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Thank goodness for Zuma!




Most of these criticisms are valid but we have neglected perhaps his most important legacy: the avoidance of one-party dictatorship.

If we look at much of the African experience, we have to conclude that political disasters have frequently destroyed the prospects for economic development and prosperity. And no factor has been more destructive than the rise of the “Big Man” and the dominant political party.

From Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana to Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, many of the post-revolutionary leaders have entrenched themselves in power and over time have been able to loot freely. Perhaps even more dangerously they have frequently followed destructive policies such as land invasions, commodity marketing boards, and state-owned enterprises.

Many feared that after the end of apartheid South Africa would follow a similar path. The giant shadow cast by Nelson Mandela could have enabled him to follow the prevailing African model and dominate our politics.

Fortunately for us he had the wisdom to step down when his liberation mission had been accomplished. However, his successor Thabo Mbeki used his liberation legacy to build up a powerful political machine which dominated the ANC and thus the government. None within the ANC dared oppose him openly, even when he followed destructive policies towards HIV infections.

When Zuma took over, the stage was thus set for continued ANC dominance and the erosion of a working democracy. 

However, we have been saved by his seeming political stupidity, ineptness and greed. In large part he is responsible for the ANC’s dramatic decline in popular support and the decline in the power of the state.

In attempting to control state-owned enterprises, the police and the security services, he has been unable to find people who have even a fig leaf of integrity. A parade of incompetents, people convicted of criminal acts and people already found by credible institutions to be unfit for office, have been appointed to high positions.

Thus, instead of being able to protect Zuma and serve his interests, they have usually been involved in struggles for their own survival – fights they have frequently lost.

Zuma has also undermined his own position by finding allies and patrons in cartoon type villains like the Gupta clan. A Hollywood producer would find it difficult to find a more unattractive bunch to cast in the role of villains! 

The Zuma legacy has thus been to inadvertently strengthen democracy. He has discredited not only himself, but also the ANC more generally. The esteem and respect which is vital for the emergence of the “Big Man” syndrome has been irrevocably destroyed.

He has managed to mobilise much of society to enter the political space as an opposition. He has divided the ruling ANC and its labour allies and by so doing, has created the space for the courts and groups within civil society to control and restrain naked political power.

Imagine how dangerous Zuma would have been if he had the charisma of a Nelson Mandela and the tactical shrewdness of a Thabo Mbeki!

Fortunately for South Africa he has neither and in the longer term South Africans may be grateful for the Zuma episode. He has destroyed the mystique around the ANC and has made ANC supporters more cynical of those who govern us.

Indeed, he may even have convinced the ANC power brokers that we can no longer afford to be led by what is perceived as a corrupt clown. Perhaps our next president will be a person of intellect and wisdom, at least in part as a result of Jacob Zuma’s disastrous presidency.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. nat cheiman

    Nov 30, 2016 at 6:21 pm

    ‘The one party dictatorship was never in Zuma’s mind.
    \nHe has as his sole purpose in life, an attitude to garner as much loot for himself and his family. There is no time to lose with unimportant matters like dictatorship. Nkandla, cars, jets, credit cards, overseas trips are so much superior, to being a tinpot dictator of a country that is hardly on the commercial Richter scale.
    \nGive the man his due. From [allegations of  -ED] rape to corruption, he has navigated his incumbency very astutely.
    \nThe man deserves a Bells. ‘

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