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Gosebo Mathope
3 minute read
17 Feb 2018
4:23 pm

Five reasons why Zuma was a litmust test of our democracy

Gosebo Mathope

Before Zuma's refusal to pay back the money and his combustible reaction to EFF, Parliament was a dreadful cumbersome affair. The fireworks ignited interest.

scuffle between Economic Freedom Fighters MPs and Parliamentary Protection Services during President Jacob Zuma's 'Question and Answer' session in Parliament on May 17, 2016 in Cape Town, South Africa. Speaker of the National Assembly; Baleka Mbete defended her decision to call in security to deal with the EFF in line with rules that were adopted by most political parties in Parliament last year. (File photo by Gallo Images / Beeld / Lerato Maduna)

Mr Jacob Zuma currently holds an ordinary membership of Nkandla ANC branch. He may attend NEC meetings as ex-officio member. He also told delegates during national conference he will be joining the party’s veterans.

The man who had a polarising effect on the nation dating back to the Scorpions raiding his Forest Town, Johannesburg, home; mentioning in Court during his rape trial that immediately after sex he took a shower; sacked as the deputy president of the country; elected as our president in 2009 and those infamous midnight statements announcing “changes to the executive,” has ironically been good for democratic maturation in South Africa.

He may be the only head of state to be fired first as deputy president and also when he occupied the country’s top elected position, but here is how his presence in our political landscape has helped us earn our stripes as a democracy.

Opposition Parties

Tony Leon was no friends with Thabo Mbeki, but the two of them certainly had unwritten gentlemen’s agreement that seemed to have outlawed robust confrontation. The two of them might as well have been enjoying afternoon tea at the Queen’s Golf Club. With the arrival of Zuma in Parliament, the DA was nonetheless wiser and released a dynamite package in the form of Lindiwe Mazibuko. She stirred that Nkandla corruption pot.

2014 national elections were a turning point in so many ways, not only did the red berets MPs crash-land in Parliament singing struggle songs in overalls and effectively upsetting the apple cart, but smaller parties also started using their time in Parliament to speak truth to power. Less than a year into that administration there had already been a realignment of opposition parties united against corruption and pushing for accountability.

Robust Media

Zuma has on a few occasions said he had no motive to take the media to court, preferring instead to deploy delay tactics and in the process making certain two lawyers extremely rich at your expense. Of course that is balderdash, he feared having to legitimise what has been written about him. Let’s face it, Nkandla and #GuptaLeaks have shown just what local investigative journalists can do when they want to uncover corruption.

Independent Judiciary

Interestingly, it was Zuma’s own legal fishing expeditions that landed him at the High Courts, the Supreme Court of Appeals and the Constitutional Court. There were times that some legal pundits suspected that the ConCourt itself will slap Zuma and his legal team with a censure for vexatious litigation. The judges and justices were not  swayed by public opinion and stuck to their guns, including that Chief Justice tantrum on Parliament ruling.

Proactive Civil Society

So vicious was the fight between non-governmental organisations (NGOs), not-for-profit (NPO) formations and lobby groups that at some point Zuma said they shouldn’t receive government funding because they have an “agenda”. Challenge, push and influence decision-making they did. This was through petitions, marches, parliamentary submissions, media profiling and whatever it takes. The sector does owe Zuma kudos for its growth.

Parliamentary TV Channel

Some of us watched it, prior to Zuma’s arrival as head of state, begrudgingly because we had to circa 2014. It was dreadful, cumbersome Westminster debates where most journalists missed the punchlines as they were few and far in betwixt. When EFF arrived in Parliament and demanded “pay back the money”, an ANC MP rose on a point of order. Malema explained in simple terms: “These points of order are eating our time and helping Zuma hide.”

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