Former South African president Thabo Mbeki speaks during the National Foundations Dialogue initiative on May 5, 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa. The National Dialogue is intended to bring all South Africa together to engage purposefully and cogently about the state of their country and how they might contribute to the renewal of South Africa. / AFP PHOTO / GIANLUIGI GUERCIA
Three former South African presidents for the first time issued a joint call for action Friday to end the nation’s “worsening” political crisis, the latest campaign targeting President Jacob Zuma.
In an unprecedented move, the country’s living former heads of state — Thabo Mbeki, F.W. de Klerk and Kgalema Motlanthe, joined by former deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka — announced a national dialogue to try to end the “destructive” crisis.
“Practically it is impossible for anyone in our country to argue against this reality of national sickness in our politics, in our economy,” Mbeki said on launching the national talks, which were jointly sponsored by the three leaders’ foundations under the heading “Reclaiming the South Africa of our dreams”.
Calls have intensified in recent months for Zuma to step down following a mounting series of scandals.
“Our country is immersed in a general and worsening crisis,” Mbeki said.
“So it is that the rose our people planted, as represented by the victory of 1994, is indeed sick,” Mbeki added, referring to the year that marked the end of apartheid.
De Klerk, the last apartheid president, said the country “is in the grip of the most serious challenges that have confronted it since the establishment of our non-racial constitutional democracy 23 years ago”.
Squarely blaming Zuma for the crisis, de Klerk said “the core problem is that our president is not carrying out his duties in terms of … the constitution.”
Zuma is facing a slew of corruption allegations and an ongoing crisis over a controversial cabinet shake-up in which he removed a respected finance minister.
The reshuffle caused the rand currency to tank and the country’s sovereign credit rating was downgraded to “junk status” by two global agencies Standard & Poor’s and Fitch.
It also triggered unprecedented criticism from within the ruling African National Congress top brass and its allies and spawned massive public protests for Zuma’s ouster.
A court on Thursday ordered Zuma to provide the records he used to justify his cabinet reshuffle.
Motlanthe insisted the time had come for action to reclaim the country.
“If we allow this unwholesome character of politics to continue while we wallow in silence, history will never forgive our generation,” he said.
“This gathering becomes a national call. It seeks to be a turning point in the way people of our country relate to the political process,” he added. “It is only the beginning”.
Opposition parties are seeking a secret ballot of lawmakers which they believe could see Zuma ousted before his tenure ends in 2019.
Mlambo-Ngcuka, who called for “introspection and correctional action,” said the country is in need of “a leadership that can help us restore the values that we have been losing.”
“We must not hand over a divided, demoralised, unscrupulous country to the next generation where there is mediocrity and greed.”