South Africa’s ruling party probably won’t remove President Jacob Zuma even after allegations that upgrades of his private home were funded by the taxpayer led to him being booed in front of more than 90 world leaders at a memorial for Nelson Mandela.
Analysts from Political Futures Consultancy and the University of Johannesburg said Zuma is unlikely to be dislodged because the African National Congress draws an increasing amount of its support from his home province, KwaZulu-Natal.
Zuma, 71, has faced a barrage of criticism since the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian newspaper last month published details of a draft report by the nation’s corruption ombudsman, which found he personally benefited from a state-funded upgrade of his home that cost more than 200 million rand ($19 million). Zuma was booed by a crowd of tens of thousands at a globally televised memorial event for Mandela, the nation’s first black president who died on Dec. 5.
“To ditch Zuma now would potentially create a problem for the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal and that region had been the ANC’s main growth area,” Daniel Silke, director of Cape Town-based Political Futures Consultancy, said in a phone interview yesterday. It “could possibly result in a larger-than-average voter stayaway in KwaZulu-Natal, thereby dropping the ANC’s support.”
The booing prompted Thabo Mbeki, who was defeated by Zuma in an election for the ANC’s top post in 2007 and then ousted as the nation’s president a year later, to say Zuma should step down if the ANC asks him to do so. That view was echoed this week by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country’s biggest labor group.
Zuma became president of the ANC in 2009 just weeks after prosecutors dropped charges against him for allegedly taking bribes from arms dealers. A polygamist with four wives, Zuma was acquitted of rape charges in 2006 and has fathered a child with a friend’s daughter.
“While President Jacob Zuma occupied a key position of leadership, as head of government, he has dismally failed to provide leadership and has proven himself unfit to carry on the legacy of Nelson Mandela,” the youth wing of Agang SA, a political party that was created this year by former Gold Fields Ltd. Chairwoman Mamphela Ramphele, said in an e-mailed statement.
Zuma’s survival in the party rests on the fact that his home province, KwaZulu-Natal, has drawn the most support for the ANC in recent years, according to Silke, whose clients include Standard Bank Group Ltd. (SBK) and MTN Group Ltd. (MTN), Africa’s biggest bank and mobile phone company respectively.
KwaZulu-Natal, home to South Africa’s Zulu ethnic group, accounts for 27 percent of ANC members. The number of voters in the province who voted for the ruling party in 2009 almost doubled to 68 percent compared with 1994.
The 101-year-old ANC has won every election since the first multiracial one in 1994 with more than 60 percent support. In 2009, it received 65.9 percent of the votes compared with 16.7 percent for its nearest rival, the Democratic Alliance.
The ANC, which re-elected Zuma for a second term as party leader in December last year, has denied he was involved in any wrongdoing related to the renovations at his home in rural Nkandla in KwaZulu-Natal. Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, who has been investigating the alleged misuse of public funds, is due to publish her findings next year.
“When people call for resignation even before the conclusion of an investigation and release of all reports, it’s prejudicial,” the ANC’s Secretary General Gwede Mantashe told reporters in Johannesburg today. “After the Public Protector’s report is released, we must look into the matter and take informed decisions.”
The Johannesburg-based Sunday Times reported on Dec. 15 that 51 percent of registered ANC voters in a survey it commissioned think Zuma should resign because of the scandal surrounding Nkandla. Thirty-four percent of those polled said they were less likely to vote for the ANC next year, according to the newspaper, which didn’t give details of the sample size or margin of error.
Allegations that Zuma had used state resources to build or upgrade his personal dwellings are unfounded and the president didn’t ask for the security installations, Public Works Minister Thulas Nxesi said today, citing the findings of a government task team that investigated the matter. His department has requested that the country’s Special Investigating Unit conduct a further probe.
The government’s report revealed that 71 million rand of the spending at Nkandla went on security installations and the remainder on department’s “operational needs,” basic facilities and services, Nxesi said. The security upgrades were needed at Zuma’s rural homestead because of the history of violence in the province, he said.
Opposition toward Zuma is also coming from the metalworkers union, known as Numsa. Andrew Chirwa, who was elected president of the labor group on Dec. 17, said members meeting at a special congress in Johannesburg this week should debate whether to call on Zuma to resign. Numsa will also take a decision at its conference on whether to support the ANC in the election.
Zwelinzima Vavi, the suspended general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, told the Numsa meeting yesterday that rampant corruption within the ANC is undermining the government’s delivery of services to the poor, the Johannesburg-based Star reported.
The amount of taxpayer funds used to pay for upgrades at Zuma’s home was “grotesque” while many South Africans still live in poverty, the newspaper quoted Vavi as saying.
“There are strong voices who want to get rid of him, who want him to resign, to be worked out of the party, but at this stage these voices are not stronger than the support base he has” in the ANC’s national executive committee, the party’s top decision-making body, said Piet Croucamp, a lecturer in political science at the University of Johannesburg.
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