A very strange thing happened in parliament last week. The president appeared before the National Assembly for his final question-and-answer session of the year and there was order in parliament.
We have become so accustomed to the president’s appearance being accompanied by chaotic scenes in the House with much shouting and insults. Yet this time around, he stood at the podium, answered all questions and, for a short while, even looked and sounded presidential. A welcome respite to the usual.
This is not to say that the content of his answers reassured us of anything. No, far from it.
For anyone who has been following parliamentary sittings of late, there must have been a jarring juxtaposition between the president’s demeanour and the incessant scandals that come tumbling out of his closet week after week.
The calmness with which he appeared before parliament belied the frantic efforts of the opposition to get him to step down. Hardly a week passes without an attempt to get the president to quit his office.
Initially, it all had to do with opposition parties in parliament tabling endless motions of no confidence, but now every sphere of society, even some in Zuma’s Cabinet and the ANC’s national executive committee (NEC), seem to be calling for the same thing.
“Too much damage has been done; please step down so we can salvage what little is still there to save,” appears to be the refrain.
More importantly though, it’s the discord one feels between hearing the man in charge of the country’s executive calmly answer questions about scandals that have dogged his reign and the automatic rejection that every logical mind feels even when the president is at his most sincere.
That automatic rejection of his sincere gestures is a result of the trust that has been broken between those he leads and himself. The erosion of this trust has come as a result of the highest court in the land declaring for all to hear that the president broke his oath of office in the wake of his rejection of the public protector’s report on the Nkandla matter.
That Zuma went on to single-handedly wipe off billions from the country’s economy through playing musical chairs with the country’s finance ministerial appointments just ensured that the trust went completely, to a point where the trust deficit is so huge it can’t be regained.
The groundswell of support for him to step down might have started off as political opposition parties, but calls by civic society groups and trade union groups have changed the nature of the call. In addition to the shock weekend calls from more ANC top dogs asking him to go, we have, for some time, even seen elements of his traditional support base, such as the SA Communist Party, calling for him to step down.
When the trust is so far gone that people within the inner circle of the ruling party’s NEC call for their own leader to resign, that can only point towards the irreversible damage the continued stay of the president in office will cause.
When Zuma next takes to the podium in parliament, when he will be expected to somehow reassure the country that the state of the nation is moving in the desired positive direction, his words will ring more hollow than ever.
The trust is long gone and cannot be regained.