A neutered Zuma will survive today’s impeachment vote

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016 7.30AM / by Sebastian Spio-Garbrah


Besieged South African President Jacob Zuma has staved off an imminent ouster from office by agreeing to surrender his exclusive discretionary presidential prerogatives and powers over key appointments to the ANC leadership. 

Besieged South African President Jacob Zuma has staved off an imminent ouster from office by agreeing to surrender his exclusive discretionary presidential prerogatives and powers over key appointments to the ANC leadership. Zuma will defeat the tabled 5th April Impeachment vote in the National Assembly, but will return to a vastly diminished presidential office. Zuma will no longer have the final word on cabinet members or state policy.  

The ruling party has effectively won a coup d’etat against the executive branch of government. 

Zuma was publicly censured by the country’s top court on March 31 for illegally benefiting from a $16million renovation by the state of his private residence. The Court’s slap in addition to several other scandals swirling around Zuma’s presidency – each calling into question Zuma’s personal moral and political judgment has done irreparable damage to his presidency. With Zuma’s political position no longer tenable, (and all his political capital spent), the South African president had no option but to either resign honorably, or mortgage his negative political equity capital for the keys to his diminished office. Zuma by choosing to hang onto office has effectively ceded many of his key executive presidential powers and prerogatives to the leadership of the ruling ANC. 

Zuma is empowered by the South African constitution to appoint and dismiss ministers, including even the deputy president. And yet when Zuma recently exercised that discretionary right and replaced his finance minister, the party rebuffed him and forced him into a chaotic retreat. Following the humiliating 31 March court decision, Zuma is now estopped from undertaking any major cabinet reshuffle or making any key appointments without getting the consent of the top leadership of the party. Zuma’s executive powers and prerogatives are now to be effectively (and unconstitutionally) subordinated to the will of the party leadership. The party’s long fight for policy relevance which was lost during the Mandela and Mbeki eras have finally ended.  

Much like with the Chinese Communist Party, South Africa’s ruling ANC will going forward begin to play a more decisive role in executive policy formulation and in clearing key appointments, with the president relegated to a diminished neutered role without the full spectrum of discretionary presidential powers and prerogatives. (An executive president who loses the untrammeled discretionary powers and prerogatives to fire and hire his own ministers and key advisors is effectively no longer an executive president in the constitutional sense of the term). 

Effective energetic executive management of the South African state is likely to fray in coming months as Zuma’s executive influence wanes and the ruling party influence rises over the executive branch. The ANC is set to return to a pre-1994 style of strong centralized party leadership having failed the 21 year experiment of graduating from a stateless party-led liberation movement, to an effective state-led government energetically implementing the party’s liberation manifesto. South Africa’s constitutional order is undergoing a radical change in equilibrium. The party has taken over the presidency. The party will increasingly no longer be subordinate to the executive state, the presidency will increasingly become subordinate to the party. 

Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, despite boasting strong socialist and communist credentials, the governments of Presidents Mandela, Mbeki and Zuma pursued fairly orthodox centrist macroeconomic policies despite ideological disquiet within the ruling party. Zuma continued these unpopular policies despite persistently high unemployment and a drop off in FDI. These centrist policies could change under a stronger party-led government, which is more captive to ideological currents rather than personality preferences and institutional path dependencies of individual presidents. Ultimately South Africa’s smaller parties may become co-opted into the ANC or outlawed. 

With the political independence of the presidency now in doubt, ultimately the independence of all other critical independent state institutions – the central bank, constitutional court, tax agency, police etc. etc. will bow to the gravitational pull of the ruling party and become appendages of party power. Having failed at practicing a ‘Russia-style’ strong man authoritarian-democratic model, South Africa is now drifting into a party-dominant China-style model of government, where the presidential power is subservient to the party, not independently derived from the votes of all the peoples and subservient to the nonpartisan constitution.

Author: Sebastian Spio-Garbrah is the Chief Africa Frontier Markets Analyst & Global Managing Director DaMina Advisors, a preeminent Africa-focused independent frontier markets risk research, due diligence and Africa M&A transactions consulting and strategic advisory firm with offices in the US, Canada, The UK and Ghana.

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