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His Mugabe moment? — On the backlash to President Jacob Zuma's power gra b (Hindu )

South African President Jacob Zuma’s power grab triggers a popular resistance

South African President Jacob Zuma may not have anticipated the strength of the backlash when he decided last week to dismiss his much-respected Finance Minister, Pravin Gordhan, and various other colleagues in a ministerial shuffle. On Friday, thousands of South Africans demonstrated peacefully across cities against Mr. Zuma’s action, which appears to have triggered concerns about government corruption and a tottering economy. Even ailing Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu made an appearance in support of the protesters, most of whom called for President Zuma to resign. Adding to the woes of the weakening South African economy, the rand fell immediately by more than 2%. Yet the prospect of Mr. Zuma stepping down appears unlikely. His cabinet clear-out is widely considered to be an attempt to control the selection of his successor in the African National Congress, which swept to power in 1994 under Nelson Mandela. Far from those glory days, the ANC today is split over the question of support for Mr. Zuma. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa described the move as “totally, totally unacceptable”, and ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe said the ministerial shake-up made him “jittery and uncomfortable”. Although Mr. Zuma’s government has been tainted by corruption scandals, he has granted himself more room for manoeuvre by moving Malusi Gigaba from the Home Affairs Ministry to Finance, despite the latter’s limited financial experience.

More troubling than the immediate question of Mr. Zuma’s control over the presidency and the ANC, however, is the fact that he presides over what seems to be a secular decline in the quality of governance and institutional integrity in South Africa. Last year the party suffered key losses in municipal elections, and Mr. Zuma was forced, by a Constitutional Court ruling, to reimburse public monies in a dispute over millions of dollars he allegedly spent on his private home. Since its early post-apartheid years, South Africa enjoyed the benefits of a strong constitutional ethos and a vibrant civil society. Yet it may be nearing what some analysts consider its “Mugabe moment”, a reference to neighbouring Zimbabwe, where a predatory state lines the pockets of the elites. The fact that Mr. Zuma portrayed the sacking of Mr. Gordhan as promoting “transformation” has a familiar echo in the tendency of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to use the race card and project rent-seeking moves as necessary reforms for the deprived masses. If South Africans wish to place the country on a stable path to prosperity, they need to do more than seek the ouster of Mr. Zuma, for he has already laid the foundations for his ex-wife to take the reins of power. They need a second revolution aimed at discovering the kind of leadership that puts people first.

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