“Little did we suspect that our own people, when they got a chance, would be as corrupt as the apartheid regime. That is one of the things that has really hurt us.” – Nelson Mandela on the ANC (2001)
Jacob Zuma currently finds himself in political hot water as calls for his impeachment are intensifying. This has come in light of South Africa’s courts branding his use of millions of public funds to renovate his private residence in ‘Nklanda’ as unconstitutional. The residence features an amphitheater, a helipad and a swimming pool (Zuma claims it’s a fire pool – a security measure) among other extravagances.
This case kicked off via a public prosecutor’s report that deemed the upgrades unlawful and demanded Zuma pay the money back. This case was then propelled in a legal sense by the Economic Freedom Fighters and The Democratic Alliance who opted for litigation when Zuma refused to agree with the report and its subsequent recommendations, a move that eventually caused a mini brawl in the South African parliament.
A trending hashtag, #paybackthemoney, swept the nation too, catalyzing more political pressure on Zuma. The Constitutional Court’s unanimous decision was delivered by Chief Justice Mogeong Mogeong (a figure who has since become a public icon and national hero to many) and it found Zuma to have behaved unconstitutionally, and the National Assembly to also have poorly fulfilled its duties.
Zuma has since apologized and agreed to pay back the money – most likely this repayment will only partially be taken from his personal funds. However these concessions come after much resistance and attempts to undermine the rule of law by Zuma and his cronies. Julius Malema (the radical leader of the EFF) has called for Zuma’s arrest in addition to repatriating his estate, and now Mmusi Maimane (leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party) recently voiced his opinion that Zuma is personally liable to pay back R63.9 million in tax benefits for the upgrades to his homestead.
Public confidence and approval in Zuma had already taken a pronounced shock after he sacked the well-regarded finance minister Nhlana Nene seemingly arbitarily in December 2015. He replaced him with a little known backbencher called Van Rooyen, whose advisers had family connections with the elite Gupta Family. They, controversially, are close associates of Zuma (a wife, son and daughter of Zuma’s have all held top positions in various Gupta Enterprises), and are well known for their political influence and machinations – take their fairly recent dealings with mineral resources minister Mosebenzi Zwane, as well as the allegation from MP Vytjie Mentor that in 2010 at the Gupta’s Saxonworld Mansion she was offered by them the job of public enterprise minister .
This suspect and unnecessary move alarmed investors (the Johannesburg Stock exchange lost 180 billion Rand in two days) and caused the South African Rand to drop significantly. This prompted another finance minister replacement after criticism from businesses and even the South African Communist party.
Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas revealed that the Guptas’ offered him the finance minister job just before Nene’s dismissal, but he rejected the offer as “it makes a mockery of our hard earned democracy”. Days after being sacked Van Rooyen and Zwane were claimed to have been spotted at lunch with Gupta family members in Dubai, strengthening the conspiracy around the Gupta family’s supposed spectre-like influence. Finance minister Pravin Gordhan has warned that South Africa is on the verge of becoming an unethical kleptocracy.
South Africa was already dealing with notable capital flows in light of the Zuma government’s announcement that they were going to revoke the foreign firm drawing bilateral investment treaties, introduced by the Mandela government in the 1990’s, and replace them with a new investment framework. It’s no surprise with this and the commodities slump that UNCTAD has reported that Foreign Direct Investment into South Africa had fallen by 74% last year. Many major Credit rating agencies have downgraded South Africa, with Junk status worryingly impending. South Africa has economically gone downhill since the governance of Mbeki.
This is merely the tip of the iceberg though, as Mr Zuma has had a long history of not just fragrant corruption, but also of shocking idiocy. I’m sure many of you reading this will be familiar with his advice that all one has to do to avoid aids is ‘shower’.
However you may not have heard of his alleged involvement in the appalling Marikana Killings of 2012. The Marikana killings involved the South African security forces using levels of violence comparable to the Sharperville Massacre in 1960; 41 striking mineworkers in Lumin were killed by the police, many being shot directly in the back and far away from the police line. The Farlam commission report, released in 2015, deeply questioned the fitness for office of the then police commissioner Riah Phiyega, leading to Zuma suspending her in October of last year and now a prosecution case looms. When the South African police behave as poorly as this, it makes one cast their mind back to the hilarious satirical representation of said body done by Tom Sharpe back in the days of apartheid.
The executive’s role in the tragedy has been pushed to the back in the midst of this tragedy. Zuma is more culpable than is let on, as it was he who appointed Riah, and it was an appointment that many at the time found questionable. Prior to her appointment Riah had worked in the private sector, and in fact had no proper police experience. Zuma certainly doesn’t have the Midas touch when it comes to political appointments, many of which have arguably led to dire consequences.