JOTTINGS FROM JOHANNESBURG
Is Zuma fit to succeed?
As the much-publicised trial
of South African businessman
Shabir Shaik for alleged
corruption and bribery
draws to a close, many are awaiting
the outcome not so much to see whether
Shaik is found guilty but whether, by
proxy, his close associate Deputy President
Jacob Zuma is considered guilty.
Even if corruption is ultimately not
proven, the trial has brought to light a
tangle of conflicts of interest and lapses
Yet – perhaps in an attempt to shift
the focus of the public – some voices
are suggesting that the trial is not
fundamentally about corruption but
about succession within the ruling
African National Congress (ANC)
and specifically for the Presidency.
The suggestion is that the corruption
charges were engineered to weaken
Zuma’s chances of succeeding current
President Thabo Mbeki, whose second
and final term of office ends in 2009.
And there is growing concern, at least
in certain sections of the
the Deputy President’s suitability for the job, given the current cloud over his
However, the potential rivals for
Deputy President Jacob Zuma are not
yet entirely clear. Some sources within
the ANC go further, suggesting that
Zuma’s succession is already seen as a
done deal, not needing to be discussed
any further. This apparent attempt
to shut down debate and secure the
position for Zuma has not prevented
the ANC Youth League from taking the
interesting step of nominating several
candidates, including former apartheidera
Foreign Affairs Minister, Pik Botha.
Perhaps we should be grateful that
succession is so openly debated in
this country – and that there are few
indications that President Mbeki will
not follow the lead of his predecessor,
Nelson Mandela, in stepping down when
his time is up. The question may not be
so much whether Zuma is the man for
the job, as whether such a question can
be asked at
Presidential succession is not up for
discussion in many African countries
– indeed, some have tried to avoid it
altogether by changing their constitutions
to run for extra terms (leading to the socalled
third term debate), while others
simply appoint their own successors,
who are often family members (as
appears to be happening in North Africa
and a few other countries). As a result,
while elections are rhetorically referred
to as expressing the will of the people,
often they do little more than rubberstamp
the will of the elite.
Indeed, governments in many
African countries are trying to control
the succession process through extralegal
and extra-constitutional means.
There seem to be no meaningful term
limits on President Robert Mugabe
in Zimbabwe, and questions are still
being asked about Nigeria’s President
Olusegun Obasanjo’s plans.
And Uganda’s President Yoweri
Museveni – who has now ruled for nearly
20 years – seems to be
own injunction: “The problem of Africa
in general and Uganda in particular is
not the people, but leaders who want
to overstay in power” (his inauguration
ceremony, 29 January 1986).
Succession is an important issue
because it is intricately linked to the
stability of a country. The current
instability in several West African
countries, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire among
them, can be attributed in part to the
leadership vaccuum experienced after
the death of a long-time leader, who
had made no provision for succession.
But are the people allowing the rulers
to get away with this? At times, it
seems not. In Zambia, a bid to change
the constitution to allow Frederick
Chiluba to run for a third term was
defeated after stringent opposition.
A similar attempt was made in Malawi on
behalf of President Bakili Muluzi, but
this was also unsuccessful. In Uganda
and Nigeria, there is growing opposition
to perceptions that their presidents
looking at the possibility of “selfsuccession”.
Clinton Chukwu, arguing for restraint
on the part of President Obasanjo,
notes that, “It is not the number of
years that we serve that matter, but
how well we serve” (Vanguard, 28 April
2005). Africa’s leaders would do well to
keep this in mind when considering the
delicate matter of passing on power.
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