Jacob Zuma’s presidency has been filled with lots of surprises, in many instances leaving South Africans and the world bewildered. Here’s seven times in seven years that President Zuma’s left us shocked.
1. Firing Nene
On Wednesday evening, President Jacob Zuma announced that Nhlanhla Nene will no longer be the finance minister and would be “redeployed”. Nene is replaced by David van Rooyen, a little-known backbencher and former mayor of the West Rand municipality of Merafong. Zuma gave no reasons for Nene’s dismissal. The announcement resulted in the rand crashing to a record-breaking low of R15 to the dollar.
2. Pandering to Russia
In June, the Zuma government signed a trillion rand nuclear power station deal with Russia. The agreement came at a time of sky high unemployment and a growth rate of just 1.3%. It’s alleged that Zuma left the ruling party’s national executive committee in the dark on the matter, took control of the deal, negotiating directly with Russian president Vladimir Putin, and instructed the energy minister to sign the agreement, which raised lots of eyebrows. Nene’s refusal to go along with the deal is believed to be one of the reasons for his axing.
3. Ignoring students at Parliament
In October, thousands of students marched to the Union Buildings to demand free education and an end to outsourcing during the #FeesMustFall protests. Zuma made a televised announcement from inside the Union Buildings, committing to a 0% fee increase for 2016 but did not address the students directly or ensure that they were made aware of his commitment. Instead, police clamped down on students with tear gas and rubber bullets.
4. Letting al-Bashir go
During the African Union Summit in Johannesburg, Zuma together with several ministers apparently colluded to ignore an ICC warrant and a High Court order requiring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to be arrested on charges of war crimes while in the country, and worked to speed his way out of the country.
5. Sending troops to CAR
In 2013, South African National Defence Force (SANDF) soldiers were caught in the crossfire between rebel groups in the Central African Republic (CAR) leaving 14 soldiers dead and a further 27 injured. Zuma didn’t at first bother to explain why he had sent the troops to the CAR and it later became known that they were there to provide military training to CAR troops and security to then President Francois Bozize. The handling of the entire episode left many questioning whether the SANDF had been deployed with more nefarious intent than the stated support for the CAR army.
6. Appointing Menzi Simelane head of the NDPP
Zuma has a history of appointing unsuitable people to high profile positions. Among the first of these was his appointment of Menzi Simelane – a man who had during the Ginwala inquiry proven himself to be misleading and untrustworthy – as National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP). The Supreme Court of Appeal later found that Zuma’s decision to appoint Simelane was invalid.
7. Appointing Riah Phiyega as National Police Commissioner
Riah Phiyega is also on the list of questionable appointments made by Zuma. On her appointment, Phiyega was criticised for her lack of experience and credentials in the policing sector. Within weeks of her appointment in June 2012, the SAPS became complicit in the Marikana massacre, which saw 34 miners shot dead in an ill-advised police action. Years later, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the massacre recommended that her fitness to hold office be reconsidered and Phiyega was eventually suspended.
Bonus WTF: SONA signal jamming and removal of EFF MPs from Parliament
What was supposed to be this year’s State of the Nation Address was actually more like a circus. Signal jamming – ostensibly to prevent the press from reporting on what was about to happen in Parliament – lead to journalists in the press gallery chanting “Bring back the signal!”. Then, parliamentary police stormed the house after EFF MPs took up a chant of “Pay back the money!” in an attempt to disrupt Zuma’s address and forcibly removed the opposition MPs. Zuma meanwhile simply laughed his familiar laugh, and pretended that nothing was amiss.