South Africans, media held hostage by Zuma indecision

The last 48 hours have been extraordinary, even by South African standards as country waits for Zuma to step down.

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    Zuma attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]
    Zuma attends the 37th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government in Pretoria [File: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters]

    Durban, South Africa - Even by South African standards, it has been an extraordinary 48 hours of politics.

    A volley of emergency meetings, postponements, allegations, counter-allegations and fake news have dominated the South Africans news-scape as pressure continues to rise on President Jacob Zuma to stand down.

    South Africans are a little anxious; no one knows who is actually running the country. The president, the deputy president and government have spent the best part of the past few days talking about who should run it.

    Journalists are dazed and delirious, chasing every bit of noise, hoping for a scoop.

    There is simply no time or space to make sense of the continuous stream of information; updates and not news has become the point.

    This obsession with being first with news of Zuma's impending resignation has only tainted the reputation of news media further.

    Readers are agitated. Not to be undone, deviants have made sure that fake news stories have made their rounds too, leaving many wishing for the death of instant messenger.

    At one moment on Tuesday night, some journalists moved from one allegation suggesting Zuma was about to fire Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to a Whatsapp message suggesting that Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was on his way to the country for talks with his counterpart (the inference was that Putin had come to protect a nuclear deal with Zuma). Both were denounced by the presidency. But under such extraordinary circumstances, both seemed entirely plausible to many. 

    For millions of South Africans, outside the bubble of chaotic speculation, it is business as usual.

    Whether it is Zuma today, Ramaphosa tomorrow, many know that the changes are of little consequence to their daily lives.

    Unemployment, rising inequality, a water crisis in parts of KwaZulu-Natal and Cape Town, failing public health sector - none of these issues are on anyone's agenda.

    People know that these are secondary concerns in the face of the main political prize.

    Of course, Zuma's reputation lies in the gutter, and his impending departure has reached popular consensus.

    But to suggest that all South Africans want him to go is until now unproven. In fact, it is not even clear at this point that all in the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party want him to go.

    Sure, there have been multiple meetings, delays and other haggling, but the party has said very little publicly. If anything, this indecision is only a further indicator of their overall complicity in creating someone that won't go.

    The proof is no further than the manner in which the ANC has mollycoddled him since Ramaphosa became president of the party in December.

    On one hand, he has come out guns blazing as an anti-corruption campaigner, on the other hand, he says Zuma should have a dignified exit.

    This is the talk of a leader who knows his party is split.

    He also knows that Zuma still wields tremendous power; many in the party clearly do not believe his behaviour was necessarily criminal. 

    Most South Africans just want to see justice served.

    If Zuma is guilty of looting the state he must be charged. But more than the prospect of justice served, most South Africans just want their lives to improve.

    When the tide turned against former President Thabo Mbeki in 2007, his critics argued that he was out of touch with the common man, that Zuma was closer to the people and would look out for their needs. But for many, that turned out to be a lie, and some argue, he too, only ever looked out for himself.

    Follow Azad Essa on Twitter: @AzadEssa

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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