Zuma escapes censure

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma celebrates with his supporters after he survived a no-confidence motion in parliament in Cape Town. —

SOUTH African president Jacob Zuma has survived his eighth parliamentary vote of no confidence but his victory was narrow and his opponents claim this was because it had been a secret ballot. It is clear that a significant number of African National Congress legislators, maybe as many as 30, voted against their chief.

Zuma was celebrating after the vote but the scandal-plagued South African leader should surely not be feeling triumphant at this moment. Indeed, there is a strong political, rather than moral, case for him to have resigned long ago. The problem is that, as his revered predecessor Nelson Mandela clearly appreciated, political power is not a personal gift but a loan. It may confer many privileges but it also imposes many duties and obligations. Every leader has a responsibility first of all to his country. His job is to foster its protection, peace and prosperity.

However well he may have begun - and multi-billion dollar corruption charges against him were dropped in 2009 just before he became president - the evidence has grown that Zuma has not performed well. His links with the Gupta family, revealed in a series of leaked emails, which are apparently genuine, demonstrate corruption and payola on a grand scale. The public prosecutor’s call for a full inquiry is apparently being blocked by the president’s aides. Perhaps more alarming is news that Zuma loyalists have begun a witch-hunt to identify the ANC members of parliament who had the temerity to vote against their chief.

It seems clear that not all those who sought to oust the president were acting disinterestedly. There is already a behind-the-scenes battle going on to become the next ANC presidential candidate. Zuma’s deputy, the trade union leader Cyril Ramaphosa, is a leading candidate but Zuma is pushing for his former wife, Nkosazana Diamini-Zuma to succeed him. The ANC is divided. Younger members want to see someone from nearer their own generation take over.

On the face of it, a divided ANC is actually probably a welcome development. Since 1994 when white rule ended and Mandela became president, the ANC has been the governing party, originally propelled to power on a tsunami of hope, most particularly from the black townships. Those hopes have been dashed time and again. Black empowerment programs were used to enrich the new political elite, not to bring social and economic justice to the millions of poor. Health and education have been largely neglected, unemployment has risen, crime and insecurity are rife and infrastructure, not least the creaking power system, is crumbling. Little has been done to correct any of this during Zuma’s eight years in power.

It would be good to believe that among those jockeying to take over the presidency, there is a profound belief that the failures of the ANC’s 23 years in government must be addressed. Unfortunately, the evidence is that the top echelon of the ruling party believe that their right to govern is unquestionable. Indeed, so great have become the abuses of power and corruption, that many in the ANC must fear both the financial and legal consequences of losing office.

South Africa, with its abundant natural resources, is still the continent’s wealthiest nation. Its only rival Nigeria has been crippled by rampant corruption. But the contagion of payola now surely risks South Africa’s prosperity as well.