When will we cross the Rubicon?
On the evening of 15 August 1985, PW Botha took the stage in Durban to open the National Party Natal Congress. Countrywide this was a much anticipated speech and for weeks there had been speculation that it could change the direction of SA. There was cautious optimism that the ANC could be unbanned, that Nelson Mandela could be released and that SA would cross its own Rubicon. In the end, Botha completely deviated from his original speech and delivered what became known as the Rubicon Speech, which was more of the same fear-mongering that South Africans had gotten used to.
In response to the speech, the rand collapsed by 35%, foreign exchange markets and the stockmarket was closed for a week to try and reschedule international debt and SA entered its darkest hour, which lasted until 1990. From shortly before the Rubicon Speech until 1990, SA existed under an almost constant State of Emergency and the country was engulfed in violence. It was only after the Rubicon Speech that international sanctions and disinvestment programmes started reaching critical mass, leading to huge outflows of foreign capital, a depreciating currency and weak economic growth.
By 1990 the Rubicon was finally crossed, but not by PW Botha. He missed his opportunity and it took almost 5 years of violence, death, disruption to education, economic strife and national polarisation before the Nationalists took the inevitable step.
On 31 March 2016, Jacob Zuma had a Rubicon moment of his own. Pressure against President Zuma had been building for years, starting even before his appointment when he was embroiled in legal battles. However, he managed to consolidate his position of power despite concerns surrounding the Guptas, Nkandla and strategic deployments. Everything changed, in my opinion, on 14 December 2015 when he backtracked on his appointment on David van Rooyen as Minister of Finance. From that moment on, the forces against the President gained momentum with Guptagate and the Constitutional Court judgement last week adding fuel to the fire. By the end of last week it had become clear to all but a few (including maybe himself) that the tide had turned convincingly against his presidency and that his sustained tenure had become untenable.
During his speech in reaction to the Constitutional Court judgement, the president had the opportunity to act in the interest of the ANC and the country and to fall on his sword. Instead of crossing the Rubicon, the President opted to leave the country in limbo and to delay the ultimate outcome. He has now forced the ANC to embark on a long and painful process that is likely to result in his ultimate removal, whether at the 2017 Elective Conference or at an earlier convened conference (the latter being more likely, in my opinion). We can only hope that unlike the decision by PW Botha in 1985 not to cross the Rubicon, that Zuma’s decision will result in less extreme and less prolonged damage to the ANC politically and to the country’s economy and societal fabric.
It is clear to me from the ANC Secretary General’s speech on 31 March 2016 that the rallying behind the President is a temporary measure to promote unity in the ANC in the run-up to the municipal elections. At the same time, the ANC is likely to continue with its own internal processes, including the Gupta investigation and consultation with its branches, which may result in penal steps against the President. These processes are likely to be concluded only after the municipal elections, the results of which may add even further to pressure to remove him.
Opposition parties in SA are gaining substantial political capital from the scandals surrounding the President and this is likely to result in meaningful gains at the polls. The ANC is at risk of losing the major metros of Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay Metropole and Tshwane. It is my opinion that such losses will remove any doubt within the ruling party that a realignment is required to avoid substantial losses in the 2019 general election. An early elective conference, resulting in the replacement of the President will provide the ANC with a two-year period to arrest the decline in its support and successfully defend its majority in the general election.
It is my opinion that the ANC’s room for manoeuvre will be severely restricted over coming months through opposition gains at the polls and opposition actions in Parliament, the courts and in the streets. I believe that we will cross the Rubicon later in 2016 or early-2017 at the latest. It is simply a matter of time.
What happens after the President is replaced will be key to the long-term success of the country. In my opinion, it is imperative that the new president leads the charge in SA for a New Deal, with buy-in from all the major political parties. We should make a definitive decision to refocus our budget to deal with the challenges of unemployment and education, even if this leads to economic pain in the short-term. In response to such a New Deal and the announcement of concrete steps to deliver it, opposition parties and ordinary South Africans should give government the support and the time to deliver by calling for a cessation to extra-Parliamentary actions. We need more South Africans in the workplace and fewer protesting on the streets and campuses. We absolutely have to create an inclusive economy and improved education outcomes so that we can look back a decade from now at today being the turning point in the SA story.
Do you think that President Zuma should resign or be removed from office? Do you believe that the ANC will lose meaningful support in the municipal elections? Do you expect that ANC internal processes will result in the President’s removal? Do you think President Zuma will survive in his position until the 2017 ANC Elective Conference? When do you think we will cross the Rubicon? I would love to hear your opinions.
In the mean time, keep your talking straight!
#Rubicon #ZumaRubicon #NewDeal