For our overseas family and friends: South Africa is in the news again, and for all the wrong reasons. President Jacob Zuma’s “night of the long knives,” in which he purged a third of his cabinet, including the respected finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, and Gordhan’s deputy, Jonas Mncebisi, has caused consternation and a growing backlash, not least amongst members of his own party.
The country’s Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has spoken out openly against the decision, as has the party’s Secretary-General, Gwede Mantashe. The South African Communist Party, which is in alliance with the ANC and has a number of ministers in Zuma’s cabinet, called on Friday for the President’s resignation. What happens over the next few days and weeks is likely to have long-term repercussions, and consequences for the ANC at the 2019 elections.
The project that has brought me back to South Africa from Canada is housed in the Government Technical Advisory Centre, a component of Treasury. Everyone we have spoken to has been acutely aware of the storm clouds gathering. And yet, what has struck me the most, perhaps, is the strong dedication one senses, amongst senior officials, to the Treasury as a key national institution and pillar of good governance. This is one of the things that gives one hope for the country.
The other, of course, is the pushback from ordinary people, who are sick and tired of incompetence and corruption, and are vocally reclaiming the space for democracy. At the funeral this week for struggle stalwart Ahmed Kathrada there was loud applause for Gordhan, and even louder applause when a former president, Kgalema Motlanthe, read from a letter that Kathrada had sent to Zuma, calling on him to step down in the interests of the country.
Listening to the talk shows on radio, and following the conversations on Twitter, one hears the occasional voice in defence of the President’s actions, but the overwhelming mood, it seems, is one of anger and defiance. South Africa may be entering perhaps the most decisive period in its post-apartheid history, and the currents of freedom and democracy are running deep and strong. Whether they are enough to turn back the tide is something we will no doubt find out, over the next year or two.
It is a privilege, meanwhile, to be here, in this country I love, with all of its faults and its troubled history, working alongside the proud public servants who have served this country so well and will continue to do so.