Johannesburg- THE HEAT has turned up on South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, as three former presidents and a former deputy have added their voices to the disgruntlement over his alleged leadership failures.
In an unprecedented move, foundations of former Presidents FW de Klerk, Thabo Mbeki and Kgalema Mothlante as well former deputy President Phumzile Mlambo Ngcuka, along with other foundations with historical and political links, converged in Johannesburg last week to discuss, ostensibly, political and economic challenges facing the country.
They met under the aegis of National Foundations Dialogue Initiative (NFDI) and it did not take much to figure out that the present target of their conversation was the continued leadership of President Zuma.
It is yet another setback for a leader who has been ring-fenced and has seen reversals in recent weeks, including failure to address public meetings on May Day and in Vuwani, North West Province, in the past two consecutive weeks.
But the latest development came with a lot of intrigue and subplots, too.
Most outstanding is former President Mbeki having a go at his old foe, the man who engineered his downfall in 2009.
“The rose we planted in 1994 is indeed sick,” ex President Mbeki, with little veneer on what he was referring to, said during the inaugural meeting of the dialogue.
And even more tellingly he said: “No person or institution should have more authority than the will of the people.”
Apparently, Mbeki has not gone over the past, as became apparent last year when he revived his controversial letters.
Mothlante, who came in between the two protagonists in a hiatus occasioned by Mbeki’s downfall, has not made secret of his opposition to Zuma.
The telling moment came last month when he used the occasion of the funeral of Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC struggle stalwart, to recite the latter’s call for Zuma to step down.
Trust Matsilele, a doctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, puts this latest episode in the fight against Zuma in its context.
“Zuma has defeated the three presidents (Mbeki in 2007; Motlanthe 2012 and D Klerk) on framing of contemporary SA problems, that is failed transformation that came as a result of CODESA in the past and present hence not shocking that the three have conveniently ganged together against him,” said Matsilele.
Speaking to this publication, he went further to mention the contemporary forces that Zuma is ranged against.
“There is also no doubt that Zuma is facing resistance that has a nexus of the judiciary, liberals and the elements he defeated in the past, these elements will coalesce going forward to end his rule if not by December then before as he is viewed with much disdain especially by markets which these groups I have already mentioned represent and defend.”
Courts have been unfavourable to Zuma, raising suspicions around their partiality and role in the current politics.
Last week, in a curious judgment, the Northern Gauteng High Court instructed Zuma to provide reasons for the sacking of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, which analysts believe played into the hands of the anti-Zuma campaign.
The case was brought by the opposition Democratic Alliance who are seeking to reverse the reversal of Zuma’s executive appointments.
The markets have been unfavourable to Zuma and his recent actions created panic culminating with the infamous credit rating downgrade to “junk status”.
With Zuma facing a multi-pronged attack, it is surely a pregnant moment.
Opponents of the President are angling to inflict mortal damage, at least by December when an elective conference will be held, or before his term expires in 2019.
But they are also susceptible to making mistakes.
“It’s more like a risk dialogue. It’s reactive,” believes political analyst Dumisani Hlope of University of South Africa.
“The presence of De Klerk dampens the utility of dialogue. The De Klerk Foundation sees this as an opportunity to earn credibility. In the process, a useful dialogue programme is mired in unnecessary controversy.”
This could be a huge, potentially costly mistake.
Interestingly some of Zuma’s opponents agree.
Rabid anti-Zuma critic and leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema, objected to the presence of De Klerk and said Mbeki and Mothlante were making a mistake hobnobbing with an “apartheid criminal”.
“Zuma is not a problem. He is just an irritation. The real problem is white monopoly capital which we will confront on removing Zuma.”
“If anything Zuma’s biggest failure…(has been) failure to remain clean after 2007 that has compromised his messaging.
“From a pan-Afrocentricity reformist perspective, Zuma has failed to rally the country around transformation and in turn his failure has galvanized white capital and interested groups.”
The white interests and other political interests, outside and inside of the ANC, are not relenting. They are smelling blood. But, some analysts have insisted that Zuma, a shrewd political operator, will survive the onslaught.
Some of the onslaught could, in fact, be just the fodder Zuma may need to feed on for political survival.