Last Wednesday night, Jacob Zuma beat a hasty retreat from the presidential lectern after he announced his resignation ‘’with immediate effect.’’ Those steps away from the spotlight are the beginning of a lonely walk in darkness.
Zuma had docked and dodged and deferred his overdue departure. But on the eve of a no-confidence vote that he stood no chance of surviving, he was left only but a little time to escape with some semblance of dignity. He hastened to disengage as it became clear to him that he would not carry the day. Power had left him and he needed to leave power.
In the televised address, the careworn Zuma couched his resignation as a voluntary decision, rather than a choice dictated by external pressures. He said, ‘’I fear no vote of no confidence or impeachment.’’ That was a prideful lie told to save face.
Zuma capitulated to fear. He surrendered because fighting to the bitter end would have ensured his unmitigated humiliation. Majority of the members of the South African parliament were determined to rush his impeachment if he insisted on stretching his unyieldedness for one more day. He abandoned his defiance of the ‘’recall’’ handed down by the leadership of the African National Congress in order to avert the double whammy of losing his position and his entitlements as a former president as well.
Zuma self-destructed in slow motion. He damaged himself over the number of years he took to metamorphose into a byword for presidential corruption. He tarnished himself, then disqualified himself from leadership and finally, established himself as the avatar of avarice.
Jacob Zuma was undone by the conspicuous incompatibility of his person with the legacy of Nelson Mandela. If he were the ‘leader’ of another African country with a remarkably lower benchmark of presidential stature, he would, no doubt, have been no more notorious than the average rogue ruler on the continent. But Madiba’s spirit brood over South Africa. Its solemnest space would not abide the perpetual violation of an uncultured villain.
Zuma was a woeful misfit for a presidency that had been ennobled and enlarged by Mandela’s presence. He was a crude composite of untamed instincts. He was a servant of fleshly appetites. He was decadent in soul and body.
The singular pursuit of Jacob Zuma was carnal pleasures and creature comforts. He collected and sampled women to maintain his sanity. He ‘’upgraded’’ his home with $15 million in state funds. He ceded control of the economy of South Africa country to the dead hand of corporate criminals, orchestrating a ‘’state capture’’ that served his vested interest.
Zuma followed the scent of money. He was on a private gold rush. His inordinate obsession was maximizing the alchemy of power and this precluded his interest in his people and matters of their welfare. He had the littlest concern for their spiraling poverty, insecurity and joblessness.
Zuma ran a Mammon-centered regime that fitted the description of economic apartheid. His displacement activity saw him striving to empower his subset of cronies alone. He formed and devoted himself to an empire-building minority cult and tried to rig the system to enable its domination of the rest of the country.
His neglect of the people contributed to the mainstreaming of xenophobia in the Rainbow Nation. As the frustration of the distraught nationals escalated, their tempers rose; and with it, the urge to externalize anger. So, the migrants became ideal targets. They were blamed them and lynched in cathartic witch-hunts that spread blood like red carpet in the street.
Zuma allowed those scapegoat attacks. They were a welcome distraction from his failure. The transfer of aggression released him from responsibility. If he took steps to stop the violent xenophobes, they would have the opportunity to step back, think and refocus their attention to himself. And he wasn’t ready to volunteer the self-indicting confession that his being remiss in addressing the issues of the people was the real problem.
In retrospect, Zuma’s presidency was infinitely longer than his usefulness. He survived for too long. The right time to dump him was certainly not after he had exhaustively proved his lack of qualification for public office.
The ANC had pampered and protected him like an only child. They lavished unconditional love on him. They nursed him, affirmed him and validated his quirks. They tacitly told him that they regarded his flaws as congenital. He didn’t have to learn decorum or unlearn indecency. He could break all the rules and suffer no rod on his back.
Their gift of special dispensation to Zuma made him an unbeatable monster. He survived multiple votes of no-confidence within the party and the parliament. He laughed off the futile attempts to dislodge him and exulted in the fact that his increasing unpopularity boosted his invincibility.
The ANC’s belated dispatch of Zuma was imposed by political expediency. They disposed of him as a grudging trade-off to retain power. They realized they would have to disown him or watch the presidency slip from their grip. He had become so toxic that his continued incumbency would help make the defeat of the party in the elections a racing certainty.
The real countdown to the end of his presidency began the day he narrowly lost his bid to install his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, as the leader of the ANC. The moment Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa won the headship of the party, Zuma starting living on borrowed time. That defeat was his kryptonite: it weakened him and made him a living dead.
Nevertheless, Zuma was deceived by the slim margin of Ramaphosa’s victory. He read the mathematical import of the close election as an indication that the ANC was almost evenly divided between both rival camps. He deemed himself as having enough support to force a stalemate that would allow him to tarry as a lame duck.
This informed his refusal to respect the precedent he had set when he wrested the leadership of the ANC from President Thabo Mbeki in a party vote and compelled him to step down. Whereas an unobtrusive exit was his single reasonable option, he cashed in on the impasse to negotiate a departure on his terms, proposing immunity from prosecution and a generous retirement package that would also satisfy his harem. The muted threat in his holdout was that he could break away from the ANC and start a new party.
The impeachment trump card roused him from his delusions. He realized he was playing a losing game. Extra time would serve to compound his injuries.
The darkness of the hour of Zuma’s hara-kiri seems to relay a subtle meaning that is graver than the seeming circumstantial timing of his nocturnal abdication. It appears to communicate the prophesy of his post-presidential afterlife: his future would be nothing but bleak.
Zuma will spend the next phase of his life battling a record-breaking list of fraud and corruption charges. The odds are excellent he would be convicted. He appreciates the high probability that he would go to jail. He claims he doesn’t dread the prospect of serving time.
This is a revealing empty boast. First, it shows that Zuma is cognizant of his indebtedness to justice. He is aware that he is worthier of a jail term than a peaceful retirement.
Second, it confirms that he is absolutely depraved. He is dismissive of the verdict of history and blind to the irony of reversing Mandela’s journey from the prison to the presidency.