By Tunji Ajibade
South Africa has one main news item, nowadays. It is about the integrity question hanging over its President, Mr. Jacob Zuma. While Nigerians in 2015 got so tired of looters that they elected another leader based on his reputation as a man of integrity, in 2009 and 2014 South Africans elected a President who had a reputation for lack of integrity. Now South Africans, who are clear-headed enough to identify an error, bite their fingers in regret.
I had outlined many issues regarding Zuma on this page in the past. I have nothing against him as a person. Even I’m impressed by his long record of struggle for the African National Congress. In the early1960s, he had been on Robben Island where late President Nelson Mandela was also imprisoned. He paid the price. I salute people who pay the price in whatever field they may be. Such people are worthy of honour. But I’m baffled by the many murky issues with which Zuma has been linked from the time of his emergence as the Deputy President of his country. Outside the continent, just one of such issues had thrown Francois Fillon from his position as a top contender in the recent presidential election in France to the back of the crowd. Fillion was accused of paying people for jobs that did not exist when he occupied a lower office.
Back in December 1994, Zuma was elected National Chairperson of the African National Congres. He was the Deputy President of South Africa between 1999 and 2005. During that period he began to attract deadly bees in the form of scandals that should have finished him off politically. He was charged with rape in 2005, but was acquitted. At the same time, there was a legal battle over allegations of racketeering and corruption as Deputy President. Zuma’s financial advisor was at the centre of it.
The advisor was convicted of corruption and fraud, but South Africa’s National Prosecuting Authority dropped the charges against Zuma. Political interference was the NPA’s excuse, not that there was no evidence of his involvement. This decision was successfully challenged by opposition parties. At the moment, the charges are before the NPA for reconsideration. Following a state-funded upgrade of his rural homestead, the Public Protector found that Zuma had benefited improperly from the expenditure and the Constitutional Court unanimously held in 2016 that he had failed to uphold the country’s constitution. That case, too, remains unresolved.
In addition to all that, it was revealed that ministerial posts in Zuma’s cabinet were being sold and that a wealthy Indian family in South Africa close to him was at the centre of it all. Some weeks ago, Zuma sacked his finance minister and now their lordships had ordered the President to explain to them why he took the step. They wanted to establish whether or not his reasons for removing the minister had breached any part of the South African constitution. All of that resulted in calls for his resignation, just as there were attempts to impeach him in the National Assembly.
Noteworthy was the fact that Zuma was once removed from his post as Deputy President of South Africa on corruption charges, yet he emerged as President. Eight years later, the same tendency for corrupt practices has been so consistent that it has stripped him of credibility. A few days ago, he had to leave a public event as his people booed him. Now, two former Presidents of the country, F.W.de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki, have teamed up to criticise Zuma. This is happening as a court once more challenged him over one of his scandalous actions and many prominent South Africans insist that he should step down.
Now, the challenge isn’t that Zuma is President. It’s not that he isn’t perfect. No politician anywhere s perfect; none is ever what he was packaged to be. The challenge is that he has become a liability, not an asset, to his nation. His personal load weighs his nation down, affecting the masses, the economy and how his party is negatively perceived within and outside the country.
It needs to be noted that the period between 2005 and 2009 – easily the darkest part of Zuma’s scandal-ridden journey – is also the period of his ascendancy. Accused of involvement in an illegal arms deal, he was relieved of his position as asn Deputy President in 2005. Thereafter, he resigned as a member of parliament. In December 2007, the anti-graft agency served him an indictment to stand trial on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud.
A conviction and a jail term of more than one year would have rendered Zuma ineligible for election to the South African Parliament and consequently, ineligible to serve as President of South Africa. In December 2007, he became the leader of the ANC after defeating the incumbent, Mbeki. In September 2008, a judge declared the corruption charges against Zuma unlawful on procedural grounds. But the judge did say there were questions that Zuma needed to answer, based on the evidence before him.
As the leader of the ANC, Zuma automatically became the party’s presidential candidate and he came to power in 2009. He was re-elected as ANC leader in December 2012, defeating his challenger by a large majority and went on to win the presidential election for a second term in 2014. He didn’t force himself into these positions. At every stage, he was voted for. Who voted for him? South Africans did.
Now the nation has become fed up with a leader so bereft of credibility that, except for those who depended on his political patronage, everyone wished he would carry his baggage and leave the nation and the party alone. These were the same people who had propped him up on those occasions when his scandalous actions could have sunk his political career. ANC members had supported him based on other sentiments apart from integrity. Their compatriots voted for him in an election that had no viable opposition candidate, as well as on the promise that ANC was the only party that could give them houses and offer other free goodies, which nobody ought to imagine in a market-driven economy that was under the firm grip of the white minority.
But the kind of person that South Africans wanted as President was what they got. The peculiar circumstances of multiracial South Africa and the historical antecedent of the ruling ANC was a crucial factor. The manner with which the party was configured to throw up its candidates for election was another. The former saw to it that black majority voters had no viable opposition to whoever the party chose as its presidential candidate; the latter ensured that party members who wished to rise through political patronage that Zuma could offer supported him to emerge as the ANC leader. But it is only on this continent that a man who has so much moral burden would stand for election and win.
I had once stated on this page that ANC would remain relevant for some time to come because it was the party that majority of South Africans voters grew up to know. But my concern is not about the party retaining power; it is the deficit in quality leadership that Zuma represents in South Africa and which we generally experience on the continent. The citizens play a part in it. South Africans knew the reputation of the man placed before them, yet they voted him into office. Now corruption is limited to the Presidency. The ANC-led administration down to the local level is allegedly immersed in it, thus leading to shortage of much needed economic and social infrastructure. I submit that our attitude as citizens brings us here. When we are ready to have credible leaders in positions of authority, it will be reflected in the manner with which we support them to emerge in the few nations on the continent that embrace the one-man-one-vote approach.