Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa – Anti-Zuma protests lead to legislative brawl

The pressure on President Jacob Zuma remains intense as South Africa as he enters the last two years of his tenure ahead of general elections in 2019. Accusations of corruption, economic downturn and an increasing heated secession battle within the African National Congress (ANC) have all combined to keep the spotlight on Zuma’s performance.

One of the president’s most vociferous opponents is Julius Malema, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Although Malema rose to political prominence as the leader of the ANC Youth League, he subsequently fell out with Zuma and was expelled from the ruling party. In opposition, he has effectively utilised populist strategies and political grandstanding to capture the headlines – if not always the votes – much to the chagrin of the ANC establishment.

Among the tactics used by the EFF, one of the most high profile has been to use its presence within parliament – where it holds 25 seats – to frustrate and anger the president by interrupting him during his legislative addresses. In the past, this has led to confrontations between EFF and ANC legislators on the floor of the house, and the forced removal of opposition MPs who refuse to back down.

In turn, these developments have positioned the National Assembly as a key battleground in contemporary South African politics in the in more ways that one. The political atmosphere within parliament deteriorated further on Thursday 9 February, as EFF leaders fired so many questions and challenges at President Zuma that he was forced to halt his keynote address, with Malema charging that he was “rotten to the core”.

When Speaker Baleka Mbete ordered EFF MPs to leave, scuffles broke out on the floor of the house as legislative security officials – dressed in white – sought to physically remove EFF leaders, dressed in red. The extent of the disruption, combined with the striking colour coordination of the two sides, has ensured that the episode, which was broadcast live across the country, has captured headlines worldwide.

While many aspects of the confrontation repeated previous incidents, there were also worrying signs of escalation. According to Reuters journalists, the scuffles continued into the parliamentary precinct – the first time that this has been reported. At the same time, police fired stun grenades to disperse rival groups of ANC and EFF supporters that had gathered outside of the building.

Perhaps more problematically, anticipating opposition Zuma had earlier authorised 400 soldiers to join the security team outside of the building, leading to accusations that he was militarizing parliament. This decision united opposition parties in condemnation, with the Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the Democratic Alliance, announcing that his party would seek a court ruling to ascertain whether the president had acted illegally.

More broadly, the willingness of the ANC to bring the security forces in to a political dispute has generated further concern about the party’s commitment to open and transparent politics in the run up to what are likely to be the most challenging general elections it has had to contest since 1994.

South Africa: Pressure mounts on President Zuma

It has not been a good few months for President Jacob Zuma. Economic stagnation, public frustration at the slow pace of national transformation, and accusations of corruption concerning work done to Zuma’s Nkandla home, resulted in a poor performance in municipal elections held on 3 August. Although the ruling African National Congress (ANC) retained its position as the as the largest party, securing 53.9% of the vote, the government lost ground to the opposition in a number of important urban areas. Most notably, the best ever performance of the Democratic Alliance (DA) in a local election, combined with a strong showing by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), which improved on its performance in the 2014 general elections, resulted in the ANC losing control of three metropolitan municipalities: Nelson Mandela Bay, City of Tshwane and City of Johannesburg. One consequence of these trends was an increase in the number of areas with minority and coalition government.

Zuma’s position was further undermined by a report by the former Public Protector (a statutory position designed to “strengthen constitutional democracy by investigating and redressing improper and prejudicial conduct) Thuli Madonsela into accusations of corruption against the president. Anticipating a negative outcome, Zuma had tried to block the publication of the report in the courts, but was ultimately forced to drop the case. While much of the 355 page report confirmed what the president’s critics had already alleged, the publication of the document has been cited as a “game-changer” in the country’s politics. On the one hand, the length and depth of the report removed any last vestige of doubt about Zuma’s culpability in the rise of clientelistic and corrupt networks within the ANC. On the other, the evidence provided in the report regarding Zuma’s relationship with wealthy businessmen such as Ajay Gupta, shone a new light into the inner-workings of the patrimonial practices that now animate the ANC.

Many of the reports findings demonstrate contempt for the rule of law, and a brazen approach to the manipulation of politics for economic ends, including evidence that:

• Ajar Gupta offered the Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas $44.6 million to take the post of Finance Minister and advance the Gupta family’s “business ambitions”. When he refused, the post was given to an ANC MP with far less experience.
• The government media chief Themba Maseko was told by Zuma to help the “Gupta brothers”, who subsequently asked him to direct advertising to a newspaper set up by the family.
• Not only was the board of the Eskom utility company improperly constituted, but it paid nearly $70 million to a firm linked to the Guptas.
• Many of the deals that Zuma facilitated for the Guptas – a network branded the “Zuptas” by opposition parties – involved the president’s son, Duduzane.

Following the report, protestors marched on Zuma’s office in Pretoria, demanding his resignation. Perhaps more significantly, the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), the biggest affiliate of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), called on the president to resign in the interests of the country. This was a particularly significant move given the strategic importance of COSATU, which is one of the members of the ANC’s “triple alliance” along with the South African Communist Party. Moreover, rather than simply criticising the president, Nehawu’s leadership set out a concrete set of proposals for his removal, arguing that deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa should be promoted to caretaker president.

However, despite the gathering storm clouds, Zuma may live to fight another day. Although Madonsela’s report was damning, it was not the “knock out” blow that opposition parties had hoped for. Significantly, instead of recommending any punishment directly, the report calls on the president to establish a judicial commission of enquiry. This could take some time – and could be drawn out in such a way that Zuma makes it to the end of his second and last term as president. Even if such an inquiry were completed more quickly, and gave grounds for impeachment, it is unclear whether there would be support for this within the National Assembly. One feature of corrupt and clientelistic regimes is that they tend to enjoy strong levers of influence internally, and the ANC currently holds 249 out of 400 seats in the lower house.

Of course, the longer Zuma stays in office, the more likely it is that voters will seek to punish the ANC for his misdemeanours. But it is important to keep in mind that this is not the first time that Zuma’s downfall, and the breakdown of the triple alliance, have been prophesied. Back in 2013, South Africa’s largest trade union, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa), called on Zuma to resign and said that it would not support the ANC in the 2014 elections. However, neither this, nor the fact that Numsa was subsequently expelled from COSATU, and hence the triple alliance, prevented the ANC from securing over 60% of the vote.

It is therefore too early to talk of the end of Jacob Zuma. Characteristically, the president has come out fighting, and the early signs suggest that he will seek to challenge the findings of the report in court. Such a move would further delay the president’s day of judgement, and suggests that he remains determined to control his own destiny. This may yet include seeing out his term in office, and continuing to shape ANC politics long after he has stepped down from the presidency.

 

Thomas O’Brien – Presidentialism and Democratisation in South Africa and South Korea

This is a guest post by Thomas O’Brien, Lecturer in Political Science at the Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the UK. It is a summary of an article that will appear in Government and Opposition

The regime changes in South Africa and South Korea provide interesting insights into the role of presidential leadership during democratisation. In both cases the incumbent leader was forced to choose to subject their position to a democratic vote, thereby facing the risk of defeat. Echoing the point made by Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015), the respective regime types made this option viable as there was a belief that victory was possible and the status quo was increasingly unsustainable. F.W. de Klerk in South Africa was head of the National Party and had some hope that he would be able to retain power through democratic means given the institutional base and resources of the party. Similarly, Roh Tae Woo’s military background provided an institutional base on which he could rely to ensure stability and call on for support, in spite of his move into a civilian role. The position of President and head of a formal institutional apparatus gave them authority and control, which facilitated a degree of confidence that they could make the transition to democratic leadership successfully. However, the decision to accept the need for reform was not driven by altruistic ideals. Opposition to the incumbent regime structures had been growing significantly by the time each leader came to power, limiting the space they had to operate. South Africa had seen sustained social protest against the apartheid policies and faced growing foreign pressure in the form of sanctions and boycotts. At the same time, de Klerk faced internal divisions as hardliners within the party sought to block reforms. Roh Tae Woo faced extensive social protests against continued authoritarian rule, having taken over from Chun Doo Hwan who had been forced to resign in the face of widespread and sustained social unrest.

The issue of continuity is particularly important in these two cases. Both de Klerk and Roh assumed the presidency following the inability of their predecessors to continue (due to ill health and loss of legitimacy) during periods of instability. Taking on the role at pivotal moments provided an opportunity to make a change that had not been possible for their predecessors due to their deeper association with the regime structures. While both leaders had held high-ranking posts, their profile had been less contentious enabling them to maintain control over the institutional structure as they introduced reforms (on the emergence of reforming leaders from within see O’Brien, 2007). Continuity in this sense enabled the emergent leaders to introduce what they perceived to be reforms necessary to ensure their continued control. In both cases the eventual loss of control did not disrupt the democratisation process, as the leaders had been able to initiate reform internally to safeguard against reversion to authoritarian practices and were willing to accept the outcome.

The relative success of democratisation in these two cases warrants continued consideration of the role of incumbent leaders in shaping trajectories around regime changes. Democratisation by its very nature is a period of uncertainty, as roles and institutions are contested and reconstituted. Events in the Arab Spring and the Colour Revolutions show that regime change does not necessarily lead automatically to consolidated democracy. External pressure plays a key role in creating the opportunity for democratisation or reform by introducing a degree of uncertainty, as more actors become involved and take a stake in the outcome. A leader committed to change may be able to draw on this pressure to exercise agency and challenge entrenched institutional practices and patterns. In such situations the actions of the incumbent leader are crucial in shaping the outcome, as it is ultimately the elites that determine how to manage the opportunities and threats that arise. Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán (2013) note that elite policy preferences (moderate or radical), normative preference for democracy or authoritarianism, and the regional political environment are key in determining whether a process of democratisation will be initiated.

In initiating reform the leader’s ability to manage the process and the likelihood of playing a role in the post-transitional context is arguably shaped by four structural factors: authority, institutions, opposition and continuity. Authority refers to the source of the leader’s power and in such regimes is generally derived from performance or personal charisma (Brooker, 2000). The robustness of the leader’s authority will determine their ability to maintain loyalty and exercise agency in shaping political developments.  While the reasons for the decision to relinquish power or at least allow reform of the system vary, legitimacy can be identified as an important factor. Where a regime loses support and legitimacy among the wider population it is possible to continue, but internal divisions may emerge as other actors perceive their own positions to be threatened. Institutional patterns play a key role in ‘structuring the nature of political competition’ (Elgie, 1995: 23), as they provide a base from which the leader can operate. If these have been neglected or degraded, they are less useful in times of crisis (see O’Brien, 2007 on Boris Yeltsin). As noted above, opposition is significant in pressing for reform, but the location (internal versus external) and strength of this opposition will determine the space the leader has to operate. The accretion of custom and practice over time ties actors into the system, thereby reducing the chances of defection from within, but potentially limiting the agency of the leader by encouraging pressure to maintain the status quo.

The institutional form of the regime plays an important role in the decision-making of incumbent leaders. Examining the ability of foreign pressure to force change in non-democratic regimes, Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015) find that personalist regimes are more resistant, as the stakes are higher for the leader without a formalised base. In military and party regimes the existence of a formal support base provides more opportunities in the event of systemic threats. Military leaders are able to return to barracks and exercise some degree of control over the democratising regime, through the threat of force. Party based regimes have less direct control, but possess the ability to participate (possibly under a new name) in the reconstituted system and return incumbent leaders to office. The corporate form of military and party regimes also enables the leader to rely on the hierarchy to ensure loyalty of followers and limit chances of defection, as failure would be costly for the whole of the collective. As noted, the institutional form played a role in both South Africa and South Korea, ensuring stability and a chance that the incumbent leaders may be able to secure a degree of influence over the regime trajectory.

Decisions of a leader are central in shaping the likelihood of a move towards democracy, but this does not guarantee that a fully realised democratic system will result, as structural constraints and internal opposition may stall or reverse progress made. Elite preferences determine what tools and direction the leader may choose (Mainwaring and Pérez-Liñán, 2013), but these preferences exist within a social and institutional framework that enables or constrains their actions. F.W. de Klerk and Roh Tae Woo demonstrated through their actions a preference towards greater democracy, reinforced by social instability and external pressure, but it was their control of the institutions of government that enabled this preference to be acted on. The cases also reiterate the importance of the perceived likelihood of post-transition success, maintaining a degree of control over the process. As Escribà-Folch and Wright (2015) argue, in the absence of a post-transition future a turn to repression may be a more viable option. Preferences are not absolute, contextual factors and likely future outcomes condition the ability and willingness of leaders to act on their preferences.

References:

  • Paul Brooker (2000) Non-Democratic Regimes: Theory, Government and Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Robert Elgie (1995) Political Leadership in Liberal Democracies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Abel Escribà-Folch and Joseph Wright (2015) Foreign Pressure and the Politics of Autocratic Survival. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Scott Mainwaring and Aníbal Pérez-Liñán (2013) Democracies and Dictatorships in Latin America: Emergence, Survival and Fall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thomas O’Brien (2007) ‘The Role of the Transitional Leader: A Comparative Analysis of Adolfo Suárez and Boris Yeltsin’, Leadership, 3(4): 419-32.

Thomas O’Brien is a lecturer in the Centre for International Security and Resilience, Cranfield University at the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom. His research examines leadership, democratization, environmental politics, human security, protest and New Zealand. Previous work has appeared in the British Journal of Sociology, Conflict, Security and Development, Contemporary Politics, Democratization, and Political Studies. @TomOB_NZ

South Africa – Calls multiply for President Zuma to resign

In recent months, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma has limped from one political crisis to the next. Last December, Zuma’s decision to replace his respected finance minister with a little known backbencher met with strong opposition, and plunged the economy into a tailspin. Many feared this was a move aimed at freeing Zuma’s hand to loot public coffers and pay off his close business associates.

The President’s reputation took another hit last month when members of the Gupta family, owners of a sprawling business empire in South Africa, allegedly offered the current deputy finance minister the top post in the Treasury. Both the Guptas and Zuma denied these allegations, with Zuma affirming that he took responsibility for all government appointments.

With that scandal still smouldering, South Africa’s Constitutional Court dealt Zuma a fresh blow. The Court ruled that Zuma’s refusal to abide by the Public Protector’s binding recommendation to repay public funds used to renovate his expansive Nkandla estate went against the constitution. Zuma promptly apologized for the “frustration and confusion” that the long-running scandal caused, but this did little to calm the public outcry.

Only days later, parliament debated an impeachment motion brought by the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). While ANC MPs stood together, ensuring the motion failed, the debate itself—broadcast live—revisited all the corruption allegations levied against Zuma. Moreover, it was not opposition politicians alone targeting the president. Shortly after the impeachment proceedings concluded, a number of ANC veterans joined the chorus calling on Zuma to resign.

The public anger directed at Zuma has its roots in a more deep seated fear that his presidency has brought on a new era of ‘state capture.’ The influence of politically well-connected business elites appears to be growing as they become more embedded in predatory patronage networks. The Gupta’s embody this trend. In March, the current finance minister refused to appear at a meeting of business leaders to be held under the banner of the Gupta-owned New Age media group. Once the association was dropped, the meeting went ahead, whereby the minister warned, ‘There are many parts of transacting between government and business which have gone seriously wrong, and if we don’t stop it, we’re going to become a kleptocracy.’

Concern over spreading corruption is also reshaping the political map in South Africa. With local elections due in August, the ANC’s risks losing its long-standing hegemony across a number of urban strongholds where frustration with poor service delivery has grown. This may give rise to an urban-rural political divide. As the leader of the DA warned, ‘You could end up with a scenario… where the liberation movement governs in rural areas through patronage, and in urban areas people are making decisions on the basis of different choices.’

While many observers suggest a big loss for the ANC in August could spell the end for Zuma, others are more sceptical. Zuma still enjoys strong support among rural branches of the ANC, particularly in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal. This local level support reduces the likelihood that the ANC National Executive Committee, the party organ with the power to oust Zuma, will in fact force his resignation.

However, even if Zuma does survive through to the end of his term in 2018, he may struggle to anoint his preferred successor, his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. This could leave the path clear for the current Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, which according to some might help the ANC reset. Ramaphosa is far from Mr. Clean, though, and it is uncertain whether the challenges currently facing the ANC can be remedied through a simple change of guard.

While the political malaise deepens, the economic crisis facing South Africa—whose credit rating is teetering on the edge of junk—shows little sign of abating. Indeed, the political and economic unease go hand in hand, leaving South Africans much the worse for it.

South Africa – President Zuma’s economic (mis)management

January has provided no reprieve for South Africa’s embattled President, Jacob Zuma. Anti-Zuma protests continue apace, the most recent headline-grabber being a giant ‘Zuma must fall’ banner erected by activists in Cape Town.  Economic indicators meanwhile continue to spiral downward, heralding further political unrest ahead. The IMF recently revised South Africa’s growth projection for 2016, nearly halving its original estimate to a mere 0.7%. This poor outlook is in part due to external factors—notably falling commodity prices and rising borrowing costs. Yet much of this decline is also self-inflicted. It is a testament to Zuma’s dangerous politicking, which in turn, speaks to a more fundamental malaise within the ruling ANC, a party at the mercy of competing patronage-seeking factions.

Zuma has had to fight off a succession of political scandals throughout his career. Since assuming office in 2009, criticism over corruption and policy uncertainty has continually dogged Zuma personally, as well as his government. And yet, in December of last year Zuma managed to outdo himself, unleashing market chaos after changing his Finance Minister three times over five days.

On December 9, he shocked South Africans and foreign investors alike when he replaced his respected minister, Nhlanhla Nene, with a little known ANC backbencher, David van Rooyen. Rumors quickly spread that Nene was fired due to his unwillingness to sacrifice fiscal discipline in order to satisfy Zuma’s personal political interests. Nene had opposed a bid by the lossmaking state-owned company, South African Airlines (SAA), to renegotiate an aircraft deal with Airbus. The chair of SAA who was in favor of the renegotiation, Dudu Myeni, is a close Zuma ally. What’s more, the President also felt compelled to issue a highly unusual statement, denying allegations that he is romantically involved with Myeni.

The apparent sidelining of Nene for political reasons raised serious questions regarding the credibility of the Treasury, long seen as one of South Africa’s strongest institutions. Zuma’s decision sent the rand tumbling to all-time lows against major global currencies. It wiped R169bn of equities listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and R52bn off the local bond market. Protests also broke out across the country as South Africans called for Zuma’s ouster. Facing pressure from within his own party, Zuma finally acquiesced. Four days after he fired Nene, the President announced the return of respected former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan to head the Treasury.

Gordhan has gone some way towards reassuring markets. He has reaffirmed the Treasury’s commitment to fiscal discipline at a time when the cost of repaying South Africa’s public debt has become the single greatest drain on the national budget. He also successfully upheld Nene’s original position, rejecting the SAA bid to renegotiate its deal with Airbus.

Nevertheless, observers and financial commentators in particular underscore the lasting damage incurred as a result of Zuma’s gamble. Recent credit rating downgrades have brought South African bonds close to junk status while investors increasingly question the lack of policy direction and the uncertain prospects for South Africa’s commodity-dependent economy.

More worrying still is the reigning political uncertainty. Zuma’s own future is on the rocks, with many citing this year’s local government elections as a key test. A poor showing for the ANC could trigger Zuma’s early removal from office.  But Zuma’s immediate future aside, a succession battle is already underway for the ANC top post. Next year’s leadership congress is likely to pit Zuma’s former wife and current head of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, against current Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. Zuma’s own preference would be to retain his current position as party leader and to see Dlamini-Zuma becomes presidential nominee. The dynastic quality of such an arrangement is problematic in and of itself, but it would also contravene ANC precedent, which dictates that one person should hold both the position of presidential nominee and party leader so as to prevent competing power centres from emerging. Ramaphosa’s potential candidacy is hardly a reassuring alternative, though, given his own checkered record. Corruption allegations abound while South Africans will not have forgotten Ramaphosa’s alleged implication in the 2012 Marikana massacres and subsequent cover up.

For now, the ANC has remained outwardly united in defending its President. However, intra-party tensions abound as competing ANC heavyweights jockey for positions. Against this troubled backdrop, it is unclear how South Africa’s ruling party can prevent what some interpret as the weaknesses of Zuma’s personal leadership style from remaining a fixed element of the ANC status quo. Indeed, Zuma is not alone in his willingness to indulge political cronies; any successor will have his or her own patronage network to satisfy. This situation means it will only become more difficult for the ANC to convince South Africans, as well as foreign investors, of the government’s political (and economic) credibility.

 

 

South Africa – President Zuma responds to student protests

Following mass protests by students across South Africa, President Jacob Zuma has moved to freeze tuition fees. However, this strategy is unlikely to pacify students or to enable the ruling party to win back the confidence of urban voters. The future success of the ANC will therefore depend on recalibrating its support base away from urban areas and towards rural locales.

The student protests began after it was announced that universities planned to increase their fees by around 11.5% next year. Demonstrations that began at the University of the Witwatersrand on Johannesburg quickly spread, trending under the #feesmustfall hashtag and tapping into deeper concerns about the lack of racial transformation in the distribution of power in key institutions, despite the end of apartheid. The first phase of the protest movement and culminated in a mass protest at the Union Buildings, the seat of the South African government in Pretoria, when over 10,000 people demanded that the fee increases should be scrapped.

President Zuma initially offered to cap fee increases at 6%, a significant reduction from the 10-12% that was initially quoted, but a long way from the “free education” now demanded by some students. When this offer failed to move student leaders, the present went a step further, agreeing to freeze tuition fees on 23 October. However, the move left the ANC in something of a bind, as the government was forced to admit that it did not know how it was going to fund the resulting hole in the budget.

It is also unclear whether the ANC has a broader plan for dealing with university education, or if the ruling party is simply hoping that if it freezes fees this year universities will be able to implement the increases at a later date. After meeting university officials and student representatives, Zuma admitted that more far reaching reform would be required, but was rather vague on exactly what this would involve: “In the long term, there is a package of issues that was raised at the meeting that needs to be followed up – these include free education, institutional autonomy [and] racism.”

In reality, the problems facing the university sector are structural and cannot be resolved overnight. Although the government spends more on education than any other single budget item, the proportion of revenue accruing to higher education is relatively small, and in 2012/2013 amounted to just 2.3% of total government spending, or 0.76% of GDP. As a result, the proportion of university income provided by the government fell from 49% to 40% between 2000 and 2012. In the absence of a large increase in private income, universities have made up this shortfall by increasing student fees, which now make up 31% of total university revenue, up from 24% in 2000.

These trends have placed universities and students under greater financial pressure. At the same time, growing student numbers has placed the entire system under intense strain. A university sector that was educating 600,000 in 2001/2002 is now educating over 1 million South Africans. Thus, although the total amount of money the government spends on tertiary education has gone up, the funding per student has gone down. One consequence of this increase in student numbers is that at the same time that students are being asked to pay more, many are finding the experience of going to university disappointing and unfulfilling.

Resolving these challenges will take far more time and resources than President Zuma has so far proved willing to invest. The president also faces a number of other associated challenges. The student’s victory has emboldened their leaders to campaign for free education. This is something that South Africa would struggle to afford, and is a demand that is likely to go unfulfilled, adding to the sense of disillusionment felt by some of the ANC’s fiercest critics.

The longer-term implications of the mounting urban frustration with the president could be far-reaching. Zuma’s refusal to publicly address rallies and protests has led to accusations that he is out of touch with ordinary South Africans. Moreover, this point is being made in increasingly strident language. A student that attended the Union Buildings protest is reported to have said: “Now we know Zuma is a coward. He’s not a man.” Comments such as these a broader concern South Africa’s towns and cities with the direction in which the country appears to be heading: low economic growth, rising corruption, and an absence of clear leadership on big issues.

As a result, the South African landscape is increasingly mirroring that of other African states such as Uganda and Zambia, in which governments gradually lost urban support and ultimately depended on rural votes to retain power. The challenge for President Zuma will be to expand the party’s control of rural areas at the same rate that it loses influence in urban ones.

South Africa – President Zuma survives no-confidence vote but many questions remain

On March 17, South Africa’s National Assembly voted against a no-confidence motion tabled by the opposition party Agang SA. With 113 members in favour, 221 opposed and eight abstaining, it was an easy win for the President. Beyond the official vote tally, however, this was a hollow victory. It left Zuma and his government on the defensive while raising constitutional concerns regarding South Africa’s political system.

The March 17 no-confidence motion was not the first Zuma has had to face as President. In March 2010, after only 10 months in office, another no-confidence motion was defeated by 241 votes to 84, with eight abstaining. The main justification for the vote then involved Zuma’s admission that he had fathered a child out of wedlock and concern that he had not declared his financial interests on time.

Since this first vote, the list of charges against Zuma has ballooned. The main justification for the latest no-confidence motion was Zuma’s failure to address allegations that he misappropriated R246m of taxpayers’ money to upgrade his country home in Nkandla. During the parliamentary debate, MPs also accused Zuma of fuelling patronage politics in the ANC, mismanaging South Africa’s economy, and sending police to Marikana to kill striking mineworkers in 2012.

The debate was all the more heated given the backdrop of last month’s State of the National Address. The usually polite and rule-governed parliamentary chamber looked more like a boxing ring as plain clothes police forcibly removed Economic Freedom Fighter MPs after they interrupted the President’s speech, demanding to know when he would pay back the Nkandla money.

The response from government also indicates Zuma and his close allies are on a back foot. During the no-confidence debate itself, Minister of the Presidency Radebe was full of bravado, declaring that for the vote of no confidence to succeed, pigs would fly and hens would grow teeth. Shortly after the vote, however, he issued a detailed statement defending Zuma’s record, much of which Africa Check has revealed is either ill-founded or ‘nonsense.’

Zuma too seems to be veiling any insecurities in a fresh volley of bullish statements. He has again brushed off Nkandla critics. He also sent ripples through the media with his recent ‘If I was a dictator’ speech. In a rebuff to critics both in and out of parliament, Zuma accused people of ‘exaggerating’ their problems and of relying too much on the state for help. He went on to lament how people blame him personally: ‘Anything that goes wrong in the country it’s “that Zuma.” I’m sure even if a person falls from a chair – “This bloody Zuma man made me fall.”’

The fact that Zuma’s hold on power remains so unshakable despite widespread public outcry has led opposition to point a finger at South Africa’s electoral system. During the no-confidence debate, the United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa called for a reform of the current system so as to enable voters to elect their President directly. At present, the only way Zuma could be ousted before 2019 would be if the ruling African National Congress decided to ‘recall’ him in the way Thabo Mbeki was removed as president in 2008. There appears, however, to be little appetite within the ANC to engage in another leadership battle. As one observer argues, too many high ranking party cadres, as well as rank and file MPs, see their own political fortunes as somehow tied to the President.

While another no-confidence motion is certainly possible, it would likely be a repeat of the past opposition efforts, leaving Zuma unscathed. Given South Africa’s constitution, the electoral dominance of the ANC and the state of internal party politics, demanding accountability from President Zuma is a formidable challenge. In the end, Minister of the Presidency Redebe does not seem so far off the mark. When pigs fly…

President Zuma escapes censure for legislative no show in South Africa

The South African National Assembly has voted to reject a motion to censure President Jacob Zuma for allegedly failing to conform to the rules of the House. The president had angered legislators by failing to answer oral questions since 21 August 2014. However, the stranglehold enjoyed by Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC) party in the government ensured that the president avoided a formal sanction. Despite this, his reputation has suffered another blow.

The incident that sparked the president’s reluctance to appear before the House was a chant by opposition MPs from the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that he should pay back some of the money spent on lavish upgrades of his private home in Nkandla, which had embarrassed Zuma the last time he entered the legislature. Despite some criticism of this strategy, the EFF – which is led by notorious former ANC youth winger Julius Malema — pledged to keep up the heat on the president through the use of similar tactics. Matters came to a head on 14 November when an attempt by riot police to forcibly remove EFF MP Reneilwe Mashabela from parliament descended into a fistfight.

Mashabela had earlier repeatedly called the president a thief, a statement that she continues to stand by. In response, House Chairperson Cedric Frolick, an ANC MP, ordered her to withdraw her comments and, when she refused, to leave the House. It was after Mashabela refused that the presence of riot police was requested, although it is not yet clear who made the call. The determination of ANC leaders to shut down criticism of the president by ordering an elected MP to leave the chamber, and the intrusion of riot police onto the Floor of the House, shocked many commentators. According to the respected Mail & Guardian newspaper, “The presence of police in the chamber, while the House is in session, is a violation of the Powers, Privileges and Immunities of Parliament and Provincial Legislatures Act, which prohibits the police from being in Parliament unless they have been instructed to be there by the speaker, her deputy or any other of the presiding officers. Section 58 of the Constitution prohibits criminal or civil procedures from being brought against MPs for what they say in Parliament, and forbids their arrest in such matters.”

The motion of censure was subsequently introduced not by the EFF, but by the largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA). The vote split the legislature down the middle. The EFF and other opposition parties largely agreed that the president had undermined the constitution, which requires him to account to the legislature for his actions, and to answer questions in the Assembly at least four times a year, once in each quarter. However, ruling party MPs defended the president and claimed that opposition MPs did not accurately understand the law. Ultimately, the ANC’s numerical dominance carried the day, and the motion was defeated by 217 votes to 78.

Efforts to negotiate an end to the impasse are ongoing, having begun two days before the vote when Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa initiated a dialogue between the ANC and opposition leaders with a view to generating a more harmonious and productive working environment within parliament. However, it is not clear how successful this endeavour will be. The Democratic Alliance parliamentary leader, Mmusi Maimane, in whose name the motion of censure was tabled, has said that meetings with Ramaphosa were positive. He was particularly pleased that the ANC leader affirmed the principle of executive accountability and that the executive should appear before parliament. However, he also noted that Ramaphosa had failed to agree a date by which the president would appear. Unless this happens soon, Maimane intimated, there would be no let up in the position of the DA.

But while there may not be any major changes to the tension that has pervaded the legislature in recent months, the debate has resulted in a significant change to the mood music of South African politics. Most notably, by refusing to present himself to parliament, Jacob Zuma has further undermined the ANC’s reputation as a party of law and order. In doing so on the legislative stage, he has handed the EFF – often characterised by the ANC as a populist rabble – the moral high ground. Always able to spot a political opportunity, Malema and the EFF seized their opportunity well. As the Mail and Guardian wrote in the wake of the vote, ‘The biggest surprise of the evening came from the EFF MP Sipho Mbatha, who delivered a calm and heartfelt speech directed at the ANC.’ Transforming the EFF into the voice of reason would be a catastrophic mistake for Zuma’s ill-fated presidency.

For now, the ruling party’s grip on power appears unassailable. But with missteps following mistakes, the question is for how long.

South Africa – President Zuma Under Fire

It has been a difficult year for President Jacob Zuma. The death of Nelson Mandela on 5 December 2013 led international journalists and ordinary South Africans to draw parallels between the country’s first black president and his successors. Living up to Mandela’s image is hard enough for the most popular of leaders, but it was particularly challenging for Zuma, who has been the subject of a series of corruption accusations since taking office on 9 May 2009.

The trouble began shortly after Mandela’s death. On 10 December, at a ceremony to celebrate Madiba’s life, a succession of world leaders received loud cheers from enthusiastic spectators, only for the South African presiden’s speech to be drowned out by boos. It took a characteristically lively intervention from Archbishop Desmond Tutu – who took to the microphone to tell the crowd “you must show the world that we are disciplined. I want to hear a pin drop” – to quieten the audience.

Some ANC leaders, overly confident following two decades of dominant-party rule, argued that the party should not panic. But the party’s excuses for the booing – which included the accusation that booers were satanists – soon inspired ridicule among online commentators. Worse still, it was not a one off. The President was booed again on 5 March, when he walked onto the pitch at the FNB Stadium for the post-match ceremony after the international friendly between South Africa and Brazil. It did not help that Brazil had won 5-0.

The headline story behind much of the criticism is the controversial upgrade of President Zuma’s home in Nklandla, Kwa-Zulu Natal. Improvements to his property were justified on the basis of the need for increased security following his rise to the presidency. But the $23 million of taxpayers money spent on the project paid for much more than higher fences and security cameras: President Zuma now has a swimming pool and cattle ranch. Since the revelations about Nklandla broke, the process through which the expenditure was ordered has come under intense scrutiny. Unfortunately for President Zuma, he does not compare well to his predecessors: Nelson Mandela spent $2.9 million on two residences, while Thabo Mbeki spent just $1.1 million on one.

Despite the best efforts of the ANC to make the issue go away, and a government probe in December 2013 that cleared Zuma of any wrongdoing, the controversy keeps returning to the front pages. Most recently, the president was forced to defend his actions after an investigation by South Africa’s Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, found that he had “benefitted unduly” from the upgrade and accused him of unethical conduct. She also recommended that he should pay back some of the costs which were associated with unnecessary renovations. Zuma’s response was that he did not ask for the upgrade, arguing that they “did this without telling me”. But the idea that someone in the government ordered radical changes to the president’s residence without asking him contradicts both some of his former statements to parliament (which implied that he had paid for some of the improvements himself) and defies common sense.

When she released her report, Madonsela gave President Zuma 14 days to respond before parliament. But she was also careful to give him a “get out of jail free card” by concluding that while it could be “legitimately construed” that the president had misled parliament, in her opinion it was a “bona fide mistake.” Commentators in South Africa have suggested that in the context of a dominant-party state, and a ruling party known to be averse to criticism, this was a compromise she needed to take. By focussing the debate away from personality politics and onto key political institutions, she has created a situation in which the president can rehabilitate his reputation by enforcing some of the reforms that she suggests.

Although the Democratic Alliance opposition moved to lay criminal charges against Zuma in the wake of Madonsela’s report, it nevertheless seems highly likely that the president will survive this latest blow to his reputation – at least in the short term. The roots of public unease with President Zuma, however, go far deeper than the Nklandla controversy. Over the past two years commentators have identified the increase of neo-patrimonial practices within the ANC and the bureaucracy. Anecdotal evidence about contracts being awarded to incompetent companies because of their links to senior ANC officials chimes with scholarly accounts of the rise of corrupt activities within the ruling party now that the struggle has been won and the bonds of solidarity that it generated have started to loosen.

As a result, an increasing number of ANC leaders are concerned that the party could get a bloody nose in general elections scheduled for 7 May. No one is predicting that the ANC will lose its majority, but the size of the party’s legislative majority may shrink, and a large fall in turnout is a real possibility. Fortunately for President Zuma, South Africa does not employ direct presidential elections. Rather, the president is selected by parliament, in a similar way to the Prime Minister of the UK. This means that there is no opportunity for ANC voters to embarrass the president by voting ANC in legislative elections and refusing to vote in the presidential poll. There is also no danger of Zuma losing office, because the ANC is all but assured a legislative majority.

However, a poor showing for the ANC would lead to renewed pressure from within the party for Zuma to make way for one of his less unpopular colleagues, such as the Deputy President of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa. As with Thabo Mbeki before him, President Zuma may struggle to control the pressure for change as it gains momentum. Indeed, some South Africans have already celebrated Zuma’s resignation, after the Sowetan newspaper reported that it had received the following letter from the presidency:

“Dear citizens of South Africa and comrades in Parliament, I hereby announce my resignation to you. Due to the recent Nkandla report, and various attacks towards me, I simply cannot defend myself any longer.

I sincerely hope that your future will be in good hands.

Regards, JZ”

It was, of course, an April Fool’s spoof. But it was evidence that the President’s resignation is becoming increasingly discussed, anticipated, and hoped for by his critics.