That Jacob Zuma has never enjoyed widespread popularity at home was loudly reinforced when the crowd attending Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013 booed the appearance of the South African president’s image on the big screen at Soweto’s FNB Stadium.
The public seized a rare chance that day to express its displeasure with Zuma, who has been embroiled in one scandal or gaffe after another since taking office in 2009 yet has repeatedly skated free, thanks to his control over the African National Congress, the ruling party, and his placement of trusted allies in strategic posts.
But now he finally may have run out of luck.
Zuma has long been linked to the wealthy Gupta family, represented by brothers Ajay, Atul and Rajesh, which migrated from India just as the death of apartheid was opening South Africa up to foreign investment. The newly welcoming climate enabled them, according to the BBC, to build a sprawling business empire whose parent company, the Sahara Group, “has an annual turnover of about 200 million rand ($22 million) and employs some 10,000 people.”
That this imbroglio might be the one that dooms Zuma seems a bit off to his legions of critics. They note that the chance that this overreaching egotist — who has squandered great amounts of money and goodwill, who espouses a rather bizarre view of the meaning of democracy, and who tends to lurch from one embarrassing episode to another — might be taken down by something as mundane as donors influencing cabinet choices seems equally rich in irony and pathos.
In 2015, a Blouin Creative Leadership Summit panel questioned whether democracy in Africa was fact or fiction. Well, Zuma’s tenure has certainly been stranger than fiction. And if this is indeed the beginning of his political end, there might soon arise from the continent’s southern tip something unheard during the Zuma years — the roar of long-stifled cheers.