William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

Social media dump Zuma in a political pickle

It is a legal maxim never to ask in court a question to which you don’t already know the answer. There’s a political equivalent, which is never to ask voters for advice that you don’t intend taking.

In advance of next week’s State of the Nation address (Sona), the Presidency invited South Africans to use social media to suggest what President Jacob Zuma should say. The consensus on Twitter and Facebook has been that he should use the opportunity to quit. The corollary is that he should pay back the R246 million public funds spent on upgrades to his private home at Nkandla.

Not quite what the Presidency had in mind. Nevertheless, evidence either of the ability of savvy opposition parties to hijack social media platforms or of a simmering gatvol feeling among the citizenry. Perhaps government should take some of the annual R10 million advertising it places in the low-to-no circulation New Age, established by Zuma’s Gupta clan benefactors, and apply it to using social media more cleverly.

Jacob Zuma (M&G)

Jacob Zuma (M&G)

The buzz around this year’s Sona — Eskom has pledged that bar a national disaster, there will be no load shedding during it — is unusual. Sona, like the annual Queen’s Speech in Britain or the US version whence we have appropriated the acronym, is mostly routine: we’ve done brilliant stuff and we are going to be doing more of it in the year ahead.

In other words, it’s political sludge that, despite the presidential vanities involved, tends to deaden rather than enliven the political pulse. So what’s different this time?

Maybe the sense that South Africa is in a national crisis. Albeit a crisis that the African National Congress is in denial over, the national mood as reflected in polls, social media, and daily discourse, is sombre.

Pressured by growing youth unemployment and social expenditure, a sagging currency and lower world demand for commodities, the Treasury is teetering at the edge of a fiscal cliff. This is made even bleaker by the slow-motion administrative implosion of the one government department that everyone agrees was highly efficient, the SA Revenue Service.

With few exceptions, the 22 major state-owned entities are bleeding money with no end in sight, and like most of the 150 smaller ones, are dysfunctional havens of cadre deployment and tenderpreneurial corruption.

While this is a legitimate, democratically elected government with substantial popular support, unrest is now endemic in a way that is reminiscent of the apartheid years. Service protests that involve shutting roads, stoning vehicles and burning buildings are a daily occurrence. Xenophobia has in recent weeks again flared up in the kind of looting of township shops owned by immigrants from elsewhere in Africa, which in 2008 cost 62 lives.

Meanwhile, the SA Police Service (SAPS) is itself is riddled with corruption and institutionalised aggression. A FutureFact survey last week came up with the startling statistics that in a country where 70% of the respondents are in constant fear of crime, 44% say it would be pointless to report a crime to SAPS, while a third are physically afraid to enter a police station to do so.

Such a smorgasbord of problems would be challenging enough for a disciplined, dedicated and highly efficient administration. For one that is high on “good news” rhetoric but low on implementation, the task becomes insurmountable.

Politicians and political parties both have an evolutionary instinct for survival. Usually this is a symbiotic relationship: party and leader act in concert to maximise their chances of taking and holding power.

On occasion, however, the leader’s hold on power comes at the cost of the broader prospects of the party. Then either the party is bludgeoned into submission by the leader and pays for its subservience down the line with electoral reverses, or else the party ditches its leader.

This happened to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher when in 1990 she was deposed as Conservative Party leader, after it became apparent to her colleagues that the cost of her increasing megalomania was imminent electoral defeat. It also happened to former SA president PW Botha, when an until then supine cabinet took the opportunity of him having a minor stroke, to engineer a palace coup to avert a looming national political disaster.

Sona 2015 is possibly Zuma’s last chance — what with local government elections next year — to unite the country, to address corruption and incompetence, and to make economic growth an unambiguous priority. Should he fail to do so and the ANC experiences serious electoral reverses in 2016, it is not the chirping twitterati that Zuma needs to fear, but the knives that will be sharpening in his own kitchen.

On the other hand, he could just oblige the chattering classes, take their advice, and announce his resignation during Sona. Hope springs eternal.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye

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  • KwaZulu-Natal Lamb Curry
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  • The weakness of the ANC
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    • Cliff Smith

      Without a doubt “simmering gatvol feeling among the citizenry” I see this over and over again amongst all my friends regardless of political persuasion, race and economic standing. Everyone has had enough of this man.

    • Philip Machanick

      What makes you think Zuma is an aberration? He is representative of the ANC’s culture, not a space alien who took over the party. Nkandla is not an exception. It is how the government does business.

    • Michel Weij

      I imagine the SONA being unheard, due to the noise of generators Eskom have to have in place to ensure electricity supply…

    • Eddie Lennox

      “….dysfunctional havens of cadre deployment and tenderpreneurial corruption …” is extended further by the prevailing political-business power network into Gov. Ministries where the order of the day is to siphon off State funds for the benefit of the chosen few at the expense of the majority of our population. R700 billion in misappropriated/misallocated funds spent in the right direction would have changed the lives of millions of our population. Unfortunately, the resignation of one man will not break the network of self enrichment at the expense of others that extends to the smallest of municipalities.

    • Athol Williams

      Great article

    • Larry Lachman

      The ANC and Zuma must be kicking themselves for changing the time slot to prime-time for TV viewers for the last pre-elections SONA, so as to capitalise on the electioneering value this offered. Now they must do the same or lose political face big-time. However, now the viewership will be that of the soccer world cup for the citizens of this country – EFF’s Malema versus the ANC’s Zuma. Blood sport at its best. Whatever the outcome, it does not bode well for Zuma. The opposition has everything to gain and nothing to lose in trashing the president, and the ANC is powerless to stop it.

    • mncedisi

      Phillip Machanick which South Africa are you from? How long have you been in this country? Former Presidents Mandela and Mbeki did not have Nkandlas. They did all security upgrades within the boundaries of the law. They were ANC leaders.

      To say that the ANC’s culture has never been self enrichment. Nowhere in the ANC’s doctrines does it say members should strive to benefit themselves at the expense of the masses. There is a difference between the ANC’s culture and what corrupt members use the ANC for.

    • http://the-imagine-nation.co.za/ Heinrich

      Show us a poor ANC cadre.

    • Ironclad

      The anc continually misjudges public sentiment towards zuma, or are they just ignorant?

    • Bernd Jendrissek

      Always pay more attention to what people do than to what they say.

      Where is this “ANC culture” that isn’t corrupt? Please, point out some examples of people in that organization that both have some clout in it and aren’t corrupt.

    • New South Africa is disfunctio

      Just read the article on biznews regarding swissleaks and the number of hidden accounts held by South Africans in HSBC. Here’s a little ” tidbit”.

      “South Africa pops up in the SwissLeaks saga, which sees documents from Swiss bank HSBC now out in the open at this website, most notably about Fana Hlongwane, a key person in SA’s controversial arms deal. (The SwissLeaks website says that Hlongwane did not respond to repeated requests for comment.) There are 1 787 clients in the leaked files involving people associated with SA. See the infographics below, which are both screengrabs from SwissLeaks’ website, while this AFP story about whistleblower Herve Falciani is quite a read. – GM”

    • Charlotte

      To express the public’s disappointment, dismay, distress and disgust at what the ANC have allowed themselves to get away with, there should be a resounding ‘Zuma-Boo’ in parliament tomorrow.
      And cheers to all opposition parties who have refused to attend the after-party and drink to the present failing state of the nation.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      Zuma avoids Parliament and Gauteng like the plague. Due to that, I’d say that public opinion is the reason.
      It is unfortunate that the ANC saw fit to give us Zuma as a presidential candidate. The fact that they did that TWICE is beyond belief. Our country progress went from a run to a stroll to a backward shuffle.
      Someone has to tell our President that Animal Farm really IS a good story, we just don’t want to live in it

    • Alan Watkins

      Quite! He absolutely, through and through, epitomizes the party. We are at a tipping point which can only get worse for the ANC, much much worse, by March 2016 (local government elections), and very much worse by the next national elections.

    • Alan Watkins

      ““I did not join the struggle to be poor.”

      I was somewhat hesitant to include this quote because, on face value,
      it is defensible. Who in their right mind would struggle to be
      destitute? But it is the context in which it was said that makes it
      infamous. Said by ANC national spokesperson Smuts Ngonyama in November
      2004, in defence of his involvement in a BEE deal involving the sale of a
      R6.6 billion stake in Telkom to a consortium led by former
      director-general of communications Andile Ngcaba. Ngonyama alone stood
      to make up to R160 million. Around this period there were a range of BEE
      deals, each of enormous value, which time and time again, would be
      awarded to companies loaded with the same broad group of ANC leadership
      figures. It was through this kind of ‘redistribution’ that ANC created a
      wealthy, politically connected class that not only benefited repeatedly
      from BEE but, in turn, would fund the ANC and its activities. If it was
      not technically corruption, certainly it was ethical corruption on a
      grand scale.”

      For this and other gems, go to


    • Alan Watkins

      You are right. The only thing that will help is the complete annihilation of the ANC at the polls. The goods news is that this should happen relatively soon

    • Alan Watkins

      Let the games begin

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/ Paul Whelan

      Thank you, William, for failing to pass on the view that the air of crisis around SONA this year is due to Mr Malema and the selfless, single-handed effort he has made as Commander-in-Chief of ‘the new kids on the block’ to save the country from a predatory ‘ZANC’.

    • http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/ Paul Whelan

      Isn’t the real worry that the media continually misjudges the public sentiment towards Zuma?