After nearly nine years in power, the on-again, off-again once popular president of the Republic of South Africa finally bid adieu to the presidency of a nation on its knees – politically, economically and socially.
Unlike many of the webs he found himself in during his presidency, the music finally stopped mid-move for Jacob Zuma. Whatever jingle he tried after the band stopped playing never worked, and instead of the applaud he got at the infancy of his term, his wit, charm and moves drew yawns and sneers from a public and establishment bent on ejecting him from Pretoria.
When the rain started beating Zuma, a man once thought of as an untouchable colossus that roamed free in the ranges of the African National Congress (ANC) party, it came in hailstones tearing at his multi-coloured cloak of liberation hero, courtyard jokestar, people’s president, lover of life, women and all the good things in between.
Last Wednesday, the storm passed, but he was left standing alone, wet from frustration and tired from always being on the defensive trying to shove away body shots from opponents real and imaginary. In the end though, he could only hold on for so long. It didn’t matter that it was Valentine’s Day, the love that had propelled him to where he was fizzled out.
“Whilst this may mark an end of his term of office as President of the Republic, we hope and believe Comrade Jacob Zuma will continue to work with the ANC as we undertake our programme of fundamental organizational renewal and uniting all South Africans behind a shared vision of transformation and economic recovery,” the party said of him.
How then did Comrade Zuma move from 100 to zero in the eyes of a party that is gracious enough to still talk fondly of their now complicated amorous relationship with the singing president?
The devil they say, is in the detail. And the details this time were in the form of mega corruption scams, a series of rape allegations, state capture in conjunction with private businessmen and the little matter of a very ambitious deputy with elbows large enough to nudge him off the chief’s stool.
All these came together in a perfect storm. Zuma stood no chance. Deep down though, perhaps he believed he could mount one last counter attack. It mattered little that he was staring at a ninth vote of no confidence by his parliament. In fact, battle seems to be the only thing that Zuma, whose middle name Gedleyihlekisa means the one who smiles while grinding his enemies, knew.
Zuma’s bid for the presidency was scoffed at before he got off the mark. At the time he announced his candidature he was bogged down by court battles on rape allegations and graft.
He was acquitted of raping an HIV-positive family friend in 2006 – although the fact he told the court he had showered in order to avoid catching HIV would continue to haunt him throughout his presidency.
The corruption charges were soon dropped by investigating agency, effectively setting the stage for the Zuma presidency that has been described by The Economist as a ‘disastrous legacy.’
A remarkably flawed man, it is easy to overlook some of the good he did for his country.
Zuma’s passion for rural development saw his administration establish a dedicated ministry on rural development to further advance ANCs programme of land and agrarian reform.
South Africa’s mass roll-out of an anti-retroviral programme, which remains the largest and most comprehensive in the world, as well as initial steps to roll out the National Health Insurance (NHI) to create an equitable health system was undertaken during his tenure. These efforts have contributed significantly to an increase in the life expectancy of South Africans.