strong as he thinks. So far, all we have seen is a small but violent protest at Luthuli House as a handful of Black First Land First members, and not the ANC, marched on the building to defend the president.
Significantly, within hours of the ANC parliamentary caucus deciding to hold a vote of no confidence in Zuma, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government voiced its support for the party’s decision to recall him. These are the people in Zuma’s home province who have been his staunchest supporters and from whom dissent would be most likely to emanate.
After much prevarication on Wednesday, he resigned as president of the republic with immediate effect late at night.