Daniel Silke: SA goes ‘lame-duck’ as hobbled Presidency awaits fate

Is the State Capture report the final straw that broke the camel’s back? Many would say yes, but a statement on social media that in most other democracies the President would have stepped down already, so it’s not so cut and dry. And what are the greater implications of Zuma fighting a prolonged battle against the report? Political analyst Daniel Silke says one of the negative effects is that South Africa will move into an era of a lame-duck Presidency, where the Zuma brand now has little traction and – at least for the short-term – is likely to be politically impotent. And when all attention will be diverted, issues like job creation and economic growth take a back seat. So will Zuma take the honourable route like former UK Prime Minister David Cameron, or will he opt to fight and let the people suffer? Who said living in South Africa was boring. – Stuart Lowman

By Daniel Silke*

Political analyst Daniel Silke
Political analyst Daniel Silke

For well over a year, South Africans have been subject to “State Capture” becoming part of their daily discourse. Barely a week went by that did not contain a disturbing dose of fresh allegations gracing the pages of the Sunday press.

Ultimately, the release of the “State of Capture” report from the office of the Public Protector codifies a year of revelations, rumour and conjecture deeply embarrassing and potentially politically explosive. And, those that sought interdicts to prevent the report’s publication were always going to be the big losers – and they sure were.

Whilst the report largely describes ethical, procedural and possible legal contraventions from a variety of Cabinet Ministers, aspects of State Owned Enterprise (ESKOM) abuse and the undue influence exercised by the Gupta family and their surrogates – it does not finger President Zuma directly.

The implication though is that the wrongdoing occurred under his watch and his omission to act in any opposition to the nefarious activities is tantamount to complicity. Given the role played by Zuma’s son, Duduzane, the President has indeed been compromised.

Furthermore, the linkage between the President and the Gupta’s in their efforts to place lackeys in senior cabinet positions implicates the President further in his illicit collaboration.

Politically, the report marks the end of the worst week of President Zuma’s presidency. It also serves to hasten his departure before his term of office expires. The report vindicates those within the ANC who have become more vocal in their opposition to Zuma and it confirms the view of civil society, the private sector and party stalwarts who have all coalesced in their desire for new leadership.

Cartoon published courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey
Cartoon published courtesy of Twitter @brandanrey

The report is also a damning indictment on the broader ANC caucus, the executive branch (Cabinet) and also the National Executive Committee (NEC) in being entirely derelict in their duty to hold their colleagues to account. Jackson Mthembu’s call for the entire NEC to resign was indeed an admission that the collective leadership that the ANC prides itself in, failed dismally.

As uncomfortable as President Zuma was before this report was released, his position is now under extreme strain. Thuli Madonsela’s parting shot of recommending a judicial commission of enquiry can uncover a raft of deeper irregularities that goes to the core of ethics, accountability and adherence to the laws of the land.

This means that the next six months will be dominated by a tainted President and three or more cabinet ministers all under a cloud of mistrust. Politically, this can debilitate not only internal decision making with a President now battling daily for his survival in office, but it can also retard the executive branch in their ability to initiate and implement policy. The negative effects of this is that South Africa now moves into an era of a lame-duck President largely hamstrung by his own transgressions and destroyed credibility. The Zuma brand now has little traction and his Presidency – at least for the short-term – is likely to be politically impotent.

As if this is not enough, the internal firmament within the ANC is likely to gain pace. The cumulative effect of the Madonsela’s report alongside the Gordhan fraud debacle and the pending fraud charges against the President will embolden those keen to oust Zuma. Lacking in any gravitas and increasingly facing internal dissent, Zuma is hobbled. It’s an unedifying end to a highly controversial tenure as head-of-state.

Zuma has few choices. He has been a master of prevarication and obfuscation and may well choose to ramble on as compromised as he may be playing political football with the law. Should he face the even worse fate of a judge recommending legal action, that might well be an indignity even he could not bare. He is caught now between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

“It’s going to be a long night for No.1” Picture courtesy of Twitter @NandosSA

In the interim, the ANC will bear the brunt of this malaise. It desperately needs to reinvigorate its political leadership and revitalise its ailing branch structures. It cannot leave this for another year as that affords both the DA and EFF a chance to further erode the ANC’s electoral base.

The “State of Capture” report is therefore a watershed in documenting the decline in governance at the highest level. Whilst political accountability has never been part of the South African tradition, it may well be the final straw that breaks Zuma’s hold on the top job.

But, whilst South Africans increasingly see the demise of the Zuma era, there is still little consensus about what comes next. Leadership battles loom and policy uncertainty continues. This is a testing time for South Africa but does take us a step closer to the dawn of a new day of hope.

  • Daniel Silke is director of the Political Futures Consultancy and is a noted keynote speaker and commentator. Views expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielSilke or visit his website.
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