Imperfections of presidents

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

Former Citizen Editor Steven Motale. Picture: Michel Bega

United States President Barack Obama, who leaves office in less than two years’ time, will be remembered by Americans for both good and bad policy decisions.

However, Obama will be feted by an overwhelming majority of Americans for a number of reasons.

Being the first black president will loom large in the historical narrative. However, Obama will go down in history as the US president who never succumbed to his predecessors’ phobia of engaging in dialogue with even the worst of their country’s enemies.

Topping his legacy will be a massive foreign policy shift that saw the historic restoration of diplomatic relations with Cuba, long isolated by the United States. Obama will also be lauded for leading other world powers to clinch a deal to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Obviously, being human, Obama has his own imperfections. His long list of broken promises bears testimony to this.

The Guantanamo Bay prison, a human rights abomination is one glaring example. In January 2009, the newly inaugurated Obama signed an executive order to close the detention facility. Obama is serving his last months in office and Guantanamo Bay is still standing. Obama’s U-turn on closing down this facility is a monumental blunder that will reverberate way beyond his presidency.

Coincidentally, here at home we find ourselves in almost a similar situation as Americans. The fact that President Jacob Zuma is serving his last term in office will naturally prompt many South Africans to question what Zuma will be remembered for. If he is honest with himself, Zuma will be the first to admit he won’t leave behind a legacy he and his party will be proud of. In short, Zuma’s presidency has been calamitous.

It is multiple scandals and failures that will forever haunt his legacy. It is astounding how Zuma’s presidency stumbled from crisis to crisis. Nkandla, Guptagate, Marikana and Al-Bashir are just but a few. It was under Zuma’s stewardship that corruption reached endemic levels. Nothing encapsulates the failure of Zuma’s presidency so much as corruption, compromised rule of law and political interference in independent institutions that that are meant to enhance our constitutional democracy.

The paralysis that has hit virtually all state-owned entities including Eskom, South African Airways and SA Post Office is another blot on Zuma’s legacy. The multimillion upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, is another scandal that will echo way beyond Zuma’s presidency. His track record as leader of the ANC is equally not inspiring. Under his watch, ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s league are in a state of paralysis while it’s alliance partner, the Congress of SA Trade Unions (Cosatu) is for the first time in its 3-decade existence facing a split.

It was under Zuma that his own party split twice since its unbanning. First those opposed to him taking over the ANC in 2007 formed the Congress of the People (Cope). The ANC found itself under similar circumstances last year when its expelled ANCYL leader Julius Malema founded his own party, the Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF). Corruption, patronage, cronyism, impunity are some of the words that best define a legacy Zuma has sculpted.


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