Let Zuma ouster be food for thought for our leaders this Lent as we hunger for freedom

Saturday February 17 2018

Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa’s

Jacob Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa’s African National Congress recalled Zuma and Ramaphosa became the president. PHOTO | AFP 

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Spoilt for choice. That is how it must have felt for the local “commentariat.”

In a week in which South Africa’s Jacob Zuma is recalled by the African National Congress; Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai succumbs to cancer; Ethiopia’s premier Desalegn Hailemariam resigns because of mounting unrest in his country, you have to agree that that is a full plate for anyone interested in following political developments in our neck of the woods.

These events were enough to even cause one to almost forget that the Tanzania Episcopal Council, a collective of Roman Catholic bishops, had just released a pastoral letter for the beginning of Lent in which they sharply criticised President John Magufuli’s government for suppressing human rights and clamping down on the freedom of expression.

Tsvangirai breathed his last in Johannesburg on Valentine’s Day, which has strangely become something so many Africans nowadays think is important to celebrate with chocolate and red roses.

I suspect he saw it as the perfect time to exit, having had the pleasure of seeing off his old nemesis, Robert Mugabe, a couple of months ago. His feeling is likely to have been, Mission Accomplished.

Of all the happenings of the week, however, Zuma’s ouster takes the cake. There was an eerie similarity between the moves made by his deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa and other top ANC officials toward Zuma and the creeping military coup led by Zimbabwe’s armed forces against Mugabe. It is as if the South Africans were re-enacting their neighbours’ tactics, without sending the tanks into the streets.

It also called to mind the ouster of Zuma’s predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, at Polokwane 10 years ago, when Zuma exploited the frustrations of clusters of ANC cadres to get rid of Mbeki, whose chief sin was not corruption or embezzlement, but intellectual arrogance and a perceived aloofness.

Zuma’s transgressions are of a much more serious nature. He is accused of corruption, misuse of state funds, facilitating state capture, by which is meant, inter alia, allowing the manipulation of government structures to make decisions in favour of shadowy business groups, in this case the Gupta family. Millions of rand are said to have changed hands, with Zuma a major beneficiary.

What I have failed to comprehend is the extent to which Zuma was prepared to cling onto his dubious “friendship” with the Guptas, even after some people mocked and jeered at him. Being a serial malefactor, and having gotten away with it for so long, he looked like he was beginning to believe in his own invincibility.

Playing dice with the devil

It was a bit like Comrade Bob with his beloved wife Grace and how the old lion was so besotted with the young lass that he was prepared to gamble his empire away.

But then we might want to cut him some slack, seeing as he is a man and she is a woman, which cannot be said in the Gupta equation. As far as woman trouble is concerned, Zuma has had his share of spots of bother before, and I think he should have stayed there instead of playing dice with the devil using state assets as pawns.

His initial resistance to his comrades’ call for him to go must have come out of the et tu Brute? He could have said to Ramaphosa and the others, knowing that they are all in this corruption thing together, and the kettle should not be calling the pot black.

If truth be told, the whole political class in South Africa, the leadership of the ANC included, has been seriously tainted by corruption, and I am not seeing it doing a mass harakiri.

Can they now presume to take Zuma to court over the 783 counts of corruption he is supposed to be charged with? Will that not open a Pandora’s Box with skeletons sauntering out of the cupboards of all the tenderpreneurs of Madiba’s country?

Can Ramaphosa risk taking Zuma to jail knowing he could himself one day be queried about the massacre at Marikana and other nasty stories?

Vamos a ver, as the Spaniards say. We shall see. We can only hope that all the rulers on this our very sad continent will draw a lesson or two from the Zuma saga.

Meanwhile I will be reading the pastoral letter, hoping the government has read it too.

Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]