Desmond Tutu warned us. Mosioua Lekota warned us. Many other canaries in the coal mine warned us. Thabo Mbeki tried to save us by firing him as Deputy President. Eight years ago I even wrote a very public letter to President Zuma. It ended with this line:
“Don’t think you’ll be in power forever. People aren’t as stupid as you think we are. We know you sit around laughing about how much you get away with. The people put you in power – they will take you out of it. Africa is tired of tin-pot dictators, one-party states and banana republics. We know who we are now, we care about our future – and so should you.”
Last night, people were blowing vuvuzelas and dancing in the streets while a man who had lost his grip on reality, cloistered in the security and luxury of high office, was forced to surrender. He didn’t have an option, and there was nothing dignified about his resignation. In fact, he didn’t even bother to pitch up for it on time. He tried to play the victim, as he had done so many times before, he tried to blame “white monopoly capital” (the thing disgraced Bell-Pottinger had made up to distract us from the crony capitalism that was robbing the country blind), and he kept saying he didn’t know what he had done wrong – that he hadn’t been given reasons by the ANC NEC for their recall – just like poor Nhlanhla Nene and Pravin Gordhan were never given reasons for their sacking by him. At the end of the press conference there wasn’t a round of applause, no tear was shed and there wasn’t the usual muted muttering of assembled journalists. There was stony silence. He said: “Thank you… Ngiyabonga… Dankie…”. More awkward silence. Then, as if to fill the void he said: “Well, I’ll see you… Somewhere…”. Ignominious. The perfect way for this unctuous man to slip away.
History will judge President Zuma harshly, not like Jesse Duarte, whose post-resignation attempt to string together five minutes of praise for Zuma’s accomplishments stood in stark contrast to the nine years of embarrassment, corruption, National reputational damage, race-baiting, lack of service delivery and disdainful boorishness that preceded it. He was the President of Marikana, Life Esidimeni, Bell-Pottinger, State Capture, Nkandla and “Eight Hundred and… seven Hundred, listen properly… seven hundred and sixty nine thousand eight hundred and twenty hundred… and seventy…” other things that will make his another ugly, disappointing chapter in South African history.
All our work is ahead of us.
We must begin to repair relations – between parties, races and genders, between truth and hypocrisy.
We must get to work. We have no excuses and we’re no longer on tenterhooks with an unstable simpleton making capricious decisions from the Union Buildings.
We must stop behaving like a nation raised by an abusive father-figure – turning on each other and perpetuating the cycle of pain.
We must reaffirm our self-worth and stop lying and blaming everyone else – and take responsibility for ourselves. Much of what we hated in Jacob Zuma is a reflection of ourselves, and that uncomfortable reality must be faced, and corrected.
We must start to appreciate merit and excellence again – hopefully this resignation will bring with it the end of low-functioning individuals like Faith Muthambi, Bathabile Dlamini and Des van Rooyen – people who should never have been given any important things to do.
The people – from ANC stalwarts, to ‘Zuma Must Go’ grannies, to opposition parties, to brave journalists, to the courts, to the families of Marikana miners, to Former Presidents, to you and me – have asserted ourselves against what seemed to be an unassailable foe. Zuma’s resignation doesn’t just represent the ANC changing outfits, it shows how ordinary people can slowly, steadily, patiently and with determination halt autocracy and corruption. No single person has all the answers, but together we can find the best compromises.
And we can’t rest. Cyril and his comrades haven’t done anything yet, and Julius Malema and Mmusi Maimane have lost their best reason to steer votes from the ANC. Politicians seldom solve the problems they promise to. The burden will always be ours – because that’s what free people have to do to remain free.
A luta continua!