Practice, they say, makes perfect. And with almost five years in office as South Africa`s fourth democratic president, one might have expected Jacob Zuma`s presidency to mature and even improve as he grew into the role. Instead, Zuma`s performance has deteriorated steadily. In 2009, his first year in office, the president rated an average C, but slipped to a D in 2010, an E in 2011 and an F last year.
If there is one area where Zuma deserves an A+, however, it`s in the art of survival. Yet even this is not sufficient to boost his grade for the year, or, for that matter, his presidential term in general. The Nkandla scandal just won`t go away, despite his security ministers` best efforts to spin it into an orbit far removed from Number One. With millions in state funds splurged on Zuma`s private homestead, public protector Thuli Madonsela`s interim report is a damning read. If Madonsela`s findings are confirmed in her final report, it would be grounds for removal from office in any healthy democracy.
Then there`s Guptagate, when the president`s friends, the Guptas, used Waterkloof Air Force Base as their private landing strip. There`s also the matter of fathering a child out of wedlock with Sonono Khoza that hung heavily over Zuma`s first State of the Nation address. When it`s the president, controversy is never far away.
A fish, they say, rots from the head down, and this is what has happened to Zuma`s administration over the years. Judging by other investigations by the public protector, there were and are members of his Cabinet who use executive office to feather their nests or those of people close to them.
Nor has stability been Zuma`s watchword, with four Cabinet reshuffles during his term, and key public service appointments, such as national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, have not engendered confidence either. The jury is still out on new National Prosecuting Authority boss Mxolisi Nxasana.
When it comes to controlling the public purse, the auditor general`s annual report is not pretty reading. Zuma`s administration has failed to curb the excesses, with unauthorised expenditure totalling R2.3‑billion, R26.4‑billion in irregular expenditure and R2.1‑billion in fruitless and wasteful expenditure for the 2012-2013 financial year.
Add to this the Marikana massacre and its repercussions; labour unrest, particularly in the mining and automotive sectors; the increase in service delivery protests countrywide; continued joblessness; inferior education; bureaucrats who don`t care and a widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, and it is clear South Africa is entering its 20th year of democracy on the back foot.
Even the National Development Plan has yet to take root, despite Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel`s best efforts. Equally worrying is how, under Zuma`s watch, a culture of secrecy has been allowed to flourish, with the Protection of State Information Bill highlighting the move away from the transparency and accountability prized by the drafters of our Constitution.
Successes on the foreign policy front, including Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma`s election as African Union Commission chair, South Africa`s admission to the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) grouping and its role as mediator in Zimbabwe have not been enough to boost Zuma`s grade.
When he is in the international spotlight Zuma has not always risen to the occasion, as we saw at the FNB Stadium memorial service for Nelson Mandela, with scores of heads of state watching. It was a pedestrian speech and was overshadowed by that of another country`s commander-in-chief, Barack Obama. Although Zuma shaped up for Madiba`s funeral service, he was still outshone by former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda and Malawi`s President Joyce Banda.
The reality is that an Mzansi under Zuma is singularly unexceptional. Which raises the question: Whose interest would it serve if Zuma returned as our president for a second term? What does the president believe he will achieve in his second term, given that he has clearly failed in his first?
As we stated in a previous report card, we did not believe South Africa would flourish under Zuma`s leadership. Sadly, we`ve been proved correct.