Barring President Zuma’s untimely demise, there remain only two possible futures for South Africa. From the moment the new cabinet was announced, we’ve been choosing one of the futures without realising it.
Had we been serious about holding government to account — see South Korea, Brazil, and parts of the U.S — we’d have mobilised, occupied, barricaded roads and protested non-stop from yesterday, strategising on our feet. Something like last night’s reshuffle requires a quick show of public strength. You can’t over-plan it.
This future begins at immediate resistance from the moment we see an abuse of power. This the future we have not chosen.
We wouldn’t march and then go home to wait for an answer, nor sign petitions and wait for answers, nor wait for someone else to unseat Zuma. We’d disrupt everything — bearing in mind physical and legal risks — until we’d removed him.
But because we are South Africa, we waited:—
For EFF to defend approaching the Constitutional Court. The chances of anything coming from that are good enough to pursue it, but not enough to rely on it alone. Separation of Powers is real. They really seek to humiliate Zuma for political points. They will achieve spectacle, not change, because spectacle is the most political parties can offer by themselves right now.
We waited for the DA to persuade the Speaker to convene a sitting where the House would pass a motion of no confidence in the President, and for them to stop the swearing in of the new ministers. The latter hasn’t worked nor has the former worked in previous times. As for the anonymous ANC MPs that Mmusi Maimane mentioned, who’ve said they’ll vote for Zuma to go, they don’t exist until the public knows who they are. And not that I have heard any calls for it, but Speaker Baleka Mbethe would never allow a secret ballot because that would be a betrayal of Zuma. We are recycling tired tactics.
No political force that has the power to oust Zuma has the will, nor has any political force that has the will, the power. Zuma alone could theoretically have both, and he is not stepping down (not that there is anywhere lower for him to step down to).
Even Cyril Ramaphosa’s disagreeing with what the President did isn’t the same thing as openly disagreeing with the fact of his Presidency. If the Deputy President is fired, he’ll become a martyr and that has its own ramifications.
We waited, also, for mass resignations from cabinet and for more action from the SACP. We waited for the Top 6 to act. They chose their words so carefully; we called those revelations “damning” and too quickly gave their speakers credit before they had acted on those revelations. They did not act because they were only acting surprised.
We waited ourselves into Zuma’s trap.
What he’s done this time is too big to undo. He can’t reinstate 3 out of the 6 fired ministers, for example, let alone undo the 20-piece reshuffle. Trying to reverse any of it would only embarrass the country further. Had it been one minister, he could be frog-marched to undo it. Who decides where he should start fixing this?
Before this was done, it was too daring to be done. Now that he has done it, no one can dare him to undo it. Those who have the will have not the power; those who have the power have not the will. “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak” and Zuma knows it.
The shock-and-awe (or “rapid dominance”) military doctrine calls for overwhelming displays of power that demoralise and paralyse opponents. For having used it, Zuma is stronger than he was when he first called then-Minister Pravin Gordhan from London.
“If Zuma can stay in power for another week,” a friend mused, “he would have survived this and emerged stronger.” Another replied, “Every 24 hours that pass with him in power make it more likely he will make it to the end of this week.” In Christopher Nolan’s movie Interstellar, there is a planet whose proximity to a black hole means an hour spent there is the equivalent of seven earth years (this is time dilation).
The gravitational forces on Planet Zuma mean every second he is in power allow him to wreak earth-years’ worth of havoc. He appoints and disappoints his ministers at unheard-of hours, knowing well that ordinary South Africans will confront him for it in the safety and convince of their own time — when we can take time off from our very busy lives.
Opposition parties, civil society, clergy and other entities have made plans for legal challenges, parliamentary moves, marches and the like. These plans may end up diverting legitimate anger into hamster-wheel freneticism that serves only the reputations of the organisations that arrange and parade their speakers, singers and causes at these events. Remember a particular anti-Zuma march. We went. We crossed the Mandela bridge. We crossed back. It was a “success” and we felt great.
But Zuma didn’t fall.
A protest march ends when marchers leave. An #Occupy ends when the target (Zuma) leaves. Any politicians that could have fought Zuma now knows that South Africans will march and leave before Zuma has been forced to leave. We show up, but never stay up, long enough to ensure that Zuma falls to never do to a Gordhan what he did to a Nene. We have used up all our good guys. Would you trust us to back you?
In this future Zuma, will cash in what remains of the ANC’s brand equity and the country’s economy. He and his political generation will have no need of those burdens after 2019. Whoever wins the ANC Presidential race may become opposition leader in 2019 not because of anything the ANC has done, but because of what the last 24 hours have enabled Zuma to do in the next 24 months.
If he shock-and-awe nuked us yesterday, watch him go nuclear.
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