Business Day column: Zuma: a terrorist to some, beyond reproach according to others

Is President Jacob Zuma a terrorist? Maybe, according to legal expert Ivan Herselman. No, he is acting correctly, according to Mpumalanga premier David Mabuza. Mabuza slammed Zuma’s critics, especially Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, for being "ill-disciplined".

Former Citizen editor, Steve Motale, spewed trendy racism in defence of Zuma’s supposed transformation struggle. For Black Opinion columnist, Yerushka Chetty, Zuma is a "brilliant strategist and tactician" who produces black nirvana.

Rising pro-and anti-Zuma passions are so intense that events such as the call for anti-Zuma action this Friday could be a prelude to violent conflict, reminiscent of the Arab Spring — a South African Spring. The fact that Zuma was precluded from Ahmed Kathrada’s funeral and that former president Kgalema Motlanthe read approvingly from Kathrada’s scathing open letter to Zuma, was seismic: the prelude to verbal warfare between luminaries from which the ANC’s tripartite alliance is unlikely to recover.

The cacophony of comment following Zuma’s Cabinet reshuffle last week was so gloomy that the glorious silver lining within the dark cloud was unnoticed. Zuma-mania catapulted us from sterile, one-party dominance to a mature, multi-party democracy. Not long ago, sceptics called SA a one-party state. Ethnicity determined how most people voted; you can no longer confidently predict how people will vote by looking at them.

Zuma’s friends and foes may thank him one day for turning us into a dynamic democracy where conscious selection by voters replaces mindless loyalty. "I do not vote for what parties did in the past," proclaimed Radio 702’s Redi Thalbi last year, "but for what they will do in the future."

The governing ANC-Cosatu-SACP alliance was formed to fight a common enemy: apartheid. The alliance should have dissolved when the enemy capitulated. In this column, I predicted in 2013 that inherent contractions doomed the alliance and the party to the crises they now endure.

The short-term desire for votes cost the ANC dearly in the long run. It runs the risk of disappearing, as the once mighty National Party did. Or it can seize the opportunity to "renew" itself, as ANC deputy president Ramaphosa suggested when he joined the anti-Zuma chorus.

The only long-term alliance beneficiary is the SACP. With zero votes, it fills nearly half all patronage positions. It has achieved "ANC capture" to the point where the latter can no longer meet alone — the smallest group has an SACP presence. Zuma brought the alliance to the precipice. Remnants of the ANC must decide whether to resurrect themselves as a centrist, pro-market party or continue trying to out-left the left in a defunct alliance.

What, then, does a "white monopoly capitalist" fine-dining at Johannesburg’s Inanda Club think about the crisis? That Zumanomics is rapacious black racism? That SA is the best country … from which to leave? Surprisingly, no. Members who had me as their guest are optimistic.

The alliance and one-party dominance had to end and that end would be traumatic. "Radical transformation" would amount to whites losing everything and blacks gaining nothing. "There is now," said a mining magnate, "a prospect of rejuvenation and prosperity." This coincides with Ramaphosa’s view that the crisis will "trigger [the] renewal that we need".

Fault lines within the ANC alliance could not be more pronounced. Previously "disciplined" luminaries are in open conflict. Motlanthe assured investors during a Bloomberg TV interview that Zuma’s opponents appreciate the importance of rating agencies and have "learned their lesson". Ramaphosa has "all the necessary credentials", he said, to replace the "culture of depravity".

In our very strange society, the business community’s favourite politicians, such as axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan, are communists who still call each other "comrade". Maybe younger anti-Zuma heavies, such as ANC treasurer-general Zweli Mkhize, will purge the party of silly people with silly ideas and silly appellations.

Louw is executive director of the Free Market Foundation.

This article was first published in Business Day on 5 April 2017

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