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Embattled President Zuma plays the poor card!


Analysts say ruling ANC will not be the same again


By Tony Opara


In the aftermath of his sack of the very influential Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, embattled South African president, Jacob Zuma is now dangling the poor card to shore up his much dwindled credibility.

Justifying his move, Zuma affirmed that the purge was intended “to bring about radical socioeconomic transformation and to ensure that the promise of a better life for the poor and the working class becomes a reality”.

Still building on the theme of helping the poor, Zuma who had been recently compelled by the Constitutional Court of South Africa to refund astonishing sums of money spent on a luxurious upgrade of his personal country home in Nkandla,  on Friday proceeded to give an image-boosting speech in the poor Eastern Cape province, where he told  the audience that his administration was “very busy trying to fix what is wrong with the country”.

But not many better informed South Africans are impressed as the dramatic overnight move which took place very late on Thursday night has sent hit the national currency, the rand very badly, shocked business and political leaders, including significant sections of Zuma’s own cabinet and the ruling African National Congress, ANC

The party, founded in 1912 and which only came to power in South Africa under Nelson Mandela in the 1994 elections, clearly now faces what some will call the ‘bull int china shop’ situation. It is apparently also its second worst test since leading the struggle against the apartheid regime, the first having been the emergence of Zuma on its saddle a few years ago.

The ousted Gordhan, who learned of his removal via the media, had very widely being regarded as a competent manager in a nation that was being regarded as one of the world’s most important emerging economies.

Indeed, his emergence had largely caled the waters after a series of political gaffes and poor economic decisions by Zuma and his handpicked cronies had seen South Africa struggling to deliver growth in recent years and to improve the lives of millions of its poorest citizens.

Now, there is indeed a very significant fear that Gordhan’s replacement, Malusi Gigaba, who before now was the interior minister, is not going to be able to stay the tide, including holding back a long delayed ratings agency downgrade, given that he has almost no business or financial experience.

On the political turf, the divisions within the ANC, which continues to somewhat dominate parliament even as it has since lost power in key cities in local elections last year, including the very significant Nelson Mandela Bay, have now come to be underlined by the unprecedented parting of ways between Zuma and leading lights of the ANC, including the country’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

“I told him that I would not agree with him,” Ramaphosa said. “There are quite a number of other colleagues and comrades who are unhappy about this situation … The minister of finance … was serving the country with absolute distinction. For him to be removed … is to me unacceptable.”

A most upset Gordhan, who is a veteran of the fight against apartheid, in his response said South Africans should look beyond him and go on to revive the spirit of that struggle and “organise” against political corruption and mismanagement. He vociferously denounced the intelligence report which Zuma had cited as a pretext for the move against him as “absolute nonsense,” encouraging that ‘we hope more and more South Africans would make it clear that our country is not for sale.’

The said intelligence report accused him of holding secret meetings to undermine the government during a trade trip in London this week from which he was abruptly recalled by Zuma.

Given the current turn of events, many analysts are already beginning to hazard that the ruling ANC will not be the same again. Among others, the expectations are that this purge would have long-lasting impact on the alignment and re-alignment of forces in the party ahead of the forthcoming leadership selection battles and the race to get Zuma’s successor as leader of the rainbow nation.

Indeed, Zuma’s move has been variously interpreted as an attempt to install a minister who would allow populist measures which would reverse the electoral fortunes of the ANC blocked by Gordhan; to gain control of the finance ministry to allow deals favoured by allies in the south African business community; and to control the selection of his successor.

The veteran activist and politician will step down as ANC president later this year. His replacement is likely to lead the country if, as widely predicted, the party wins elections due in 2019. Many pundits say the ANC may win less than 50% of the vote, which would be a major blow.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the president’s ex-wife and former African Union chief, is Zuma’s preferred candidate to succeed him. She may be able to shield him from looming graft charges after he is out of office, but she has little support among the ANC’s electoral base.

Analysts say Zuma has struggled to live up to the standards of previous leaders of the ANC, such as Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, who was president from 1999 to 2008. “Compared to past ANC leaders, Zuma falls far short – and he’s aware of it and extremely sensitive,” said Mari Harris, a political analyst at Ipsos South Africa. “He’s tried to purge his cabinet of people who are opposition and put in a lot of yes-men.”

Zuma has repeatedly been accused of corruption, with intense scrutiny of his ties to a family of local tycoons. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Support for Gordhan from several ministers and major foreign investors, as well as many ordinary South Africans and veterans of the anti-apartheid struggle, made it difficult for the president to move earlier.

Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, said the way in which the cabinet reshuffle had been handled had made him “uncomfortable”. He said: “The president came with a list. [He] said, ‘you can comment if you want to comment, but this is my decision’.”

The outgoing finance minister received a standing ovation at the funeral of Ahmed Kathrada, one of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid activists on Wednesday, as longtime ANC leaders including Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, called for Zuma to step down.

The crisis may offer South Africa’s two main opposition parties an opportunity to make inroads into the ANC’s core support. The far-left Economic Freedom and the centre right Democratic Alliance said they would make a no-confidence vote in parliament. The ANC has a near two-thirds majority in the 400-seat national assembly and can block any such move to oust Zuma.

The CEO Initiative, a coalition of top businessleaders, said it was “gravely concerned and disappointed by the ill-timed and irrational dismissal”. In a statement, it said: “This decision, and the manner in which it was taken, is likely to cause severe damage to an economy that is in dire need of growth and jobs.”


Deputy President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa

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