Former South African presidents call for national dialogue over political crisis

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA (MAY 05, 2017) (REUTERS – Three former South Africa presidents and other struggle icons launched the National Foundations Dialogue Initiative in Johannesburg on Friday (May 05), aimed at promoting national dialogue to avert the current political crisis in the country.

The non bipartisan initiative comes at a tense political time in the country. President Jacob Zuma and the ruling African National Congress ANC have become the focus of mounting public discontent over government missteps, rising unemployment and a stagnant economy.

“Our people as a whole feel and know this intensely and personally, that there is much that is not right about what is happening or not happening in our young democracy,” said former South African president, Thabo Mbeki.

“The moral failings of our day cannot be allowed to calcify into irreversible reality. If we allow this unwholesome character of our politics to continue while we wallow in silence, history will never forgive our generation. We would have been complicit, in an act of betrayal,” added another former president, Kgalema Motlanthe.

More than 30,000 people marched in South Africa’s capital Pretoria last month calling on President Jacob Zuma to quit, keeping up pressure from the streets on the leader over his handling of the struggling economy.

Zuma has survived previous protests. But the main opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) and other parties believe they can drum up support to force Zuma out of office following his dismissal of respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan in a cabinet reshuffle.

South Africa’s economy has grown lethargically over the last six years and the jobless rate stands near record levels.

Analysts say the political crisis is making it hard to reform the economy, improve social services and fight crime.

The ANC party has rejected calls for Zuma to step down. He has denied repeated allegations of corruption since winning power in 2009.

“The core problem is that our president is not carrying out his duties in terms of section 83 of the constitution. He is not upholding, defending and respecting letter and spirit of the constitution as the supreme law of the republic. And he is not promoting the unity of the nation, and that which will advance the republic,” said former president, FW De Klerk.

“Principles and values have been tarnished by everything that’s been going on in terms of corruption, the factionalism within the ruling party itself,” said activist Phelang Mashaba.

Analysts say that there is a general question about where South Africa is going, but that the probability of Zuma’s exit remains low.

Lebohang Pheko is a political analyst based in Johannesburg.

“One thing that’s possibly causing discomfort and anger and disease is the idea that we have a regime at the moment that’s increasingly authoritarian – one that doesn’t seem to take constitutionalism into account. One that seems to have a very scant regard for parliamentary processes and for the opposition witness. In which by the way — in which various opposition parties have been, particularly, one in particular has been literally manhandled, person handled out of various sittings. Also I think a sense in which we have a presidency that’s impervious to public opinion, political input,” said Pheko.

Friday’s national diallogue launch marks the first of a series of dialogues that will convene across the country in an attempt to address the countries political problems.