When former president Thabo Mbeki was recalled in 2008, one of the main reasons cited by the then national executive committee of the ANC was that the election of Jacob Zuma as party president created two centres of power, with one centre at Luthuli House and the other at the Union Buildings.
Although we now know Mbeki was being made to pay for what was referred to as aloofness, there were genuine merits to the argument the two centres of power created a very real and present problem.
The problem is now more pronounced than ever before because even before the election of deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as ANC president, the country’s president was under fire from those who wanted him to vacate the highest office in our land.
The fact that he has lost his grip on the reins of his own party means the problems he faces outside the party are more pronounced.
For the first time in over a decade, he cannot be party to the decisions regarding his own deployment to the Union Buildings. And that’s what makes for serious dissonance in the country’s top leadership.
On December 16, the president announced that free higher education for students from poor households would now be the norm.
But as is typical of his presidency, Zuma provided no details at all about where the money would come from, how implementation of the multbillion-rand scheme would work, or even just the timelines for the implementation of free higher education, which has defined the discourse of this country’s protest politics over the past three years or so.
With full knowledge that any long-term announcements that affect the country’s fiscus will be the responsibility of his successor, Zuma proved through that hasty announcement that his continued presence in the Union Buildings is detrimental not only to the ruling party, but to the country as well.
It makes no sense to make this announcement without consulting the party’s new leadership.
This clearly shows it is not beyond the realm of possibility that the centre of power in Union Buildings could go ahead with a clandestine plan to leave the country’s finances ruined by unilaterally declaring the procurement of nuclear power, even though all sensible experts are warning against it.
Zuma has shown beyond doubt he can be reckless with the country’s finances. A president who no longer has to account to anyone but himself can only be more dangerous.
In other words, the president has given the ruling party even more reasons why he should not complete his term.
The remaining 18 months of Zuma’s presidency could prove to be a horrible hindrance to whoever takes over from him.
They might have to spend their whole term repairing the damage done by a president who could not be bothered about the consequences of his decisions.
If he cared, he would know that free education cannot be treated so trivially. He would know that the poor people he and his party claim to represent see it as a lifeline.
If he cared at all, he would have had the minister of higher education and the minister of finance with him as he made the announcement.
And because he doesn’t care, he must not be allowed to complete his term.