Zuma treats his ex-allies with the contempt they have earned

John Kane-Berman says there's something pathetic about the SACP, ANC and COSATU's response to President's latest outrage

There is something pathetic about the reaction of his party to President Jacob Zuma's cabinet reshuffle last week. The secretary general of the African National Congress (ANC), Gwede Mantashe, said it was "unfortunate" that the party had not been given prior notice. The move was a formula for instability, would deepen divisions, undo the alliance, etc.

The removal of Blade Nzimande, general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP), from the ministry of higher education was a pity, said Mr Mantashe, because he was a talented "cadre of our movement".  

The SACP's first deputy general secretary, Solly Mapaila, said the dismissal was a "clear declaration of war" against it. Alex Mashilo, SACP head of communications, said the reshuffle was a provocation and a decoy to punish the party for having voted against state capture and calling for Mr Zuma to step down. "Cabinet does not belong to him," said Mr Mashilo. Also, "Mr Zuma now seems to be detached from the ANC."

And so on. The sheer brazenness of Mr Zuma's umpteenth reshuffle and the new appointments he has made are breathtaking. The economy is stagnant, business confidence is in the doldrums, unsustainable budget deficits loom, and further downgrades by international rating agencies may be on the way. None of this bothers Mr Zuma.

Nor is he bothered in his exercise of naked power by the fact that various business leaders and organisations have become more critical. He does not seem too concerned either by the growing number of organisations in civil society that have called on him to step down. As for the process now snailing its way through the courts, it seems unlikely that Mr Zuma will ever appear in the dock unless somebody actually orders his arrest and the order is carried out.

What should bother the ANC, the SACP, and the third member of the disintegrating tripartite alliance, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), is that Mr Zuma could not care less about them either. They put him into power, sustained him in power, and repeatedly condoned his behaviour when the rest of the country was up in arms against it. They have served their purpose and he now treats them with the contempt they have earned.

Why indeed should he respect them? After all, he knows very well that they knew all along what he was up to with Nkandla, the Guptas, and the capture of state-owned enterprises. Even some of Mr Zuma's most vocal critics, including ministers he has sacked on previous occasions, have previously condoned (and thereby encouraged) the behaviour they now condemn.

In terms of our Constitution, the president is accountable to Parliament. In terms of the ANC's procedures, Mr Zuma is also accountable to his party. Neither of these constraints works. Mr Zuma is working on the assumption that it is too late for the party and the parliament it controls to reassert their authority. They are too deeply compromised.

The fundamental problem is indeed less one of legality than one of morality. When the ANC and its allies adopted revolutionary violence as a political strategy, they threw away moral values and moral constraints. They targeted innocent civilians. They were willing to steal away human life. Once they had crossed that Rubicon, it was but a short step to stealing public property, which is what "state capture" is all about.  

Some of Mr Zuma's most vocal critics today are to be found among religious organisations. But the ANC's use of violence as a political strategy was condoned by large numbers of religious leaders who embraced so-called "liberation theology" invented by Marxists in South America.

The adoption of revolutionary violence, the people's war, and the campaign to make the country ungovernable were all geared to the assumption that in the quest for power the end justified the means. Now we have a president who takes the view that the end justifies any means if you wish to remain in power. No surprise there.

* John Kane-Berman is a policy fellow at the IRR, a think-tank that promotes political and economic freedom.