Imagine if Jacob Zuma had offered to resign as president in December? He might not have received a ticker tape parade but he could have avoided the gory reality show of his last days in office. He’s gone into many battles in a lifetime in politics. He’s come out trumps in many of them, no doubt.
Yet, significantly, Zuma has also had to concede in a good many. “Pay back the money” was a defining moment.
The house of cards then came tumbling down. Far from a comfy retirement couch in Nklandla, he is more likely to be occupying a hard bench in court rooms in his remaining years. Those courtrooms must be a terrifying sight even for the most powerful.
Mike Mabuyakhulu has been feeling its bite, as has the seemingly untouchable Khomotso Phahlane. With the courts now firmly established as the proxy battleground,we will see many more headline-grabbing politicians and their acolytes rush after high-priced attorneys.
Protestations of innocence will be the norm but there is a lot of baying for blood. Files will tumble out of all kinds of hidden places. There will be civil servants and suppliers pulling out slips of paper and text messages they have filed as insurance policies.
There will be comrades reconstructing paper trails both to protect themselves and to bring others down. The canary-like singing of the greasy arms deal fixer Ajay Sooklal before of People’s Tribunal on Constitution Hill last week is a reliable foretaste of the tale-telling that’s coming.
The post-Zuma season will be a bitter and cold winter. These matters will be in court for an excruciatingly long time. Rather cast one’s eyes around him.
Edward Zuma’s roasting in the Equality Court for his hate speech tirade might be the least of his courtroom blues. He will have a good deal of explaining to do for the comforts he has become accustomed to. Edward does not have the savvy of younger brother Duduzane, who is likely to be cowering in his desert hangout in Dubai for a considerable time.
Stripped of the protection of his father and lathered with the slime of the Gupta brothers, he will have some serious questions to answer. He might not be all that lonely in the desert. Rumour is that just about every greasy politician, civil servant and businessman with ill-gotten gains has feathered a nest somewhere in the Emirates.
As Slobodan Milosevic, Thaksin Shinawatra, Vijay Mallaya and others have feared, the tentacles of the law can reach a long way even if it might be slow in worming its way. One can be holed up for just that long.
Unlike former presidents Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma will not receive retirement invitations to trot the globe as an international statesman or revered elder. With the changed landscape in Zimbabwe, he might not even be welcome just across the Limpopo. He might be invited to Khartoum, but that is hardly a metropolis to be noticed.
His being recalled has also caught first lady of four, Tobeka Madiba-Zuma, who entered the fray on social media with talons bared. Like Sooklal, who piped up expecting public sympathy but after cross-examination eventually had to turn tail and run, Mrs Zuma will be well advised to save the airtime on her smartphone for when she will have to live on a budget like everyone else.
Zuma’s private circle of radical economic transformation will not go quietly. They will fight tooth and nail because the stakes are so high. The old man’s exit however, will leave the hangers-on extremely vulnerable both financially and politically.
After the December conference we have seen several of his loudhailers tone down or jump ship altogether. Others, like Sihle Zikalala, are smarting from the rash pre-conference criticism of Cyril Ramaphosa.
No matter how senior one is in politics there is room to grow. Bright sparks like Zikalala are uniquely placed to influence the transition. The drubbing that the KwaZulu-Natal contingent received at Nasrec could be remedied by Zikalala crafting a new narrative that latches on to the optimism of the Ramaphosa era and focuses on growing the economy. That will hold him in good stead as he battles it out in the upcoming provincial conference.
Hanging on to an uncritical Zuma loyalty for whatever reason will calcify the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal and render it ineffectual and marginalised on the national stage.
Holding fast to Zuma, as many in KwaZulu-Natal from branches to the youth league are prone to do, is both career limiting and harmful to the country. The time to shift to a higher gear is now.
Zuma miscalculated. Like Madiba, he should have served one term and given way. In the choice between a legacy and the loot, there is enough evidence to show that Zuma made the wrong choice.
With any luck, the younger generation of leadership, especially in KwaZulu Natal, will think more carefully about the responsibilities they are entrusted with. It is not an altogether difficult choice.
The clock is ticking for the political heirs. The bells have tolled for Zuma.
* Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI and academic director of a university study abroad program on political transformation. Buccus promotes #Reading Revolution via [email protected] at Antique Café in Morningside
*** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.