Jacob Zuma is an incapable and undeserving president of a complex constitutional democracy. He liked the system for allowing him to rise to the top. But he neither understands nor likes how it operates.
Zuma enjoys the trappings of the office of the Presidency. But he hates the constraints that come with it. He loves power, but he is irritated by the systems designed to ensure that he can’t exercise it willy-nilly, and the courts haven’t given up lecturing him on this.
He wants to be seen as warm and generous, but he is actually mean to the core. He would like to be seen as a person who means well, but dishonesty is arguably the strongest attribute he exhibits.
In short, he is a risk to South Africa’s constitutional democracy and its institutions.
You have to be like him not to be embarrassed that he’s the head of a modern democratic state. He’s a role model to the corrupt ANC leaders who, if given a chance, would run the country like he does. They are envious.
The umpteenth Cabinet reshuffle was the latest demonstration that we have a politically toxic figure presiding over our Republic. He has two major objectives: to guarantee his personal political survival, and ensure the long-term sustainability of illegal dealings to siphon public funds.
These are obviously contrary to the lofty constitutional obligations imposed on him: to defend, advance and protect the Constitution of the Republic. Zuma is not interested in constitutional niceties. It is doubtful if he has ever read the Constitution. It would be a waste of time. He hears about what it says from his army of lawyers when it’s relevant for his own personal interests.
The Gupta state capture project, of which he is the chief patron and architect, was designed to feed both his insatiable appetite for immediate material accumulation and to plant the seeds for a lifetime of looting after his retirement from public office. It has since run into trouble and is unravelling.
As managers of multinational companies run for cover trying to mitigate the damage they suffered after the #GuptaLeaks exposed their undeserved profits while aiding state capture, Zuma is not giving up yet. It would be atypical of him to give up when he smells money.
Like a truant child, the more he is chastised, the more he presses the repeat offence button. He believes he can still pump oxygen into the state capture project by securing nuclear, gas and other deals.
But the fact that the state capture project is unravelling, he is facing corruption charges and his term as president is nearing an end prematurely or otherwise, shows that he is running into a cul-de-sac.
The umpteenth Cabinet reshuffle confirms a long-standing political tactic to pursue twin goals: personal political survival and safeguarding long-term material benefit for himself, his associates and his family.
Here is a template to analyse any decision Zuma has taken or will take:
Irrationality vs reason
Despite the fact that his Cabinet reshuffle statements start with "after careful consideration", the truth is that the only careful consideration he gives is about his own personal political survival and creation of lifelong corrupt arrangements.
There is no consideration whatsoever for the conception or implementation of policies. None of the ministers appointed will conceive and implement any ground-breaking legislation or policies in under two years. Zuma’s term officially ends in the middle of 2019 and, if his faction is ousted in the ANC’s December conference, he could be out sooner.
Personal vs national interest
If Zuma knows what’s in the national interest, he doesn’t care about it. But for his personal survival and insatiable lust for power, he will do all he can. He is very daring. The Cabinet reshuffle is, according to his public relations stunt, presumably about the interest of the nation. How else to clothe it with legitimacy? But in truth, it’s about his attempt to get what he wants in the shortest possible time while still in office.
Short-term vs long-term
Zuma is often praised as a master tactician. But those who are so generous in their assessment of him forget to add that his tactics are short-term. Because Zuma hates the checks and balances inherent in our constitutional democracy, he tends to forget that getting away with crime today doesn’t mean you will survive forever. There is a tendency for the rule of law to follow people to the grave. His tactic would serve him well if he caught people napping. But the consistent repeating of his tactic of Cabinet reshuffles has blunted the sting because everyone can see through it.
Leading by example vs doing what’s right
We have often criticised Zuma for not leading by example. But let’s face it, the man is leading by example. If you don’t toe his corrupt line, you are out. He has a simple unwritten requirement: be corrupt like him, in his own terms for his benefit and that of his family. Doing the right thing is not the criteria to get an appointment to lead any state institution. Had Mcebisi Jonas taken a bribe from the Guptas, he would be minister of finance today. In a way, to be in Zuma’s Cabinet justifiably invites suspicion to your credibility. But Zuma knows that not a single minister will resign citing conscientious inability to serve under a corrupt leader. The perks are too tempting.
Raw power vs soft power
Whenever Zuma is faced with a personal challenge, he unleashes raw power. The soft power – the power to persuade, which is well exercised by leaders who are knowledgeable – is absent. The prerogative to appoint people to various state organs is the only power he has to manipulate the functioning of the state to his advantage.
But the use of his prerogative has limits: Cabinet changes do not always yield his desired results. The result is that the frequency of Cabinet reshuffles has increased. In the latest reshuffle, he moved around three ministers he had appointed six months ago. They were still undergoing induction and getting to know the staff members of their respective departments.
Absolute power vs relative power
Lord Acton once remarked that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The problem with Zuma is that he’s absolutely corrupt, but he actually doesn’t have absolute power.
He cannot control everything and everyone. Yet, his tactic tends to cause national outrage and is the stuff of dictators who exercise their power thinking that they are invincible. In the gap between his relative political power and his absolutely corrupt conduct lies the pending (some would say welcome) tragedy of Zuma’s demise.