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Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

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President Robert Mugabe’s endgame in Zimbabwe holds various lessons for his South African counterpart, Jacob Zuma, as the latter too, considers his prospects towards the end of his presidency. The first, obviously, is that while, from the pinnacle of power, a country’s president may feel the monarch of all he can survey, it is always possible that the blade of the guillotine is just around the corner.

Accordingly, it is always prudent to keep at least two bags packed for a hasty exit: one full of suit, shirts, underwear and socks, another full of foreign currency (preferably dollars or Euros). You just never know how things might pan out, so it is best to be prepared.

Following the almost-coup, Mugabe has been in a stronger position than many African dictators before him because the African Union has in recent years become a lover of democracy and a hater of coups. It therefore now demands that changes of leadership must have at least a veneer of constitutionality.

This has always been the Zimbabwean military’s weak point during this past week of flirting with political power. Hence its insistence that, despite its take-over of the airwaves, State House and parliament, alongside its house-arrest of the president and his family, its actions are not a coup.

In turn, this has provided Mugabe with a considerable degree of wriggle room, which he has sought to exploit to the full. Indeed, it has remained his key bargaining chip, not least because the African Union does not want to be seen as party to the overthrow of a hero of African liberation.

READ MORE: Mugabe won’t step down and Grace won’t step up, says nephew

Explicit political actor

Zuma will feel confident that whereas in Zimbabwe the army has long been deeply involved in the ruling party’s internal affairs and the wider political arena, the South African National Defence Force is not an explicit political actor. He stands in no fear of a military coup (or even a Zimbabwe-style non-coup). Yet he does have to worry about what happens within his political party, the African National Congress (ANC).

Even if his favoured candidate, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, were to win the party leadership at the ANC’s December congress, Zuma’s continuing as South African President might be seen as a political embarrassment. If strong contender Cyril Ramaphosa wins, even more urgent calls will be made from within the ANC for the him to be “recalled” because he will be viewed as an electoral liability.

It is a fair bet that, whoever wins, an excuse will be made for a delegation from the party leadership to visit the president and to ask him to stand down. Just ask former President Thabo Mbeki who was fired by his own ANC. If Zuma refuses to cooperate, then the ANC might turn to parliament, where enough ANC MPs might feel emboldened to vote with the opposition to dethrone him.

Fighting for survival

Like Mugabe, Zuma will be battling for a dignified exit. Even more urgently, he will be fighting for survival. In previous years, Mugabe may have feared the prospect of retribution for his sins, and would have been determined to secure immunity from prosecution.

Now, at 93, he is confident that once out of office he will be left in peace. He may or may not appreciate the irony that, unlike his country’s last white ruler Ian Smith, he will not be able to stay in Zimbabwe after he has been forced to stand down, but he will know that he has to leave.

Neither the army nor Zanu-PF will want him hanging around, fearing his ability to continue pulling strings. So off he must go, to South Africa, Dubai or Singapore (anywhere with a few decent shops for his shopaholic wife Grace). His major immediate concern then, we may presume, is safe passage and immunity for his family. We may further presume, that there is a lot of money stashed away in foreign bank accounts to keep the crocodile from the door.

Zuma’s tricky position

Zuma is differently placed. If he loses the Presidency he stands in all sorts of dangers, not least of which is prosecution for past financial crimes and the prospect of his ending his days in prison. In other words, he has much more to bargain for, and he will be doing so from a considerably weaker position. Not least of his problems is that he is a lot younger than Mugabe, so could spend quite a few years in jail.

Zuma’s major strength is that, whoever wins the party leadership, the ANC will probably want to grant him immunity and get him out of the way, as otherwise they face the prospect of their former leader facing a corruption trial during the lead up to elections in 2019.

But for a start, there is no provision for presidential immunity in the constitution, and its grant would face a strong challenge in the courts. Furthermore, if the Guptas or other Zuma allies in the project of “state capture” were to be prosecuted, Zuma could face being dragged into court as a witness.

In short, Zuma will realise that it will make sense to hot-foot it out of the country, preferably to a comfortably authoritarian country which will turn down requests for extradition.

The fickle people

What Mugabe is learning now, and it is something of which Zuma should take good note, is that the people are an ungrateful lot, and are likely to turn against you just when you most need their support. Up ’til a week ago, it was presumed that Mugabe retained the backing of all who mattered in Zanu-PF and that he would again be its candidate for president at the next election. But now, like many a dictator, he is having to learn fast that the people no longer love him.

Past allies, like the war veterans, had already turned against him, repudiating his apparent bid for his wayward wife, Grace, to replace him. Zanu-PF Youth leader, Kudzai Chipanga, initially declared his willingness to “die for Mugabe” and labelled Major-General Constantino Chiwenga, the leader of the non-coup, a traitor when the army first intervened. After being locked up, he shamefacedly read out an abject apology, begging forgiveness, and pleading the inexperience of youth.

This has been followed by all 10 provincial organisations of Zanu-PF calling for Mugabe to go, and even encouraging ordinary people to join the marches being organised by opposition parties and civil society demanding his dismissal.

Zuma is too wily a politician not to know that once he loses the party presidency, his support base will drain away, and that he will become known as yesterday’s man. Yet like Mugabe, he will take comfort from the regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), for there is nothing his fellow presidents dread more than the prospect of any one of their number facing impeachment.

He will also know that, unlike Mbeki, whose stature in Africa remains high, he has no viable future as a roving ex-president. Zuma will know that if he wants to enjoy his retirement in peace, he has to leave South Africa before he gets tangled up in court proceedings.

His best option will be to grab those two suitcases, make a hasty exit and move in next door to Bob and Grace in Dubai. – Written by Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

Originally published in The Conversation

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IN PICTURES | Looking Back At The Vibe Of The South African Elections

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FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994.


In what was a landmark 25 years since the first democratic elections, South Africa registered, voted and elected the African National Congress (ANC) for the sixth time to govern the nation again for the next five years. The 2019 elections saw many surprises and plenty more political action compared to the previous polls.

 In the run-up to election day, political parties (48 in all) emphasized the country’s socio-economic challenges such as unemployment, education, housing and the contentious issue of land expropriation.  

On May 8, the day the country cast its vote, voters woke early to congregate and line up at the 22,924 voting stations strewn across the country.

FORBES AFRICA’s photojournalists immortalize the tension and elation of the South African elections in May that saw the African National Congress win for the sixth time since 1994. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

I was among them, a citizen also doubling as a photojournalist on the quest to document this historic election, my camera strapped around my neck and my constant companion. 

This Wednesday morning was particularly cold but voters were in sweaters and armed with their identity books to have a say in South African politics with an ‘X’ mark on the ballot paper.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), was among those at the Presbyterian Church in Dobsonville, Soweto; the township where he was born.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of the opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

His arrival created a frenzy as international and local media wrestled with each other for the perfect shot.

After casting his vote and walking out of the church, he addressed the public.

“On such a historic day, it is important to vote in Soweto with the people of Soweto to express hope and a future for our country. Soweto, to me, represents the home of where the struggle is and now we’re entering into a new struggle for jobs for many South Africans. I remember, vividly and well, when I played in these streets and I remember too well the release of Nelson Mandela, therefore today, I urge that we come and cast our votes,” Maimane said.

He spoke about the new struggle.

“To me, there could be nothing more special, nothing more historic than being able to express our future. Vote for the future of this country and for the unemployed South Africans; it’s a new struggle and we are fighting for the protection of freedom and advancement of freedom.”   

Post the election results, Maimane was the first DA leader to not have grown more supporters, whereas the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), with the third highest number of votes, gained more in all South African provinces except the Northern Cape.

A few kilometers from Dobsonville is Mzimhlophe Hostel. A hostel among many others in Soweto that erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections. On election day, it was more peaceful and locals were going about their daily lives.

Kwenzi Gwala standing outside what is left of his shack. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

In the same vicinity is a squatter camp (informal settlement) allegedly set on fire weeks before the elections.

Residents and brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22) came to Johannesburg looking for employment.

“This is my first time voting this year; I wish the economy could strengthen so we can move out of the squatter camps and live in houses. Our camp burned around the Easter holidays while we were at church. We used to sell African beer and our stock got burned along with the money and clothes that were inside. All we have is what we are wearing now,” Kwenzi says.

About 12 kilometers away was where national president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo, at a local primary school.

National president and president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa cast his vote in his hometown of Chiawelo. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

The supporters of various parties, the media and voters were out in full force to witness their president in Soweto.

“The nation and the people are energized. They can see their votes are heralding a new dawn. This is a vote that reminds me of 1994 when the people were just as excited as this because they were heralding a new period, a new future for our country,” said Ramaphosa.

“Today, this is what I am picking up, our people are excited about what lies tomorrow and they want to vote for a government that is going to serve them, that is going to address their needs and aspirations. So, I am truly humbled by the turnout that I’ve seen here.

“There is a great vibe and it’s a vibe for democracy, it’s a vote also for our democratic system that we’ve been building over the last 25 years. So, 25 years later, we still have a nation that is breathing confidence and excitement casting their vote. Today, I will go home to sleep very peacefully like I did last night.

Brother of South African journalist Shiraaz Mohamed, kidnapped in Syria on January 2017, begs for government intervention. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

“This vote is about confidence, it is about the future and it is about us that are going to be elected to work a lot harder, much harder than we have in the past to realize the ideals, wishes and hopes of our people, so this, to me, is like a rocket booster for democracy and we are going to build a great country because we will be doing so standing on the shoulders of our people,” Ramaphosa said.

Like the DA, the ANC lost more supporters nationally; Gauteng province was the gold prize, for the first time since 1999, the ANC had to battle to remain above 50% to secure the province.

Motlabana Monnakgotla

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May Will Be Gone In June Ending Months Of Political Battering And Speculation

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British Prime Minister Teresa May – just under three years into the job – says she will step down on June 7.

This follows a hammering, from both sides of the house, over her clumsy handling of the Brexit process. She has lost countless votes in Parliament over a Brexit deal and was seen by many in politics as weak and dithering. It is ironic that May herself voted to keep Britain in Europe, only to see her career expire as she struggled to make the opposite happen.

READ MORE | Chilling Words From The Man Who Broke The Bank Of England

Her heartfelt farewell speech on the steps of Number 10 Downing Street concluded that she had done her best to make Britain a better place not merely for the privileged few, but also for the whole population.

The supreme irony is that her shuffling off of the Prime Minister’s job will see the shuffling in one of Britain’s best known members of the privileged few. Eton and Oxford educated Boris Johnson is likely to step in as leader of May’s Conservative party ahead of what surely is going to be a snap election.   

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Poll Position: The South African 2019 Elections

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May 8, a landmark day for Africa’s second biggest economy. South Africans will cast their votes for the country’s sixth general elections since the dawn of democracy in 1994.

In the run-up to the polls, the country saw flagrant protests in some parts, as disgruntled citizens expressed disapproval of their stifling living conditions. 

In this image, a resident of Alexandra, a township in the north of Johannesburg, squats in the middle of a busy road leading to the opulent precincts of Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.  

The dichotomy of socio-economic circumstances is an accelerant in one of the country’s poorest communities filled to the brim with squatter camps and the restlessness of unemployment.

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