When they are needed the most, miracles are in short supply, and so it proved to be for former president Jacob Zuma. File picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency (ANA)

Cape Town - The start of the year is usually accompanied by belt-tightening as families try to survive “Januworry”, the longest month of the year.

For one man in particular, survival would have been foremost on his mind after a devastating sucker punch in December left him sprawling on the canvas, hoping beyond hope for some form of miracle which would reverse his fortunes.

When they are needed the most, miracles are in short supply, and so it proved to be.

Jacob Zuma had in more than 10 years built up a reputation as a seemingly invincible political operative, outsmarting enemies who had looked down on
him, while he rose to the top of the ANC through a combination of his smarts (or call it Machiavellian skulduggery) and the promise of patronage to those who weren’t ideologically predisposed to his world view.

All that came to an end early on the evening of December 18, 2017 when the ANC’s branch delegates chose to propel Cyril Ramaphosa to lead the party, and eventually South Africa. Until that day, Zuma and his backers were cocksure that his anointed successor would triumph but they had been sold a fongkong by the wily David Mabuza.

After Ramaphosa’s triumph, questions swirled around how long Zuma would be able to hold on as South Africa’s president, a position he had used to dole out patronage to his friends, who through systematic looting had brought some of the country’s state-owned entities to the brink of collapse.

Januworry arrived and the ANC was preparing itself for its annual birthday celebration which, outside of conferences, is an opportunity for the party to set out
its priorities for the year, while reminding everyone else that the party is Africa’s oldest liberation movement.

In East London, though, the mood on the ground was different. The ANC had emerged from a bruising contest and those who had been vanquished were still nursing their wounds, hardly the space for any talk of unity. Zuma, who had lost his grip on power, was still going about his business, calculating his next move with his available chess pieces.

Reading the tea leaves, the Guptas departed from these shores and decamped to Dubai, while the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority sprang into action after years of political meddling had ensured that the state capture project proceeded unhindered.

At Buffalo Stadium, where the main rally for the ANC’s birthday celebration took place, Zuma arrived several hours late, well after everyone had been seated. His entrance on to the main stage was greeted with boos, a further embarrassment after his humiliation at Nasrec in which he greeted news of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s defeat with shock.

The next major event on the political calendar was the State of the Nation Address (Sona), which usually happens in the first week of February.

But before that could happen there were murmurs that Zuma would not deliver the address.

The ANC national executive committee, which still has a sizeable number of Zuma loyalists, resolved that he should step down.

But, hoping to broker some sort of compromise, Zuma asked that he be given six months to stay on as president, one reason being that he could go on a “world tour” of sorts with his successor and introduce him to world leaders. Not that Ramaphosa needed any introduction to world leaders; he had been one of the architects of South Africa’s constitutional order and a successful businessman after resigning from Parliament in 1997.

Zuma’s stubbornness eventually meant that Sona had to be postponed for a week while the ANC negotiated his exit.

When they could not meet his demands, the ANC’s parliamentary caucus sprang into action and another no-confidence vote was tabled. This time Zuma would not have the governing party’s support after he had survived several attempts by the opposition to dislodge him.

Zuma finally surrendered on Valentine’s Day, after keeping the whole nation in suspense, by announcing his resignation. He would probably acknowledge that he had been checkmated.

Two days later, Ramaphosa was inaugurated as president, and the following day he set the tone for his presidency by delivering the State of the Nation Address in which he emphasised selfless service, the opposite of the rapacious Zuma years.

Ramaphosa also introduced a new catchphrase to the South African political lexicon – “Thuma Mina” (Send Me). A period of “Ramaphoria” would engulf South Africans who collectively breathed a sigh of relief.

But even Ramaphoria could not soften the blows of the stark economic realities facing ordinary South Africans, from the petrol price exceeding R17 per litre, the continued mismanagement of state-owned entities and Eskom’s woes, which have culminated in load shedding.

This year has taught us that the Ghosts of State Capture will prove to be difficult to exorcise, and serious steps need to be taken to ensure that South Africa realises its promise.

Political Bureau