From the court house to the top office?

It is hard not to feel a deep sense of foreboding at the news that the corruption case against Jacob Zuma has been temporarily dismissed, making a Zuma presidency in South Africa far more likely. Zuma, a former deputy president, was the favorite to succeed Thabo Mbeki as leader of both the ANC and South ...

607008_zuma6.jpg
607008_zuma6.jpg

It is hard not to feel a deep sense of foreboding at the news that the corruption case against Jacob Zuma has been temporarily dismissed, making a Zuma presidency in South Africa far more likely.

Zuma, a former deputy president, was the favorite to succeed Thabo Mbeki as leader of both the ANC and South Africa until he was dismissed from his job after a judge concluded that he had a "generally corrupt" relationship with a prominent businessman. This year, he has faced two trials, one for rape and one for corruption. He was acquitted in the first trial, which revealed his reckless and willfully ignorant attitude toward AIDS. The second trial has now been struck off because the state could not make its case, aiding Zuma's attempt to portray these prosecutions as an attempt by the establishment to keep him down. Indeed, the fact that the prosecutors are claiming they will try to reintroduce charges at some points bolsters Zuma's objection that there is a witch hunt going on.

So, why would a Zuma presidency be such bad news? First, Zuma—who draws most of his support from the left wing factions in the ANC, including the Communists and the Trade Unions—would lead South Africa down a disastrous path of economic populism. Second, someone who knowingly claims that showering after unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman will protect him from infection is completely unfit to lead a country on the frontline of the AIDS crisis. Finally, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has argued, Zuma is not the kind of leader that South Africa needs right now. Anyone who allowed his supporters to harass his accuser during his rape trial and whose campaign song is "Bring me my machine gun, stop delaying me" is unlikely to unite the country.

It is hard not to feel a deep sense of foreboding at the news that the corruption case against Jacob Zuma has been temporarily dismissed, making a Zuma presidency in South Africa far more likely.

Zuma, a former deputy president, was the favorite to succeed Thabo Mbeki as leader of both the ANC and South Africa until he was dismissed from his job after a judge concluded that he had a “generally corrupt” relationship with a prominent businessman. This year, he has faced two trials, one for rape and one for corruption. He was acquitted in the first trial, which revealed his reckless and willfully ignorant attitude toward AIDS. The second trial has now been struck off because the state could not make its case, aiding Zuma’s attempt to portray these prosecutions as an attempt by the establishment to keep him down. Indeed, the fact that the prosecutors are claiming they will try to reintroduce charges at some points bolsters Zuma’s objection that there is a witch hunt going on.

So, why would a Zuma presidency be such bad news? First, Zuma—who draws most of his support from the left wing factions in the ANC, including the Communists and the Trade Unions—would lead South Africa down a disastrous path of economic populism. Second, someone who knowingly claims that showering after unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman will protect him from infection is completely unfit to lead a country on the frontline of the AIDS crisis. Finally, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has argued, Zuma is not the kind of leader that South Africa needs right now. Anyone who allowed his supporters to harass his accuser during his rape trial and whose campaign song is “Bring me my machine gun, stop delaying me” is unlikely to unite the country.

James Forsyth is assistant editor at Foreign Policy.

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