Commentators have been scurrying to “draw lessons” from developments in Zimbabwe. The most obvious moral is that it’s helluva tough to be a president at the pointy end of Africa.
Over years, public antipathy builds. You become the lightning rod for all discontent. Your family members and closest friends become targets of speculation, innuendo and vilification.
No, I’m not thinking of the woes President Robert Gabriel Mugabe endured. I am thinking of President Jacob Zuma. Like Mugabe, Zuma must be the most despised politician in his own country. Everything he does is viewed with suspicion, dismissed with contempt.
And that’s just by his ANC colleagues. The antipathy of the public is such that were he and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to plunge into a raging river to rescue drowning orphans, the reaction would still be negative.
Why are there orphans? Did the Guptas push the kids in? In reality, however, Zuma handled the coup-that-wasn’t-a coup well. Acting both as the president of the neighbour most affected and chair of the Southern African Development Community, he was calm and considered.
He understood immediately that it was important that the military intervention should not be labelled a coup, since that would as a matter of policy prevent the African Union (AU) from recognising a transformed Zimbabwe.
How different from AU head, Alpha Conde, who fulminated against an action that was “clearly soldiers trying to take power by force”. The AU, he warned, would “never accept a coup d’état in Zimbabwe”.
But then again, Zuma has never been as well-disposed to Mugabe or enthusiatic about Mbeki’s policy of “quiet diplomacy”. Not that any of this will help Zuma. It is irresistible, especially for the ANC leadership trying to distance themselves from their own failures, to shrug all blame onto the Zuma caravan as it heads towards political oblivion.
More convincing are the analogies between Mugabe’s exit being triggered by a bid to install his widely-loathed wife as his successor, with Zuma’s similar moves with former spouse Nkosazana. It’s difficult to see how NDZ could, after the Zimbabwe implosion, still beat Cyril Ramaphosa in any honest vote.
The most apt comparisons, however, are between Zanu-PF and the ANC. Zanu-PF colluded in the deification of Mugabe and the destruction of democracy. The ANC has become increasingly anti-democratic and initially facilitated state capture.
Fortunately, unlike Zimbabwe, we do not need a coup to bring an end to all of this. ANC members just have to vote against NDZ and for the immediate recall of Zuma. If they won’t, voters can register their displeasure in 2019.
It is not only the ANC alliance that will go into those elections cloaked in the stench of historical support for Mugabe. The EFF smells even more rank. Land seizure, nationalisation, virulent racism, the intimidation of the judiciary and a socialist ideology.
These are all practices of Zanu-PF the EFF has cheered and that the “new” Zanu-PF will now be trying to back away from. There is no certainty the events of the past 10 days will bring democracy to Zimbabwe. But it is conceivable they will awake South Africans from their own sleepwalk along the path that destroyed Zimbabwe.