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South Africa’s phoenix president Zuma wants to rise from the ashes

Popular wisdom dictates that you will not die as long as you stay in politics, which means that every leading politician does their best to remain in the local political landscape, just like 86-year-old Silvio Berlusconi, who was seen during Italy’s election weekend.

Those in power are trying to lock in their position, like Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema, who at 80 years-old plans to run for another term at the head of the country he has ruled for 43 years. Harder, however, is resurrecting the fallen.

Forced to resign as president of South Africa in 2018 for alleged corruption for which he has still not finished answering in court, the boastful Jacob Zuma says he is now free to serve the African National Congress (ANC), Nelson Mandela’s historic party.

The ANC will decide at the end of December whether to nominate the current head of state Cyril Ramaphosa for the next presidential election. Zuma has already made it clear that he will not be backing Ramaphosa, as he intends to support his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s candidacy.

Is the ex-husband preparing a U-turn?

Is this a tentative comeback or a blustery one? Zuma can appreciate how important the element of surprise is, as he posted his statement at midnight on 26 September on his daughter’s Twitter account, rather than the Zuma Foundation.

He also understands, just like General de Gaulle did in 1958, that a ‘forcing’ should be more like a sacrifice than a consuming ambition. The former president also mentioned that he had spoken with him. “ANC leaders” are said to have approached him and asked him to take on responsibilities within the party. A messianic Zuma concludes: “I will not refuse such a call if they deem it necessary for me to serve the organisation again.”

What about the party’s electoral guidelines, issued in August, which stipulate that a candidate cannot have been “accused or convicted of unethical or immoral conduct, serious crime or corruption?”

Referring in his statement to the “difficulties caused” by his “current legal situation”, Zuma does not shy away from the issue, as perhaps he is hoping to sweep it under the rug by donning the tunic of exceptional recourse at an exceptional time.

In the 2021 polls, South Africans’ support for the ANC historically dipped below 50%. Ramaphosa’s popularity has fallen due to his management of Covid and the floods, as well as personal issues, such as the alleged cover-up of a burglary on his farm in Phala Phala.

The “heist” allegedly involved $3.7m of unclear origin. The victim is said to have blown his nose and bought the silence of the burglars.

Is this a boon for his predecessor? The accusations levelled at Ramaphosa and the stormy treatment he is receiving in parliamentary sessions are reminiscent of the rebellion that Zuma was up against a few years ago.

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