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Is President Zuma fatally wounded?

The South African president, the country’s economy and even the future stability of the political system, are now in question.

On Tuesday South African President Jacob Zuma faced a no confidence motion in Parliament, brought by the opposition Democratic Alliance. The DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, using unusually inflammatory language, described the president as a “sell-out”, for putting his personal interests above those of the country.

“Jacob Zuma sold out when, as deputy president, he took a R500,000 bribe from Schabir Shaik [his business associate],” Maimane declared. “Jacob Zuma sold out when he manipulated the National Prosecuting Authority to drop charges on 738 counts of corruption, bribery, money laundering and racketeering against him.”

In 2009 the director of public prosecutions dropped the corruption allegations against Zuma, arguing that there had been political interference in the case. This paved the way for Jacob Zuma to become president. The DA argues that the decision not to prosecute was “inherently irrational” and has been patiently attempting to have it reversed. Their challenge is currently before the courts.

While this may be an irritant for the president, it is far from being his major concern: Mr Zuma has tied up legal cases for years, and is likely to use the same tactic once more.

The DA’s no confidence motion was easily defeated. The ANC has an overwhelming majority in parliament and had no intention of allowing the opposition to skewer its leader. But Zuma’s troubles are far from over.

What is really threatening is that Jacob Zuma has lost the backing of key sections of his own party – the ANC – and the small, but still influential South African Communist Party.

The issue that has cost him their support is corruption. There is now an intense battle between the president and his minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan.

President Zuma was forced to recall Gordhan to the ministry in December last year after a disastrous episode in which he appointed a complete unknown (a local mayor who happened to be a Zuma loyalist) to run the South African economy. The result was a run on the Rand, while the value of shares plunged. The South African economy, already threatened by the credit rating agencies with “junk bond” status, looked on the brink of a major reverse.

Zuma met senior business and party leaders who spelled out in no uncertain terms what this would mean. Under intense pressure, Zuma had little option but to ask Gordhan to step in. It now appears that it was the last thing the president wanted.

Max du Preez, one of South Africa’s best-known commentators, has explained why the president was so reluctant. Gordhan had been head of the tax authority – the South African Revenue Service – before his previous stint as finance minister, which ended in 2009.

Gordhan had supervised the compilation of a dossier involving Jacob Zuma. This is said to contain what du Preez describes as “…dynamite allegations of corruption, fraud, front companies and foreign bank accounts against prominent benefactors of President Jacob Zuma.”

A letter was sent, asking the president to comment on the allegations. Faced with this threat, Zuma acted. The tax inspectors who launched the investigation were labelled a “rogue unit” and a new head of the Revenue Service was appointed – another Zuma loyalist.

A crack investigation team (the “Hawks”) recently turned the pressure up on Gordhan. He was presented with a list of 27 questions about his own behaviour. Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary-general, leaped to Gordhan’s defence, describing the Hawks letter as “a well-calculated destabilising plan with all the elements of disinformation, falsehoods and exaggerated facts”.

But Gordhan is no slouch. Like Zuma, he is not only a long-time member of the ANC and the Communist Party; he was once in the ANC’s intelligence service.

Aware of just how serious this attack could be, Gordhan upped the ante. Last Friday he threatened to resign as finance minister unless the head of the tax authority was removed. The presidency was forced to issue a statement saying that Gordhan would remain in his post; his job was not in jeopardy.

This game is being played for very high stakes. The South African president, the country’s economy and even the future stability of the political system, are now in question. Allistair Sparks, a veteran journalist, described the ANC as being in a state of “civil war”.

Jacob Zuma is beginning to lose ground. Although he still has plenty of important allies, others are wavering. For the ANC secretary general to come out publicly in support of Gordhan was a blow.

Despite being under pressure, Zuma is not to be underestimated. He was the head of the ANC’s intelligence service, trained by the KGB and east Germans. His network of contacts inside the ANC is unrivalled – particularly among his own ethnic group, the Zulu. He spent years inside jail as a political prisoner, and is determined never to see prison again.

If Jacob Zuma thought he was going down, he might take the temple down with him.

Martin Plaut is a fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. With Paul Holden, he is the author of Who Rules South Africa?

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Emmanuel Macron's "moralisation of politics" comes at a heavy price for his allies

"Fake" jobs in French politics, season 3 episode 1.

Something is rotten in the state of France. No political party – at least none that existed before 2016 – seems immune to the spread of investigations into “fake” or shady parliamentary jobs. The accusations sank centre-right candidate François Fillon’s presidential campaign, and led to Marine Le Pen losing her parliamentary immunity in the European parliament (and proxy wars within her party, the National Front). Both deny the allegations. Now the investigations have made their way to the French government, led by Edouard Philippe, Emmanuel Macron’s Prime Minister.

On Wednesday morning, justice minister François Bayrou and secretary of state for European affairs Marielle de Sarnez announced their resignation from Philippe’s cabinet. They followed defence minister Sylvie Goulard’s resignation the previous day. The three politicians belonged not to Macron's party, En Marche!, but the centrist MoDem party. Bayrou, the leader, had thrown his weight behind Macron after dropping his own presidential bid in April.

The disappearance of three ministers leaves Emmanuel Macron’s cross-party government, which includes politicians from centre left and centre right parties, without a centrist helm. (Bayrou, who has run several times for the French presidency and lost, is the original “neither left nor right” politician – just with a less disruptive attitude, and a lot less luck). “I have decided not to be part of the next government,” he told the AFP.

Rumours had been spreading for weeks. Bayrou, who was last part of a French government as education minister from 1993 to 1997, had been under pressure since 9 June, when he was included in a preliminary investigation into “embezzlement”. The case revolves around whether the parliamentary assistants of MoDem's MEPs, paid for by the European Parliament, were actually working full or part-time for the party. The other two MoDem ministers who resigned, along with Bayrou, also have assistants under investigation.

Bayrou has denied the allegations. He has declared that there “never was” any case of “fake” jobs within his party and that it would be “easy to prove”. All the same, by the time he resigned, his position as justice minister has become untenable, not least because he was tasked by Macron with developing key legislation on the “moralisation of politics”, one of the new President’s campaign pledges. On 1 June, Bayrou unveiled the new law, which plans a 10-year ban from public life for any politician convicted of a crime or offence regarding honesty and transparency in their work.

Bayrou described his decision to resign as a sacrifice. “My name was never pronounced, but I was the target to hit to attack the government’s credibility,” he said, declaring he would rather “protect this law” by stepping down. The other two ministers also refuted the allegations, and gave similar reasons for resigning. 

Macron’s movement-turned-unstoppable-machine, En Marche!, remains untainted from accusations of the sort. Their 350 new MPs are younger, more diverse than is usual in France – but they are newcomers in politics. Which is exactly why Macron had sought an alliance with experienced Bayrou in the first place.

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