Photo: WikimediaCommons
Photo: WikimediaCommons

South African president Jacob Zuma is one again threatened by an impeachment. He has gotten lucky this time: the South African supreme court has judged, that, in agreement with the current legislature, the parliament does not have the right to hold him accountable for a corruption scandal.

On the one hand, the court has protected the president from a quick impeachment. On the other hand, it has given parliament the opportunity to, in the future, create an easier procedure.

The president can be held accountable only if it is confirmed that his actions have ‘seriously breached the constitution’. The problem is, that at the current moment the constitution does not have a clear definition of a ‘serious breach’, and the court allowed the parliament to work on developing the concept. They also explained, that if the parliament executes the procedure according to the rules, the speaker can start an impeachment procedure.

Who is Zuma?

Jacob Zuma became the leader of South Africa in 2009 and lengthened his mandate to a second term in 2014. He is polygamous (8 wives) and the father of no less than 18 children.

He began his career by becoming a member of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1959, and switched to the Communist Party of South-Africa in 1963. He was in exile from 1975 to 1990. 

The main allegations against him are related to corruption; however, Western democratic society considers uniting against him to be ‘dictatorial’. Thus, mister Zuma prefers traditional heterosexual relationships. He has once openly said that in his youth he would ‘knock a gay out cold’, and that single-sex marriages are ‘an affront of the nation before the Lord’. One gets the feeling, that the Western press has criticised him more for these statements than for economic dealings. 

Now, the main formal complaint against Zuma is about expensive construction work of his personal residence for 15 million euros (the president himself has called these costs ‘security concerns’). But it is important that when in the end of March the court forced Zuma to reimburse part of the costs, he fulfilled his promise and paid 500 thousand euros.

Coup attempts

Zuma faced a whole series of scandals and accusations, and mass protests were held in 2016. They were partially inspired by Zuma spending government money on the renovation of his house.

The opposition has more than once tried to deprive him of his presidential seat and has called for a vote of no confidence in parliament. Seeing as the National [] has had no success in removing Zuma, the political left (the ‘Fighters for Economic Freedom’ movement) as well as other smaller political groups have decided to get involved and have turned to the courts with the demand to impeach Zuma.

Nonetheless, the court has called upon all participants to follow the rules: if there is to be an impeachment, it will be held according to the rules. Zuma’s opponents had hoped to fire him in December, however, this formally impossible in the current situation.


The loss of the ANC leadership is also important. We should not forget, that in 2008 ex-president Tabo Mbeki was fired because of a coup in the party itself. The party just refused to give its trust to him. Many experts note, that the party is suffering to this day from internal contradictions; seeing as it was created for the battle with apartheid, it united people with very different views, from the extreme right to liberals.

This month, vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa, an important businessman, has replaced Zuma as leader of the party. The party elections, during which a new leader will be chosen, determine the ANC candidate in the next elections.

In March, massive re-organisations in the government took place, when about ten ministers were fired (among which, it is important to note, the head of the Finance Ministry, Pravin Gordhan). At the time, the massive changes summoned a sharp reaction from different political sides.

As far back as August, deputies from the ANC that did not support removing Zuma from power did not shy away from performing a provocative African dance as a show of support for their leader. But with Ramaphosa becoming leader of the ANC, the majority will most likely not continue to support Zuma. 

The numbers were not reassuring in August: 198 for Zuma, 177 for resignation. The president himself appeared after a short while before his supporters and announced the failure of a ‘coup attempt’. This is why the further behaviour of the ANC is now important, and also if its support is enough to support the position of the president.

Pro-Western motives

It is important to account for the American interests in South Africa. This is mainly a resource-rich country (minerals, gold, metals etc.). but it has a firm agricultural sector and a fairly developed financial sector (the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) is one of the 15 strongest in the world regardless of the crisis).

But it is important to note, that aside from strong trade contacts with the US, South Africa under Zuma has from time to time managed to ignore the ‘Washington consensus’. For example, when the UN Security Council voted on a resolution in Syria on the 19th of August, which was backed by the US, the Republic of South Africa abstained from voting. The country backed its choice, by saying that the project is not conducive to a peaceful solution of the Syrian crisis.

In general, aside from the corruption scandals, Zuma tries to follow an independent course on the international level and tries to closely cooperate with the other BRICS members (mainly with China and Russia).

Because of moments like this and Zuma’s attempt to decide the country’s internal problems himself, the US are supporting the opposition inside the country. For example, structures from the project Democracy Works, which is financed by the American NED foundation, were engaged during the organisation of protests. The SWOP Witwatersrand liberals in Johannesburg, who cooperate with the American Albert Einstein Institute of Gene Sharp (the father of colour revolutions), also actively participated in this. 

This is why it is impossible to say that the protests formed spontaneously.

Indeed, the economic sphere is a comfortable point to criticise Zuma on. The crisis is worsening through a drought and unemployment, and the only thing that is salvaging the situation for the time being is the successful growth of the mining sector. Pro-Western forces are using this as an argument against Zuma, feeding the unhappiness of the unemployed, unions, and the youth.


We can expect that the court’s decision will make the deputies’ task of removing Zuma from his post before his term easier. Cyril Ramaphosa will probably become president; he is a businessman linked to international corporations. He is one of the wealthiest people in South Africa and owns the local branch of ‘McDonald’s’. He is also a board member of the local branch of ‘The Coca-Cola Company’ in the country. It is clear, that with a leader like this South Africa’s sovereignty will be in doubt.

Translated from the Russian by V.A.V.