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Who is running the Republic?

October 2016


RON DERBY, editor: Business Times

Who is running the Republic? If anyone wants to write a book about the state of South Africa at this present moment, it will be the perfect title for that book. It is a question that has been on the top of everybody's mind since early August, when results of the local government elections best reflected the apathy with the way the country has been run over the past decade. These results should have served as a wake-up call for the ruling party as they were the clearest evidence yet that the ANC is in a serious state of decline.

Before those results were delivered, President Jacob Zuma was in 'full campaign mode', very bullish on his party's prospects and once again leading his cheerleaders in with mesmerising dance skills. He was the absolute personification of the term 'Asinavalo', which means 'we are not scared'. Before the polls, the president seemed at his weakest and most insecure. But even his biggest critics would have questioned that, given the impressive shows of support for the ANC and in particular its president in the rallies just before the August 3 polls.

It is a quite a different picture now. The figures showed that the party was losing the urban vote to both the EFF and the DA – across the country.

The president of the country has virtually gone into his shell, leaving us all to wonder just what the last three years of his tenure will look like. Will he make the end of his term, or will the party replace him before national polls in 2019? The last time I recall him addressing the nation – and that was outside the halls of parliament – was upon accepting the electoral results at the IEC centre. Results which were in truth a referendum on his near decade-long presidency more than anything else.

Instead of a period of introspection for the ANC and for the rest of us, a show that indeed the leadership of the country had taken to heart the clear message from the electorate, the country has slid even further into this state of uncertainty that has plagued us for far too long. The slide has been damaging to the economy and even more so the future well-being of the party.

The narrative that surrounded President Zuma's axing of his wellrespected Finance Minister, Mr Nhlanhla Nene, was simply that of state capture. People closest to the president, and not necessarily inside the governing party, were trying to raid Treasury. By being forced to re-appoint Mr Pravin Gordhan instead of his first choice, Mr Desmond van Rooyen, it seemed a plan was foiled.

That whole debacle was perhaps one of the biggest bungles in his presidency – results of the local government elections served to prove that. I'd go as far as to suggest that it was even more disastrous than the Nkandla matter, which is saying something in itself.

After losing control of Johannesburg and Pretoria, you'd think the ANC along with its president, would be trying to get to grips with why they are losing the trust of their voters. But instead, the president or rather those that remain beholden to his faction, have acted to once again destabilise Treasury.

At a time when President Zuma should be assuring disheartened voters that their concerns over 'state capture' are being heard, the tensions have only been heightened. Instead, by the actions of the Hawks he has only served to provide further evidence of the decay in his office and by extension, his party.

And all the while South Africa Inc. has been left rather leaderless. Who has taken the reigns in this most critical period, when the country could see itself losing its investment grade, joining peers such as Brazil and Russia in 'junk' status? Instead, we are witnessing the results of behind the scenes power scuffles that poke at the integrity of National Treasury. This isn't about Pravin Gordhan.

The uncertainty that continues to plague the country is of no benefit to the country and to the ANC as a party. It all seems to one man's benefit, or rather more specifically, the benefit of the factions that have so benefited from his near decade long presidency.

The only ones smiling are those sitting in opposition, namely the EFF and a resurgent DA.

Publication: October 2016

Section: Relevant