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South Africa: Reflections On President Zuma’s Impeachment Debate – OpEd


By Mary Serumaga*

South Africa’s once revered ANC ruling party now behaves as if it is entitled to the republic. The motto on the country’s parliamentary coat of arms may as well be changed from ‘We, the People’ to ‘We, the ANC.’ Firebrand opposition leader Julius Malema may have a point when he says the liberation party is turning the country into just another banana republic.

In moving the motion for South African President Zuma’s impeachment for violating the Constitution, leader of the opposition, Mmusi Maimane (Democratic Alliance), invoked the names of the venerated Oliver Tambo, Albert Luthuli, Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada, pillars of the African National Congress (ANC). Kathrada, who served 18 years on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela and one-time ANC deputy president Walter Sisulu, is the only living member of this quintet. On 2 April 2016 he authored an open letter to Jacob Zuma urging him to resign. That alone should have given Jacob Zuma and the ANC pause.

It did not. President Zuma defied a ruling by the Public Protector (Ombudsman) that he should repay public funds used to upgrade his personal estate at Nkandla.  Opposition parties petitioned the Constitutional Court which upheld the Public Protector’s ruling. What followed was an emotionally taut debate with speakers from the ruling ANC scraping the barrel in an effort to exonerate Zuma. As was to be expected, faux Pan-Africanism featured strongly in arguments in defense of this latest example of state capture by politically savvy elites. Chief Zuma defender, Mmamoloko Kubayi (ANC), reminded the House that Zuma had ‘humbled himself to the Nation’, apologized and undertaken to repay the sums (reported variously as $13 million, $16 million and $23 million) spent on his swimming pool, gym, amphitheatre and kraal.

Offering further hubris clothed as humility, Kubayi lectured the House that since its inception 104 years ago, the ANC has distinguished itself from all other organizations by its capacity for openness (read shamelessness) about its failings which has led “to where we are”, that is, the post-apartheid era. The implication being the ANC is entitled to the Republic. By this reasoning, the motto on South Africa’s parliamentary coat of arms may as well be changed from We, the People to We, the ANC.

An angry intervention from an (Economic Freedom Fighters) EFF woman MP bluntly accusing ANC members of being criminals, fraudsters and thugs was met with disdain by Kubayi who put it down to an attempt to effect regime change outside the democratic process. Impeachment, she said, is “not in the vocabulary of South African politics.”  The ANC she argued has a culture in which it is able to “self-correct, self-criticize, self-introspect and self-reflect.”

Most distasteful and yet most predictable was the Pan-Africanist posturing. Kubayi called on South Africans to defend the sovereignty of the Republic by resisting foreign criticism such as that in a New York Times editorial commenting on the Nkandla affair. She quoted a lengthy statement by Mwalimu Nyerere to envoys accredited to Tanzania in 1978. In it Nyerere chided Western Europe for persisting in treating newly independent African states as appendages of their own countries.  The emotional but deft response from Philip Mhlongo (EFF) was that Mwalimu Nyerere, if he were alive, would have supported Ahmed Kathrada’s call for Zuma to step down. Mosiuoa Lekota, leader of Congress of the People (COPE), lamented that corruption in the ANC, specifically the diversion of public funds for private use, is not what people endured prison and gave their lives for.

The only light relief came from the EFF benches. Clad as always in their uniform of tomato red workers’ overalls and hardhats, the EFF put one in mind of a chorus in a Greek tragedy. Swiveling their necks and extending defiant forearms, they rose by turns individually and in unison to pour scorn on the ANC. “Deputy Speaker, I would just like to check with you, is this the very same member (Kubayi) that during the Nkandla debate painted her nails?” During Kubayi’s flustered response, the questioner remained on her feet, miming painting her own nails. When President Zuma’s credentials were fronted as a reason to oppose impeachment, another EFF member rose on a point of order and asked whether the ANC speaker was aware the Emperor he was praising was naked.

The similarity with Greek morality dramas ended there; there was no retribution and the villain of the piece triumphed. The motion for impeachment was defeated by 233 to 143. Post-vote, Mmusi Maimane attempted to insist the ANC is breaking law, and was summarily informed by the Speaker of the House the debate was over and the issue disposed of.

Maimane was left to repeat the charge on the steps outside, flanked by a subdued Julius Malema and an exhausted but articulate Lekota who lamented that by the same token the majority ANC could pass resolutions/laws to commit other illegalities, including murder. Lekota proposed an amendment to address the lacuna in the Constitution that allows the majority to endorse illegal acts by their government. Maimane believed the South African people would revolt in the coming municipal elections by voting ANC representatives out. Given that African leadership seems impervious to the checks and balances of Parliamentary democracy, and the absence of a visible alternative, a revolt is unlikely to come.

Frantz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth emphasizes the need in politics to keep the masses informed, learn from them and to move with them. The mistake made by parliamentary opposition parties is, according to Fanon, to resort to the rural population only when votes are needed to implement plans crafted by urban elites.

The failure of the masses to see a causal link between mismanaged and under-funded public services and their dollar-a-day earnings on the one hand and on the other not just poor but malicious governance is evident in voting patterns that show opposition candidates doing well in urban areas while rural areas vote mainly for the incumbent, however corrupt or inept.

In Uganda, for example, the week before Zuma’s ordeal, wild cheering and dancing in the street followed a Supreme Court ruling that the President was duly elected despite evidence of brazen electoral fraud; the second such ruling of his presidency.

A few days prior to that, in Congo Brazzaville, disgruntled opponents of President Sassou Nguesso’s successful modification of the constitution to extend his term in office were involved in skirmishes with the security forces, having failed to prevent the state jack by parliamentary means.

Much further north, on the day of the failed impeachment bid in South Africa, the Prime Minister of Iceland was in the process of resigning after his party refused to support him against allegations of financial impropriety: the failure to declare his wife’s investments. Compare and contrast, as our teachers used to say.

Back outside Parliament, ANC Chief Whip Jackson Mthembu gave an interview. The original offense of spending money on non-government business was wrong, he conceded. It was also unfortunate that the ANC, on the basis of advice (impliedly bad) from lawyers, disregarded the ruling of the Public Protector requiring the President to refund all expenditure not related to making his residence secure. He expressed regret that the ANC and Zuma only acted after the Constitutional Court had ruled on the matter, but, he pointed out, the Constitutional Court did say it did not amount to a serious breach of the rules. “Nowhere did ConCourt say that there was a serious breach….”

South Africa, once the envy of all of Africa, blending as it did every natural blessing a nation could have with a working public sector infrastructure, was the destination of choice for African business, conferences, training programmes, tourism, shopping, honeymoons (especially honeymoons) and relocation. It is now as plagued by frequent power cuts as elsewhere on the Continent, short of essential drugs with uncollected rubbish in the streets, shabby public spaces and disinterested public servants. Malema may have a point, however crudely put, when he says the ANC is turning the country into just another banana republic.

* Mary Serumaga is a Ugandan writer.

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One thought on “South Africa: Reflections On President Zuma’s Impeachment Debate – OpEd

  • November 17, 2016 at 12:01 am

    Excellent and very down to earth, fair and objective analysis of what eventuated at and during the time of the Nkandla scandal– sadly, but one of many, soon to follow. As an old person, whose heart was filled with happiness when at last South Africa was freed from the vicious oppression and the atrocities of the Apartheid regime, I soon understood, that in actual fact, South Africa had not escaped the clutches of the neo-colonialists– as similar to most countries globally, she remained an ensnared hostage of the global Zionist ideology one world government driven, bankster cabal.

    I think the fact that western imperialist exploitation would continue, almost without interruption- but with a few cosmetic adjustments here and there– naturally resulted in feelings of great bitterness within the ANC and for many of the old guard of the Struggle– As although at last an African government had come to power, it was again cheated– that a South Africa, then supposedly recognised globally as a sovereign country, nonetheless, was still not a completely free and sovereign nation, because western capitalists still controlled and in essence owned her reserve bank and held controlling shares in her diamond and gold mines as well as other mineral resources and western big corps too– Thus, her unique and well endowed strategic assets remained a captive of foreigners– with no cut off date negotiated, when what belonged to her people– would be returned. Is this perhaps what caused the ANC to go off the rails–?? Because they lost faith– had to come to terms with the reality that the global financial system was rigged– had been rigged from day one by a power without any loyalty to any country, race, creed or culture– but only to their own satanic global agenda.

    Although President Mandela has over the years been criticised in many quarters, he did the best he could, as he was caught between a massive rock and hard place. Yet, he had a vision of a united South Africa and was very committed to such a future, because to my mind, he knew it was the only way we’d come to beat the western cabal– because in standing together, supported by our government, we’d have rebuilt a South Africa to become an equal and flourishing society, paid off what we owed the WB and the IMF and our economy literally humming after 15-20 years, our society well on the way to becoming equal and well-integrated, the people united, their futures assured and stable, we’d have been ideally placed to leverage and negotiate our country’s foreign policy to suit us, especially when in 2010 we became part of BRICS, it was like everything was falling into place.

    To my mind, had our government journeyed South Africa the hard, but honest and correct way forward, her then strong position, would also have given her a powerful international voice in support of all other African states on many fronts. However, the humongous debt SA now owes to the west, makes her vulnerable, especially because the global economy remains in a downturn– shock after shock, affecting countries all over the world, while war and conflict is on the increase all over.

    How do we move out of the pit in which a grossly self-serving president and many within his government had caused us to fall into? That through their mismanagement, maladministration and outright corruption along with secretive deals, their association and assistance to foreigners with state capture– the gravity of the deception they delivered on South Africa as a nation, especially the gross exploitation of the poorest within our ranks– plain and simply said, is heartbreaking. Truly, I agree with the author’s mention of Julius Malema’s statement that, the ANC is turning the country into just another banana republic, while actually if the ANC had followed on Madiba’s farsightedness wisdom, even in his grave today, we would have heard him having the last laugh and because he bore no grudges ever, his laughter would not have been unkind, as he played the game by the real rules, where the best man always wins. We need a best man desperately now, for then we can still win the game!


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