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Sun May 29 04:02:35 SAST 2016

The Big Read: The year we take back SA

Justice Malala | 05 January, 2016 00:32
Justice Malala. File photo
Image by: SUPPLIED / Times Media Group

President Jacob Zuma's expensive three-finance-ministers-in-a-week trick has left many South Africans feeling sad, angry and confused. Don't be sad, people. That act has set us up for a glorious 2016.

Zuma has blessed us. We are the fortunate ones. This year we will see, in clear terms, how a glorious movement slowly loses its leadership of society because of greed and corruption.

We will have front-row seats as power returns to civil society, to the courts, to Chapter 9 institutions, to the people - while a greedy elite within the ruling party buries its head in the sand and sings the praises of its compromised leader.

It will not be an easy year, of course. Not by a long shot. These things are never easy. Our society is changing its relationship with power and that will have many scary moments.

For example, those of us who like to gaze into the tea leaves and forecast the future are going to have a hard time of it over the next year. That is because the era of Jacob Zuma is now defined by unpredictability and uncertainty.

Zuma's actions in December, when he fired the respected Nhlanhla Nene from the post of finance minister and replaced him with an unknown political lightweight, introduced a new element into his already disastrous tenure. His decisions on the most important issues of governance cannot be rationalised. He is a loose cannon with zero appreciation of the consequences of his actions.

This is a ghastly thought if you have to make investment decisions in 2016: We have a president who has no idea how the economy and the markets work and who, without getting any advice whatsoever, petulantly fired a finance minister and wiped out billions of rands in investment money.

How can one predict what such a man will do next? What are his thought processes? Who are his advisers and what trend can be gleaned from their actions in the past? What policies does he follow?

Zuma will surprise us again this year because he has no boundaries. He will, because he can. South Africa will survive the disastrous Jacob Zuma era but the way back will be hard, tumultuous and long. The battle ahead is for ordinary South Africans - the poor, students, workers, the marginalised - is to ensure that he does as little damage as possible before we see him off with a huge sigh of relief in 2019.

An added bonus for the country would be if the governing party, the ANC, showed him the door before then.

There is a silver lining to this dark cloud, though.

Within days of his decision, Zuma was forced to make a humiliating about-turn and fire his new appointee. Some have suggested that he even offered Nene his old job back but was told to go jump in the lake.

With his tail between his legs, he went begging to Pravin Gordhan. There is no doubt that Gordhan accepted the post with some serious preconditions, meaning that Zuma has a far weaker grip on the economy than he thought.

Zuma's attempts to have the SA Airways Airbus deal go through, as his friend Dudu Myeni wanted, have now been rejected. The gazetting of the nuclear building programme on December 21, while the country was on holiday, will also come to naught. He has painted himself into a very tight corner. He cannot now fire Gordhan without doing immense damage to the economy. He is hobbled.

Another example that power no longer lies exclusively within the Union Buildings was displayed by the #FeesMustFall movement a few weeks before the December debacle. Zuma capitulated to its demands within a week-and-a-half.

This means that civil society can stop the growing rot of the Zuma administration. On February 9, only two days before his State of the Nation speech, opposition parties will ask the Constitutional Court to order Zuma to implement the public protector's directives and pay back the Nkandla money.

In March, the DA will bring the "spy tapes" case to the Pretoria High Court, demanding that the 2009 decision to drop corruption charges against Zuma be reversed.

In May we have the local government elections. There is no doubt that the ANC is headed for significant losses in key constituencies. The people will make their voices heard.

Where will the ANC be? Instead of fulfilling its glorious historical mission of transforming the lives of ordinary black citizens, some party members will be rushing around defending Zuma. That's okay. But power is no longer concentrated within the ANC. In 2016, power is going back to the streets, to civil society, to the people. The ANC will have to listen to these voices or face electoral losses and irrelevance.

What a glorious thing: We are becoming a normal society, a noisy multiparty and multivoice entity in which power will be held to account. What a hopeful and optimistic thought with which to enter the new year.

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