That the immediate past President of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, had been in a protracted battle to hold on to the reins of power for quite some time is a well-documented fact. That the ruling party, the African National Congress, has had to summon him a few times in the last one year over the state of affairs and eventually pass of Vote of Confidence on him at the parliament, which is dominated by the ANC, is another fact well documented. Despite the deep in popularity for a Zuma, who was the toast of South Africans when he took over from Thabo Mbeki, the ANC stood by Zuma, preferring to counsel him and draw his attention to the party’s ideology, policy and programme behind close door, rather than join the people in washing his [their] dirty linen in public. As the people of South Africa continued to protest and call for Zuma’s removal on account of alleged monumental corruption and abuse of office, the ANC-dominated parliament passed a Vote of Confidence on him.
From the benefit of hindsight, the Confidence vote was to buy Zuma some time and see if he could turn the fortunes of the country around and in turn rekindle the fast ebbing faith of the people in the party. However, like a hungry lion roused from its slumber, the people of South Africa would know no rest until they found some succour. For them, a hope for succour was in the form of Zuma stepping down from the exalted seat. Like all responsible party in civilised democracies, the ANC did not delude itself as to the consequence of remaining in support of Zuma. They acknowledge the power of the people far above the power of ANC at the polls. They knew that loyalty to Zuma would ultimately spell doom from them during the general elections to elect new National Assembly and new provincial legislatures.
For that reason, backed by the compelling allegations of financial impropriety and abuse of power by Zuma, which cannot be wished away by loyalty and party sentiments, the party yielded to the people’s power and will and on February 13 called on their President to resign. Paul Mashatile, ANC’s Treasurer, gave this indication when he said: “The conference of ANC [in December] has created new hope. Our people want to see change. We want to go with renewal.”
But Zuma in his earlier reaction to ANC’s call for his resignation, said he did not agree with the party’s decision. He said: “It was very unfair to me that this issue is raised. Nobody has ever provided the reasons. Nobody is saying what I have done. We have a lot of resolutions to deal with [as the ANC], but we are spending much time with ‘Zuma must go’. I don’t understand what the rush is?”
With Zuma’s stance, the party was ready at grave risk to it to invite the parliament to take steps to unseat him since its National Executive Committee took the painstaking decision after a 13-hour marathon meeting. The Secretary General of ANC, Ace Magashule, did not delude Zuma on how resolute the party was to see his back when he said: “All necessary parliamentary processes that arise from this decision will now ensue.”
With the dice cast, Zuma, being a politically sagacious fellow, decided on February 14 to beat a retreat and give the people of South Africa a priceless valentine gift, according to him, “to avoid violence and further division in the ANC”. He said “no life should be lost in my name and also the ANC should never be divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as President of the Republic with immediate effect. Even though I disagree with the decision of the leadership of my organisation [ANC], I have always been a disciplined member of the ANC.”
It is noteworthy to point out that Zuma had survived eight attempts to unseat masterminded by the opposition. But he could not survive the ninth attempt, which was anchored by the ANC in total submission to the Power of The People of South Africa. While many commentators, especially in Nigeria, have commended the development in South Africa and described it as the triumph of party supremacy and I agree with that. However, one point that is of overriding interest and should not be lost on anyone is the fact that the People’s Power at the Polls has played the most crucial role in this instant case as corroborated by Mashatile, [ANC’s treasurer] when he said: “The conference of ANC [in December] has created new hope. Our people want to see change. We want to go with renewal.”
Surely, the party did not get drunk with power to forget the axiom that in a proper democracy, where every vote counts, power belongs to the people. The ANC aware that they would need the trust of the people to release power to them at the 2019 general polls decided to bow to superior authority after all, there is the African parable that no matter how tall an okro [ladies’ fingers or ochro] grows, it cannot grow taller than the owner [planter] as the owner has what it takes to bend it at the appropriate time. In the instant case, the people of South Africa own the okro and have bent it as they so deem fit. That ANC is a willing party in the instant process as it was also when the people decided that Thabo Mbeki, a President who brought prosperity and economic stability to the country, albeit with the blemish of abuse of power and human rights infraction should also leave the seat of power.
It is imperative to warn that such a confidence building development does not just happen. People and institutions make it happen. For the Nigerian electorate to bend the okro [politicians and political parties], the electoral institution must be strengthened and compelled to conduct a transparent process leading to the 2019 general elections, so that the people’s vote would truly count. The average okro is typically arrogant when it has grown tall politically and such arrogance can only be curtailed or jettisoned by the okro when it realises that no matter how tall it grows it can never be taller than its planter [owner]. This is why the electoral process should be transparent and strengthen to restore the power of the planter of political okros [the electorates], so they can bend any okro that doesn’t bring the right meal to the people’s table by way of delivering on their electoral promises and deliverables just like in South Africa.
. Ughegbe is the Executive Director of a Make A Difference Initiative, a good governance and human rights advocacy organisation.