15 Mar

Zuma Exit Spurs Revival of South Africa’s Once-Cowed Parliament

Jacob Zuma’s exit as South Africa’s president has given a new lease of life to the nation’s previously submissive parliament.

While the African National Congress used its dominance of the legislature to shield Zuma and his appointees through repeated scandals, its lawmakers have found their voice since Cyril Ramaphosa replaced him as party leader in December and as president last month. Cabinet ministers and officials have been grilled over the misuse of state funds and for failing to do their jobs properly.

ANC lawmakers were reluctant to cross Zuma because he controlled the party’s leadership structures that determined whether they retained their jobs.

Zuma survived several opposition no-confidence votes, despite the nation’s top court ruling that he violated his oath of office for failing to repay taxpayer funds spent on his private home.

He was also implicated by the nation’s graft ombudsman in allowing his son’s business partners to loot state funds and influence cabinet appointments — a phenomenon known in South Africa as state capture.

Ramaphosa won control of the ANC on an anti-graft ticket after fending off a challenge from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred successor, and Zuma was forced to resign on Feb. 14.

Ramaphosa is adamant that he and his government must be held to account and state capture must be stamped out.

“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions,” he said in his first state-of-the-nation address last month.

Over recent months, ANC lawmakers have worked alongside the opposition to convene probes into state capture and summoned cabinet ministers, Zuma’s son, Duduzane, and several of his close allies to appear before them.

They’ve also hauled officials from government departments, the state broadcaster and the national tax agency before them to explain a series of management failings.

Parliamentary sittings that previously degenerated into shouting matches and brawls between members of the radical Economic Freedom Fighters and the legislature’s security officers, who were instructed to evict them when they tried to prevent Zuma from speaking, are now relatively mundane affairs.

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