Be afraid, be very very afraid, Jacob Zuma is untouchable

18 February 2015 - 13:38 By CAROL PATON, Financial Mail

Jacobs Zuma’s Presidency has taken on a particular flavour.

Exposés of capricious political interference in important arms of the state such as the prosecuting authority, the police and the intelligence services have become commonplace: there is little shock factor left in the abuses of power and process committed by his friends in his name; and there is no parallel with any other SA president in the extent to which he has personally benefited from holding office.

Less often publicly aired is his devastating impact on the ANC. Under Zuma’s leadership the ANC president has become untouchable, insulated by a national executive committee (NEC) of men and women held in place by networks of patronage nobody dares undo. The senior leadership collective — a key feature of ANC organisational practice since the 1950s — has been relegated to the sidelines. Despite a succession of damaging scandals, Zuma therefore can’t be called to account.

The ANC shields him from public and parliamentary accountability in the belief that it is protecting the organisation it perceives to be under attack from a hostile media and an official opposition against its transformative programme. The ANC declined to be interviewed for this report.

But the bigger and more profound problem is that the ANC leadership collective has lost control of its president.

Over six years in power, Zuma has placed an array of acolytes in key positions, ranging from the cabinet and state-owned enterprises to the police and the national broadcaster, the SABC. Key individuals with a close relationship to Zuma are deployed as ministerial advisers in government departments. Their distinguishing feature is that they owe their loyalty to Zuma alone and use it to override government decisions and bypass the ANC.

Among outside observers — political analysts, investors who watch from afar, the business community and a growing number of citizens — the question on the lips of many is how long can the Zuma disaster go on?

It is these two mutually reinforcing trends — Zuma’s destructive hold on government and an immobilised ANC collective — and how the two unfold which holds the answer to how much longer he can survive.

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