The Nelson Mandela Foundation lambastes South Africa's Zuma

It was as if Nelson Mandela had spoken from the grave.

The foundation that carries on his work issued a scathing statement Tuesday saying that South African President Jacob Zuma, who has faced growing calls to step down, had “failed the test” of national leadership.

The foundation, which usually stays out of politics, called on the governing African National Congress, the party of both Mandela and Zuma, “to take the steps necessary to ensure that the vehicle of state be protected and placed in safe and capable hands.”

“Twenty years since Nelson Mandela signed South Africa’s Constitution into law and as the third anniversary of his passing approaches, it is painful for us at the Nelson Mandela Foundation to bear witness to the wheels coming off the vehicle of our state,” the statement said.

Zuma’s leadership has increasingly been called into question as South Africa’s economic and political problems deepen. Since Zuma was elected in 2009, the country has been plagued by stagnant growth, high unemployment, power struggles within the ruling party and violent student protests. 

His term as ANC leader expires next year. His second and final term as president runs until 2019.

Business leaders, civil society groups and a former finance minister recently formed an organization known as Save South Africa, which is calling on Zuma to resign as president. But he can only be dismissed by the ANC’s national executive committee, which has been dominated by Zuma supporters. It is unclear whether that is likely to change.

In October, a senior ANC official, the parliamentary whip, Jackson Mthembu, said the entire ANC leadership, including himself and Zuma, had failed the country and should step down en mass from their posts in the party. Nobody has budged.

Among the allegations made by Zuma’s opponents is that he used the National Prosecuting Authority to pursue a political vendetta against his finance minister, Pravin Gordhan, who has clashed with the president over several government projects.

Gordhan was charged with fraud last month for events a decade ago, when he headed the tax department and cost taxpayers about $80,000 by giving a deputy early retirement and hiring him as a consultant.

On Monday, amid growing criticism that the charge was politically motivated, prosecutors withdrew it, saying Gordhan lacked the intent to commit fraud. He remains under investigation over claims that as head of the tax office he set up a “rogue” investigation unit.

Several top ANC officials have publicly backed Gordhan. Zuma has denied playing any role in the prosecution or investigation.

Zuma has also been embroiled in controversy surrounding the three Gupta brothers, businessmen with extensive holdings in coal, mining and other industries.

Critics say that with Zuma’s blessing, the family manipulated government contracts and appointments, including the replacement of a finance minister late last year.

Zuma and the Gupta brothers deny the claims.

Zuma is fighting in court to prevent publication of a report by the Public Protector, a politically independent watchdog that reports to the Parliament, examining the relationship between the president, the Gupta family and other state officials. On Tuesday, opposition parties won the right to be parties to the case.

The president is also fighting fraud and racketeering charges — 783 in all — in a case that dates back to before he became president. Prosecutors dropped the charges just before he took office, but this year a court overturned that decision, and now his lawyers are appealing to squash the case again.

The statement by the Nelson Mandela Foundation underscores the alarm in the governing party, and South Africa generally, over the country’s direction under Zuma’s leadership.

“South African citizens across the land are speaking out and taking action to express their dissatisfaction,” the statement said. “The Nelson Mandela Foundation supports the demand to hold to account those responsible for compromising our democratic state and looting its resources.

“We have seen a weakening of critical institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and law enforcement bodies due to political meddling for private interests.”

robyn.dixon@latimes.com

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