South Africa: Embattled Zuma Resigns and Perhaps Writes his Political Obituary

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After enormous pressure from many disgruntled South Africans and his ANC party alike, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa bowed to pressure and resigned on Thursday. In a televised statement, the embattled and scandal-ridden President said he was quitting with immediate effect as the President, even though he totally disagreed with his party’s decision to sack him as their leader.

The ruling party, The African National Congress (ANC) had taken an unprecedented move and told him to step down or face a vote of no confidence in the parliament. Although the 75-year-old Zuma initially rejected the call, even after personal negotiations with the newly elected ANC’s leader, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma succumbed to the demand only when it was obvious that the ANC meant business. It did not help that President Zuma’s support in the government was clearly dwindling. Worse still, President Zuma’s control of the government machine was clearly dwindling. The recent police raid on the Gupta family’s house on Wednesday on the charges of corruption could not have sent a more serious signal to President Zuma. Nor did the fact that the raid was authorized and executed by once Zuma’s allies, who seem to have now read the obvious handwriting on the wall, made the political calculations, knowing that Zuma’s days were gone.The Cyril Ramaphosa’s faction is now calling the shot.

The wealthy, Indian-born Gupta family is very close to President Zuma. Both Zuma’s son and wife work for the incredibly influential Gupta family, with strong government ties. Under the leadership of President Zuma, the multi-millionaire Gupta family, who came to South Africa in the 90s, dealing with the computer, suddenly became one of the richest families in South Africa. With influential hands in and control over most sections of the South African economy, the Guptas wield enormous political influence in President Zuma’s administration. That influence, however, may be coming to an end.

Like Mr. Zuma, the Guptas have been accused of corruption. The family is believed to have made billions of dollars illegally through their closeness to Mr. Zuma. Both President Zuma and the Guptas vehemently denied all the corruption charges against them. Zuma alone has 783 counts of corruption charges hanging on his neck. The charges are related to a $2.5 billion state arms deal in the late 1990s. Other charges of corruption, mismanagement, and abuse of power against Mr. Zuma are still pending. The move to tackle the Guptas has been widely praised in different quarters, especially amongst investors who see the South African economy going down the abysmal path due to rampant corruption, which has scared away many investors. Many analysts believe the Guptas saga is the beginning of Mr. Ramaphosa’s crackdown on corruption.

With Mr. Cyril Ramaphosa, the man who had vowed to wipe out corruption in South Africa, taking over as the leader of the ANC, and indeed, the most likely President of South Africa after the 2019 elections, are President Zuma’s days numbered? Are the Guptas going to be squeezed and caged – or even deported to India? Others have argued that Zuma’s stubbornness could have led to his doom. Many in South Africa had expected him to take the Mugabe path, go into political oblivion and enjoy – at least some degree of protection from prosecution from the incoming government of Ramaphosa. However, with Zuma’s loggerhead and refusal to heed to the advice of the ANC and the pleading of Mr. Ramaphosa to quit the political stage, till it became clear that he would be impeached, has Zuma effectively written his political obituary, as some have argued?