Zuma’s friends are few lately

Philani Mgwaba EDITOR'S NOTE

Someone wise once said a week is a long time in politics. Wise words indeed. He could have been talking about SA.

A few weeks ago President Jacob Zuma, having dispatched the upstart Julius Malema into the political wilderness through the ANC’s internal disciplinary processes, seemed to be cruising to a presidential re-election victory at the ANC conference in December.

But suddenly, it does not look so certain as opposition against the president’s re-election is mounting, coalescing around the person of Zuma’s deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe.

Shades of the Zuma campaign against then-president Thabo Mbeki all over again.

Motlanthe himself is coy and won’t say if he covets the top post and will throw his hat into the ring.

But his actions – and those of people said to be in his camp – speak volumes.

Last Sunday he stood shoulder to shoulder with the suspended youth league leader at an ANC rally in Limpopo where Zuma’s name was trashed and he (Motlanthe) was hailed as the next president of the ANC and the country.

In case the country missed the message of support for Motlanthe, some in the crowd had ANC T-shirts with his picture and the words “Motlanthe for president”.

Another senior ANC figure in attendance was Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, who is touted by Malema as the next ANC secretary-general.

You might have thought Motlanthe would have told his swooning admirers to cool it, that he was not in the running for the top post. Not a word from the man.

Which raises the question: what game is he playing?

On Friday, another senior party figure said to be in league with the plotters, party treasurer-general Mathews Phosa, was next to Malema when the rabble-rouser addressed a lecture in Joburg and rubbished Zuma as a dictator. Again not a word in defence of Zuma from the haughty and ambitious Phosa, a member of the top six senior officials in the ANC.

One can only imagine what Zuma makes of comrades plotting against him in daylight.

And what of government work? Is any being done at all in the midst of the plotting, one wonders.

Motlanthe, Mbalula, Phosa and another ambitious man, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale, are all members of the executive committee of the ANC.

All, except Phosa, are in the cabinet, placed there by Zuma himself. They seem to be goading him to fire them, but he can’t and they know it.

Dismissing the men flirting with the rebel camp would risk sparking an open revolt against Zuma, similar to the one he himself led against Mbeki in 2007.

Oh, to be a fly on the wall in cabinet meetings these days.

Still on Zuma, one wonders why a man in his seventies, with several wives presumably hoping to spend more quality time with their husband, would want to continue the heavy burden of leading the country.

If he had made a difference (say more people now had jobs) in the lives of citizens since his election, perhaps one could argue he deserves to continue.

But the seeds of stagnation are everywhere. And internationally, we are not punching above our weight any more.

Zuma’s apologists might point to the expansion of the welfare state as an achievement. The counter is that increasing the number of people on welfare is no real achievement. It’s taxpayers’ money and anyone and any party can do that.

In fact, the tax base is so small it can’t sustain such expenditure for long, so this policy is ruinous for the country in the long term.

So if Zuma were to step down today, what would people remember him by?


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