From a South African grave – ‘J’accuse’

President Jacob Zuma’s hold on office is increasingly insecure

 

There was an intensely political quality to last week’s funeral of veteran anti-apartheid activist Ahmed Kathrada who had been sentenced to life imprisonment alongside Nelson Mandela. It was as much about today’s South Africa and the deep and potentially terminal rifts in the African National Congress (ANC) as it was about the “stalwart of the liberation struggle”.

Notable above all by his unprecedented absence from such an occasion was President Jacob Zuma who stayed away at the request of the family. Zuma, whose increasingly untenable hold on office was rendered even more insecure after the firing on Friday of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, was roundly criticised last year by his old comrade “Uncle Kathy”. Those criticisms, as well as praise at the funeral for Gordhan, brought standing ovations.

Zuma is due to be replaced as ANC leader in December. Ramaphosa and former African Union chairwoman Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma are seen as the front-runners

Ten ministers were moved in Zuma’s reshuffle which was denounced by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa as “totally, totally unacceptable”. Ministerial resignations are expected. But Zuma’s support base was delighted with the Women’s League and the ANC youth wing – suspicious of Gordhan’s links to the banks – praising it and citing hopes for land redistribution for poor black farmers, free education and more black involvement in state financial institutions.

Jacob Zuma is in as president of South Africa in May 2009. The NPA’s decision will not only work in Mr Zuma’s favour, but also the ANC’s. Photograph: EPA
President Jacob Zuma's increasingly untenable hold on office was rendered even more insecure after the firing on Friday of South Africa's finance minister Pravin Gordhan. File photograph: EPA

The simmering divisions in the ANC over Zuma’s association with corruption scandals and apparent impunity for abuse of office have reached a critical point, throwing the party into its deepest crisis since it swept to power under Mandela at the end of apartheid in 1994.

Zuma is due to be replaced as ANC leader in December. Ramaphosa and former African Union chairwoman Nkosozana Dlamini-Zuma are seen as the front-runners, the winner then contesting the state presidency a year later on behalf of the party. If, that is, Zuma clings on to office that long. Thabo Mbeki was removed by the ANC as president in 2008 after his time as party leader ended in scandal the previous year. It is increasingly difficult to see an ever more erratic Zuma not suffering the same fate.

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