Thursday, December 4, 2014

Will President Zuma of South Africa serve out his full term?

In an article in Politicsweb, RW Johnson suggests 'regime change' is in the air in South Africa, but ends by warning that President Zuma still enjoys a great deal of support and may cling on to power. It is a well known practice of presidents, not just in Africa but worldwide.

It is worth taking another look at this*, though what we should be talking about by now is not 'regime change', but simply a change of government or administration.

'Regime change' is a loaded expression. It was used by former South African president Thabo Mbeki to imply how undesirable it was - in Mr Mbeki's view - for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe to be pressured by 'the west' into holding free and fair elections and possibly losing them. Mr Mbeki wished to imply that if the Zanu-PF president were to be 'changed' under any circumstances at all, the outcome could only be a horrible return to apartheid and colonialism. Needless to say, this also applied to Mr Mbeki, as sitting president at home in SA.

It is worth considering Mr Johnson's points also because what 'democracy' involves is always hotly disputed in the new South Africa. 'White' commentators, according to Mr Johnson, believe the ANC must 'dump Zuma'. In this, apparently, they are mistaken. The country is not a democracy and can never become one. Rather it is an organised smash-and-grab raid by ANC crooks and a badly organised one at that.

However, if change is in the air, President Jacob Zuma - presented in the article, reasonably enough, as an old-style 'Chief' - must be first among those blown away by it. It is impossible for anyone to tell the future, but it remains very difficult to see how he can survive in the face of the steady erosion of ANC popularity, much less have his term extended. Traditional Chiefs too were removed when they became a problem, by traditional means.

In today's South Africa the watershed, unavoidably, will be the 2016 democratic elections. If the ANC do badly in them, panic will set in. But, fortunately for the party, President Zuma is of an age when it need not look like a repeat of the unruly Mbeki recall for him to 'retire'. Hints of 'health' problems have already been floated.

On the other hand, if the ANC surprise with a strong comeback - by no means impossible, because the conduct of the Economic Freedom Fighters could well drive voters back to the majority party - then the stage will be set for an 'honourable' retirement, with all the signs so far pointing to Mr Ramaphosa as a shoo-in replacement.

Dangerous as it is to play the prophet, we can see the ANC's decline as an inevitable historical process: change is the only certainty in life and politics. In this sense, the EFF are more a symptom than a cause of it and their disorderly treatment of parliament could hold back as much as help 'regime change'. But either way, it still seems likely President Zuma will go.
        *See my article, Why you needn't lose hope if President Zuma gets a second term