A fall from grace: 2007-2008

Zuma’s rise to top post

JOINED AT THE HIP: Then ANC deputy president Jacob Zuma, SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi dance to Zuma’s trademark song uMshini Wami in 2006 ALTHOUGH he was fired as deputy president in 2005, many believed Jacob Zuma would make a better and more accessible head of state.

In June 2005 Zuma, who had been deputy president since 1999, was fired due to corruption and fraud-related charges linked to the multibillion-rand arms deal.

Despite the allegations, he became more popular and had the backing of the majority in the SACP, Cosatu and ANC Youth League.

In December 2005, he was dealt another blow when he was charged with raping a 31-year-old, who was an Aids activist and known to be HIV-positive, at his home in Forest Town, Gauteng.

Zuma denied the charges, arguing that the sex had been consensual, and he was eventually acquitted.

He was the head of the National Aids Council at the time and drew heavy criticism when he admitted he had had unprotected sex with the woman despite knowing her HIV status.

His statement that he had taken a shower afterwards to “cut the risk of contracting HIV” outraged Aids activists and made him the laughing stock of the world.

With his massive support base, Zuma was the clear favourite to be the next president of the country.

At the historic Polokwane conference in 2007, his 2329 votes over Mbeki’s 1505 firmly entrenched him in power, significantly shifting the power in the ANC.

Rebel with thorny cause

Julius MalemaLOVE him or hate him, Julius Malema has no doubt redefined the face of the ANC.

Malema burst onto the national political scene in 2008 when he took the helm of the ANC’s influential youth wing.

The controversial conference in Bloemfontein at which Malema made his national debut – after a career in student politics – was no doubt a sign of things to come.

Clashes about the conference’s electoral process – where members pulled down their pants, showing buttocks and throwing water bottles and chairs at each other – ushered in a new era for the ANC that would, at best, spur on a progressive political debate across the country.

At worst, Malema’s era represents deep-seated racial and economic divisions that were overlooked when the call was taken up to build Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s rainbow nation.

Post-democracy wealthy – mostly white – South Africans were happy to let the poor and working class think they drove the political agenda.

But it was not until the young lad from Limpopo started making noises about grabbing mines, banks and land – the lion’s share of South Africa’s wealth – that the elephant in the room again took centre stage.

South Africa is a vastly unequal society and tied to the democratic freedom that it enjoys lies deeper economic oppression.

Day Mbeki was fired

“THE decision to recall him was not taken lightly, but it had to be taken in the interests of making the country move forward,” read a statement from ANC president Jacob Zuma on September 22 2008.

It was written after the party recalled Thabo Mbeki as head of government.

Zuma explained the country needed a strong and united ruling party capable of galvanising support for the government’s development agenda – something that Mbeki, they believed, had failed to do.

“As the ruling party we need to sustain the confidence of our people in the ANC and its government. Once this level of confidence is weakened, the ANC has no alternative but to take action,” Zuma stressed.

Despite assurances in the statement that Mbeki was an “impressive” president, the new leadership was determined to get him out.

Although the showdown between Zuma and Mbeki had been coming for years, firing the president raised concerns of political and economic instability.

Most notable was the confusion about the resignation of then Finance Minister Trevor Manuel which sent jitters through the financial markets – the rand extended its losses to more than 2.5%.

Mbeki’s recall was the final push to split the ANC, with his supporters and members of his ousted leadership leaving to form COPE.

But Mbeki has never endorsed COPE publicly.

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