Nothing can be more threatening, if not embarrassing or upsetting than a call by a country’s workers union for the president of the country to quit even when his tenure has not elapsed. This is the dilemma President Jacob Zuma of South Africa is faced with as that country’s powerful trade union and a key coalition partner of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) has called for his resignation following a deeply unpopular cabinet reshuffle. Secretary General of the Union, Bheki Ntshalintshali has said it was time for Zuma to “step down” following his recent purge of cabinet critics including the sack of the highly respected former finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. COSATU, it would be recalled, collaborated with the South African Communist Party, and the African National Congress (ANC) to dislodge white minority rule and spearheaded the emergence of non-racial elections in 1994. Now, it has openly endorsed Zuma’s deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who led COSATU during the anti-apartheid struggle, to succeed the president in 2019.
It is pertinent to note that since 2009, the ANC leaders have been embroiled in a series of scandals involving both corruption and ineptitude. The ANC-controlled central government in South Africa has failed to stem the tide of ravaging violent xenophobic attacks on other African nationals in that country. It has failed to curb or control the world’s largest HIV/AIDS pandemic. It has presided over an economic boom that has made millionaires of a well-connected elite but left countless lives unchanged. As a party, the ANC has been accused of politicizing the police and the bureaucracy and showing contempt for the constitutional democracy for which it fought for many decades. The country is worst hit since the emergence of Zuma as president. Here is a man who is allegedly engulfed in a series of scandals such as racketeering, money laundering, corruption, fraud and tax evasion. According to media reports, while Zuma was president of the ANC, he was accused of seeking bribes to thwart an investigation into wrongdoing by a French arms company involved in a massive weapons deal in the late 1990s.
In 2003, the then director of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), Ngcuka Bulelani, was quoted as saying: “We have concluded that, whilst there is a prima facie case of corruption against the deputy president (Zuma), our prospects of success are not strong enough... Accordingly, we decided not to prosecute the deputy president.” But the opposition New National Party, fired back through its spokesperson, Carol Johnson: “The NNP fails to understand why advocate Ngcuka has gone against the recommendation of his own investigation team. His argument that their prospects of success in a criminal case are not strong is no reason whatsoever to decide not to prosecute. All the law requires for a prosecution is a prima facie case- which the investigation team says they have.” But Zuma was eventually arraigned in 2007 yet the trial judge faulted the procedure adopted by the NPA, stating however that the ruling had nothing to do with the innocence or otherwise of Zuma. The lower court’s verdict was however overturned in January 2009 by the Supreme Court. But rather than charge Zuma accordingly, the NPA jolted humanity on Monday April 8, 2009 saying, “An intolerable abuse of the process has occurred which requires discontinuation of the prosecution”, adding that their case against Zuma was strong, and that they were withdrawing it only because the process was tainted. It is also interesting to note that while striking out the charge against Zuma, Judge Vusi Tshabalala issued a reminder that the decision did not amount to acquittal.
It is equally instructive that Zuma was embroiled in a rape scandal in 2005, in which he shocked the world with his very arcane confession that he took a shower after the ‘act’ in order to reduce the risk of contracting HIV. His misdemeanour in court (and that of his fanatical supporters) drew censure from the trial judge while dismissing the case against him. Yet, in spite of the above, South Africans still went ahead to vote in Zuma as successor to President Thabo Mbeki. The hard lesson here is that Zuma emerged as president from the debris of corruption. It would have been preferable if Jacob Zuma, in the interest of the ANC, South African democracy, and African democracy at large - had stepped down from the presidential race and allowed a candidate without any cloud of suspicion hanging over him to lead South Africa into the second decade of the 21st century. Unfortunately, on Wednesday April 22, 2009, the citizens of South Africa elected such a character as president; and they have ever since remained with that burden. This amplifies the dictum that a people gets the leadership they ultimately deserve.
What is however heartwarming in recent times, is that Zuma still faced trial even as a sitting president. His very party, the ANC which jaded him to power in the first place is crusading for his resignation from office. As his unpopular decision to sack Gordhan a first rate finance expert contributed to a credit ratings downgrade to junk status two weeks ago by Standard & Poor’s and as pressure on Zuma grew over his move to oust more opponents within the cabinet, a bemused president is seen quaking in desperation to save his job. Even former ANC president, Kgalema Motlanthe, was also quoted as saying that it was pretty difficult for Zuma to command respect after the constitutional court found him in breach of the law when he failed to repay government money spent on his private home. Generally, we are not persuaded by the response and attitude of Zuma to all the mind-boggling allegations against him and we fear that the South African democracy may slide if he does not step down before the next general elections. For us in Nigeria, we call for the abrogation of the Immunity Clause in our constitution if we are really serious about the war on corruption. This will enable Nigerians force out from office a sitting leader whose hands are soiled with sleaze.