Open letter: How to stop ‘dictator’ Zuma from destroying SA’s soul

Thousands of South Africans are expected to take to the streets today to protest against President Jacob Zuma. It’s been a tumultuous past few days since Zuma moved to purge globally respected Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan, Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas and Minister of Tourism Derek Hanekom, among others. The markets have been left reeling while the Rand has limped along. S&P, meanwhile, this week downgraded South Africa to junk status. There’s no doubt that Zuma has zero integrity and is hell-bent on ensuring his friends the Guptas continue to fleece the state and its taxpayers. The ANC itself, though, seems to either have the blinkers on or is spineless after it announced earlier this week that Zuma is going nowhere. The ANC clearly doesn’t have South Africans’ interests at heart and now it’s falling on civilians to take their destiny into their own hands. Today could be just the start of rolling mass action across the country that will place pressure on the ruling ANC to finally act. But as respected psychologist Jonathan Cook outlines below, South Africans are going to have to commit themselves to voicing their displeasure in a very public way. Cook’s call echoes that of Save SA’s Sipho Pityana, who earlier this week also called on South Africans to take to the streets and end the horror show that is Zuma’s presidency. – Gareth van Zyl.

By Jonathan Cook* 

Dear friends,

It has been the most extraordinary week – mourning for Kathy Kathrada, the amazing funeral, anger at the president’s coup, and then the call to mass action at Kathy’s memorial. These are my reflections on how to turn these emotions into positive action to bring about the change we so need. Feel free to share them if they are helpful.

At the last general election the people of South Africa elected the ANC to govern the country for five years. At midnight on Thursday night this was overruled by the president when he ignored opposition from within the ANC’s top leadership and its partners in the alliance and appointed some ministers whose prime loyalty seems to be to business interests outside the country, instead of to the country. And on the basis of clearly fake reports, he dismissed some ministers who, by their courage and efficiency, have protected the nation’s resources.  

President Jacob Zuma looks on as members of Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party raise objections before being evicted from Parliament during his question and answer session in Cape Town, South Africa, May 17, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

When the president does something that the deputy president calls “totally unacceptable” and the secretary general of the ruling party says makes him very uncomfortable, and which the treasurer general says left a distinct impression that the ANC is no longer the centre”, then it is clear that the ANC is no longer ruling. We have a dictator.  

We the people of South Africa cannot stand by and allow our nation to be hijacked and its resources to be stolen by business interests outside the country and greedy politicians inside it.

Let us be clear that this is not just a matter of exchange rates and rating agencies. In normal times they would be very important indeed, and they are; but we are in much, much bigger trouble than that. This has to do with stealing the treasury and forfeiting our future.

Nor is it just a matter of factionalism in the ANC, although there are factions that will use this to jockey for position. This situation affects everyone, even those who don’t care about any factions in any party.

Read also: From a Harvard Prof: Scoring Jacob Zuma on Dictatorship test

Nor in fact is it just a matter of some corrupt people getting away with some billions of our money. That is of course serious, but the tragedy is that when thieves steal they destroy much more value even then they take. Big contracts, whether for arms or power stations or roads cost the country huge amounts in order to provide the corrupt people a small proportion of that. Because of that, the country has less money left to deal with the real problems of poverty, employment, and all the other needs we so want to address. And the democratic institutions that were bought at such human price are rendered ineffective to protect the guilty. The destruction to the soul of our nation is far greater than the miserable material benefits that flow to the corrupt.

The president’s actions will be defended by all sorts of ideological arguments, fake news and defamation of good people. Don’t be fooled. It’s about greed.

A protestor holds a banner suggesting the African National Congress (ANC) is “For Sale” during a nationwide march against corruption in Cape Town, South Africa, on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2015. Photographer: Halden Krog/Bloomberg

So what is to be done?

This is far bigger an issue than toll roads ever were. Our response needs to be far stronger and more organised than it was for the roads. And more successful! Here are some thoughts about how to support each other – not just to make a noise, but to remove the president. Soon.

The ANC must recall the president. No one else has the power to do that. To wait till December 2017 will be far too late – never mind 2019!  The thieves are stealing while you read this. So our efforts should be to encourage the ANC to remove him. This does not require an anti-ANC campaign, because it entails putting the ANC back in charge of the country. In 2019 we can choose which party to vote for, but now let’s return to the legitimate government elected in 2014.

ANC logo stencilled on a wall in Soweto, Johannesburg

That means the Top Six of the ANC must act now. Everyday costs.  

To encourage the Top Six to act, the ANC members of parliament must act now, both in what they say and by their votes. Honour your oath of office and follow your conscience to express your lack of confidence in the president. And MPLs and branch members must contact their structures to let them know that this is what we expect of them.

To encourage that to happen, the opposition must put the interests of the country above party advantage. It may be to the opposition’s long-term advantage to keep Mr Zuma in power, as he will continue to cost the ANC votes. But the opposition needs to be put the interests of the country first in this crisis and join with those in the ANC who understand where we are. That will require resisting tempting opportunities to score points at the ANC’s expense. You will gain stature by maturely putting the country first and focusing on getting the current cabal out. It may mean, for example, even holding back your motion of no confidence in order to allow the ANC in parliament to introduce one you can support.

To encourage all the above, we the people of South Africa need to assert every influence we can on every structure we have access to. The next few days are critical, so we should all be in the streets making our voices heard. Every day that passes will begin to turn these changes into the status quo and soften our resolve to reject them. Every day allows the thieves to sign away another piece of our resources. This is one of the most important moments in the life or our democracy.  

But moral arguments and letters like this, and even mass street protests will not make a difference until they tip the balance of power. Let’s be smart. Who has power and what will put pressure on them? We need to show them clearly that the voters will reject those who do not stand up now and represent us with real leadership. So contact your MP and MPL and city councillor – especially if they belong to the ANC. Let them hear from as many of us as possible.

And pull in the neighbours. What about a street event to discuss what to do and to distribute the addresses of your representatives? If you do not know anyone in a position of power, speak to others in your network until you find someone who does. We need everyone to make their voices heard. Then be creative in finding every other lever you can. Act now!

In the process, let’s be the South Africa we dream of. Can we convert our outrage into deep commitment to justice and equality? What can we do practically, when we have a new president, to address poverty and unemployment and inequality in ways that will transform SA? Begin those discussion too, while we share in the energy.

A crisis is an opportunity to build something better. Let’s make South Africa into the democracy our founding leaders envisaged and we all long for. Let the people govern.

  • Jonathan Cook is a psychologist whose career has been in management education at GIBS, where he was director, and previously Wits Business School. He is currently chairman of the African Management Initiative. He writes in his personal capacity.
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