The current elective conference of the ANC makes me think, involuntarily, of the decline of this once-proud, 105-year old organisation, to the point where it has been too weak to do the obvious thing, namely to ‘recall’ (their chosen euphemism for discharge, or fire) their current (and soon-to-be-replaced) president, Jacob Zuma. The funny thing, which must have puzzled many a South African, is that the party’s top structure did not hesitate to ‘recall’ Thabo Mbeki, whose disastrous policy on HIV/AIDS did the country untold damage, but which seems paltry compared to Zuma’s multiple, egregiously misguided actions.

These include firing finance ministers without any consideration of the colossal negative financial consequences for the country, let alone the hundreds of charges of corruption hanging over his head (untested in court, as yet), and his oft-quoted personal superstition, that showering after sex with an HIV-positive person lessens the chances of being infected with the virus. But – and this is a BIG BUT – these are only some of the severely compromising aspects of his presidency that are ‘in the open’, as it were.

Having read Jacques Pauw’s recent book on South Africa under Zuma, as well as R.W. Johnson’s book, published a few years ago (How Long Will South Africa Survive?), I know, as everyone does who has read these thoroughly researched books, that there are countless other activities in which Jacob Zuma has been, or still is involved, which MAY see the light sometime in the future, but may not – depending on who is elected his successor today (17 December 2017) – and which are overwhelming reason for the party’s NEC to ‘recall’ him. The fact that nothing has ensued in the shape of (legal preparation for) action against Zuma since the publication of these (and other similar) books, is testimony to the fatal moral paralysis in the ANC.

This is what I mean by the heading, ‘The weakness of the ANC’ – the fact that, DESPITE ‘being aware’ (to put it mildly; it is probably more a case of ‘knowing’) of Zuma’s involvement in a widespread culture of patronage, and in many nefarious and corrupt activities aimed at keeping himself in power (such as making sure that the investigation into a shadowy intelligence unit that cost the country millions, if not billions of Rand, be kept under wraps to protect himself and his sycophants), Zuma was allowed to stay, ensconced in power, and continuing his destructive and divisive behaviour. This weakness is there for everyone to witness, and I hope sufficient numbers of people do witness it to make sure that the ANC is voted out of power at the next election in 2019.

Last Sunday my eye caught a report, or perhaps rather opinion piece, in an Afrikaans Sunday newspaper, entitled ‘Jacob die Verwoester’, which means ‘Jacob the Destroyer’, with Zuma’s face emblazoned on a wrecking ball appearing next to the text. The writer, whose name I forget, set out to list the multiple cases of destruction that Zuma has wrought during his terms in office, both in the ANC and South Africa at large – instances that should have been obvious to the ANC, such as the decline in the party’s popularity, registered at the polls during the recent local government elections as well as in various opinion polls quoted by the writer, all of which indicate a remarkable drop in ANC support in recent years. The image of a wrecking ball sums up Zuma’s role aptly, despite which the ANC has been paralysed into passivity – to the detriment of the party and of South Africa. I, for one, hope they pay the price, as they should.

And yet, as widely reported in this morning’s media, during his last speech (the opening address at the ANC elective conference on 16 December) as president of the party, all Jacob Zuma could do was to admit that he had ‘made mistakes’, but that he had ‘tried [his] best’! And he had the gall to rebuke certain parties, including the ANC’s alliance partners and the group known as the Veteran’s League of the ANC, for daring to criticise him during his term as president, and for supposedly acting against the interests of the party. It is NOT about ‘unity in the ANC’, as he claims; it is about its president being irrevocably morally compromised!

This, coming from someone too thick-skinned and arrogant to respond with humility and admission of fallibility to the many calls from within the ANC (let alone outside of it) for his resignation as president of the party and of SA. Zuma has been an unmitigated disaster, and the ANC has been too weak to do anything about it. For this, the party has to take co-responsibility – every time Zuma has done yet another thing to (unavoidably) weaken the country’s economy – twice we have been downgraded to different levels of ‘junk’ – ordinary South Africans pay the price by having to fork out more money every time we buy foreign currency for an overseas trip, to mention only one thing. And in my case these are research trips, not holidays, where increasingly we have found that accommodation and subsistence have become unaffordable – because of Zuma’s ineptitude as so-called ‘president’ of the country. In my considered opinion, he is not qualified to be president of a bowling club – with apologies to all bowling enthusiasts.

With the announcement of the ANC’s new president – the one to replace Jacob Zuma – only hours away (at the time of writing this), I ask myself whether we have any reason, as South Africans, to expect an improvement in the country’s affairs if either of the two front-runners (Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa) should be elected, as it is widely expected.

My personal opinion is that it is a choice between two bad apples. Dlamini-Zuma, clearly her ex-husband’s choice (based on many utterances on his part recently), and who would do everything in her power to keep Jacob out of jail, is a populist who seems to know little of how the world economy works at present. Unfortunately it is the case, I should add, that neoliberalism, or the ‘market’, punishes countries severely if there are any indications that its ‘rules’ are not taken into consideration. And from what she has indicated so far, her version of ‘radical economic transformation’, which is supposed to include appropriation of (white) land without compensation, will be a disaster. If this should become part of law and the ensuing practices in South Africa, the country will bleed even more people – mainly, but by no means only, whites – through emigration, and lose valuable (especially farming) skills in the process.
Ramaphosa is, under these circumstances, undoubtedly the ‘better’ choice. Indications are that he understands much better how the economy works, particularly judging by the fact that he is a multi-billionaire (although one has to balance this with the fact that BEE legislation in South Africa favours him significantly as a black businessman). But he has glaring flaws too – who can forget that he had a big share in triggering the Marikana massacre, probably because of his shares in Lonmin? And then he has the gall to give the impression that he is a ‘socialist’ (who could bid to the tune of something like R15 million for a buffalo and her calf, if my memory serves me correctly)! I doubt whether he, or anyone in the ANC, really, knows what socialism means, although they know very well how to enrich themselves in a capitalist environment.

Add to this that he is complicit in the lamentable weakness, or inability/unwillingness of the NEC of the ANC to recall Zuma when it was clear for everyone to see that the latter was a disaster for the country at economic, political and social level, and it should be clear that he is not a suitable successor as president of the ANC or the country, either. The net has to be cast wider for a suitable candidate than these two main contenders – for someone with moral integrity and the strength of character to apply this in all his or her dealings in government.


  • As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it were, because of Socrates's teaching, that the only thing we know with certainty, is how little we know. Armed with this 'docta ignorantia', Bert set out to teach students the value of questioning, and even found out that one could write cogently about it, which he did during the 1980s and '90s on a variety of subjects, including an opposition to apartheid. In addition to Philosophy, he has been teaching and writing on his other great loves, namely, nature, culture, the arts, architecture and literature. In the face of the many irrational actions on the part of people, and wanting to understand these, later on he branched out into Psychoanalysis and Social Theory as well, and because Philosophy cultivates in one a strong sense of justice, he has more recently been harnessing what little knowledge he has in intellectual opposition to the injustices brought about by the dominant economic system today, to wit, neoliberal capitalism. His motto is taken from Immanuel Kant's work: 'Sapere aude!' ('Dare to think for yourself!') In 2012 Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University conferred a Distinguished Professorship on him. Bert is attached to the University of the Free State as Honorary Professor of Philosophy.


Bert Olivier

As an undergraduate student, Bert Olivier discovered Philosophy more or less by accident, but has never regretted it. Because Bert knew very little, Philosophy turned out to be right up his alley, as it...

Leave a comment