As I watched David Cameron resign, I wondered: what would it take for Jacob Zuma to stand on Plein Street outside parliament and resign?
Most of us have asked a similar question but I’m not sure how many have pushed for an answer. In this increasingly gloomy society it’s not so much a question as a statement of despair, usually followed by someone guiding the conversation somewhere else by announcing that they’re putting on the kettle and asking if anyone wants a biscuit.
But at that moment, as I watched a politician trying to keep his head above a flood of consequences, I really wanted to know: what would Zuma have to do in order for the ANC to tell him to quit?
Think about it. Anything coming to mind? No? Well, that’s to be expected. When astronauts spend months in space, their muscles atrophy. The same thing has happened to us. We’ve spent so long floating around in this zero-consequence country that our imaginative muscles have withered. We are no longer familiar with cause and effect, action and reaction. Around here, things just happen.
Which is why it’s so difficult to think up a hypothetical crime that might force Zuma’s hypothetical resignation. Nothing makes sense. Nothing fits. We’ve decoupled from the laws of political physics.
Looking back at events, each of which would have destroyed a British prime minister or a US president in a blinding flash of public humiliation, you see that bizarre upending of reality. Being on trial for rape made Zuma stronger. Dodging hundreds of charges of corruption entrenched him even deeper. When it emerged that he’d used public money to build a private palace, the faithful revealed that the real villains were his architect, Thuli Madonsela and the media. (The R7.8-million he’s been ordered to cough up is no doubt a plot engineered by our CIA-controlled Treasury.) When white-shirted goons invaded parliament and the broadcast signal was jammed, he just giggled.
By the way: if you’re one of the many ANC stalwarts who told me that you would recall Zuma the moment he stepped out of line, please get in touch. I’m eager to hear whether the fact that you haven’t recalled him yet is because you don’t feel he’s stepped out of line (in which case you’re clearly in a coma and I would like to send some flowers to your hospital ward) or whether it’s because, as I respectfully suggested to you at the time, you’re the turkeys who voted for Christmas. In which case: gobble gobble while you can.
“Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”
Given all that completely bonkers history, let’s take a sane moment and try to imagine an event that might cause enough anger and disgust within the party to trigger a chain of events that will end with the Buthibond knocking on the bunker door and saying, “Listen, Jacob, we need to talk.”
Drunk driving? Oh please, that’s so 2013. Drowning a barrelful of kittens? An unfortunate accident, with a generous donation to the SPCA. Assault? He’d be happy to defend himself in court – if you can find a witness.
No, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain that the only way the ANC would tell Zuma to fall on his sword would be if he murdered somebody live on national television.
Not just anybody, mind you. If he shot an opposition MP in parliament, it would be a matter of hours before the ANC unearthed evidence of a plot against his life. Luckily for a grateful nation, the ever-alert Zuma saw the villain going for his gun and managed to whip a pistol off a nearby officer before blasting away in self-defence. When the media and the public started working through the footage frame by frame, revealing no assassin, the ANC would accuse them of using fake footage, of being CIA moles, of taking the pixels out of context .
Of course nobody would be listening because the country would be on fire. But Zuma wouldn’t be forced to resign. You know he wouldn’t.
No, the only way he’d go too far would be to mow down a bunch of senior ANC officials in parliament for no reason whatsoever.
People in his faction would cook up reasons – a moment of poor judgment caused by relentless psychological attacks from the EFF and DA; a Pavlovian response to finally being handed his machine gun after years of asking for it – but then, and only then, would he be required to step down.
Is this preposterous? Perhaps. But the fact that it’s not an insane leap – that we have to rack our brains to think of more likely scenarios – is evidence enough of just how far up Shit Creek we’ve drifted.
And, in the end, it’s a pretty simple equation: zero-consequence countries end up being countries of no consequence whatsoever.