Abraham Lincoln once said: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Unfortunately, this is a test our President has failed. Jacob Zuma has been corrupted by power, and every day we are witnessing more and more of his true character.
The story that put Jacob Zuma on the front pages last week was the report that Armscor plans to spend up to R4bn on a new luxury Presidential jet – something Armscor is now trying to downplay, and which the Presidency is flat-out denying any knowledge of. But, outrageous and irresponsible as this might be given the woeful state of our economy, it is the other Zuma story of the week that we should perhaps be more concerned about.
Speaking at the ANC’s KZN provincial conference last weekend, President Zuma had a tough job of trying to bridge the party’s factional divides. In an attempt to renew a sense of loyalty to the ANC, he said the following to the delegates: “I argued one time with someone who said the country comes first, and I said as much as I understand that, I think my organisation, the ANC, comes first.”
In any democracy, this is simply unheard of. Regardless of whether he is also his party’s president, his allegiance as President of South Africa should always be to his country and its people, above all else. The fact that he is prepared to stand up and publicly declare that he places the interests of the ANC above the interests of South Africa is simply mind-boggling.
It didn’t take long for commentators to remind him of the oath he took when he assumed the Office of the President – a solemn promise he has now twice made to his country. And I think it is worth revisiting this oath to see just how far he has strayed. In 2009 and again in 2014, Jacob Zuma said the following:
“I, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, swear that I will be faithful to the Republic of South Africa, and will obey, observe, uphold, and maintain the Constitution and all other laws of the Republic. I solemnly and sincerely promise that I will always promote all that will advance the Republic and oppose all that may harm it; protect and promote the rights of all South Africans; discharge my duties with all my strength and talents to the best of my knowledge and ability and true to the dictates of my conscience; do justice to all; and devote myself to the well-being of the Republic and all of its people.”
His comments in KZN last Saturday make a mockery of this oath and are a frank admission, in his own words, that he does not grasp the most fundamental principles of democracy. It also confirms what we, and many others, have said about the millions of Rands the ANC made out of the Hitachi-Eskom contract through their investment arm, Chancellor House. The ANC’s massive profit came at the expense of millions of South Africans who have had to suffer load-shedding and job losses thanks to the awarding of the tender to a company partly owned by the ANC. ANC first, South Africa second.
There are almost 53 million of us here in South Africa. Just over 11.4 million voted for the ANC in last year’s election. What President Zuma fails to understand is that when you become president of South Africa, you are president of the whole country and not just those who voted for you. Your responsibility extends to each and every citizen.
But there was more to come from our President at the KZN conference when he called on ANC branches to “make it impossible for any counter-revolutionary grouping to mobilise our people and lead them astray”. Of course it is common knowledge that “counter-revolutionary” has become interchangeable with “opposition party” in ANC language, which in itself is an undemocratic attitude. But actually inciting members to prevent others from campaigning simply doesn’t belong in a democracy, and certainly not from its president.
And before anyone accuses me of being melodramatic, it is no exaggeration to refer to this kind of public political intolerance as incitement. Two weeks ago, as the DA in Gauteng was preparing for a rally at Mamelodi’s Solomon Mahlangu Square to launch our Tshwane mayoral campaign, they were attacked by ANC members who were part of an impromptu event by the ANC mayor at the same venue. Our people were assaulted and hundreds of thousands of Rands worth of equipment was damaged or destroyed.
And as if to prove that this was not an isolated incident and that the threat was real, the ANC again attacked DA members in Mamelodi a week later – this time at an event in Mamelodi East. Again they damaged DA equipment and destroyed branding material.
The ANC is running scared, particularly in the Metros, and the gloves are off. So when President Zuma calls on his branches to prevent the opposition from mobilising, he is being deadly serious. Look out for this kind of behaviour to intensify as we enter our election campaign period in the New Year.
When your back is against the wall, everyone is an enemy. And Jacob Zuma has his back firmly against the wall. His party is shedding members and votes, and his term-and-a-bit in office has been characterised by rising unemployment, abysmal economic growth and a revolving door of personal and government scandals. A different President might have used this as an opportunity for some self-reflection, but not Jacob Zuma.
During his State visit to Germany this week he was interviewed by the SABC. And when asked about reports about the procurement of a new VIP jet, his answer was: “You know South Africans. Even if it is a leaf just passing through, they say some animal has passed. Sensation, really.” Whatever he can’t explain away with “I didn’t know”, he dismisses as South Africans sensationalising his excess and corruption.
But one thing he can’t dismiss is a message from voters at the ballot box. If every South African who feels that Jacob Zuma isn’t fit to hold office says so with his or her vote, then we can start to bring about the process of change our country so desperately needs. And that process begins with next year’s municipal elections.