President Jacob ZumaThere comes a moment in the life of every movement when it will understands that it can no longer afford  to put up with its leader.

The ANC did it once before – with Thabo Mbeki, when he was forced from office in 2008. Will it do the same now?

No-one of any stature can seriously doubt the damage Jacob Zuma is inflicting on the country. His removal of his finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene may be the last straw.

Nene’s ‘crime’ was to stand up to the president over the disastrous running of South African Airways and attempting to head off the even more disastrous order for nuclear power plants.

The decision sent the Rand into free fall, while stocks slid and bond tumbled. #ZumaMustFall has been the trending Twitter hashtag in South Africa. Radio talk shows have been flooded with calls for Zuma to resign.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, a staunch ally of the ANC declared it was “shocked and disconcerted.”

Steven Friedman, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, pointed out that Nene was the first black African Finance Minister in South African history, and that he had been fired after 18 months by an ANC government for doing his job well.

Even the normally docile and subservient Communist Party put out a statement warmly endorsing Nene.

The SACP thanked him for “the services he has rendered within the collective leadership of our movement and government dating back to his role in the field of finance as Co-Chairperson of Joint Budget Committee from October 2002 to August 2005 and Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Finance from 2005 until 2008 as well as in particular for his previous service to the working class as a trade unionist under the banner of trade union SACCAWU in the 1990s.”

A glimmer of hope

Perhaps there is one glimmer of good news – as the country prepares to be declared only worthy of junk bond status.

It is beginning to amass a good number of rather admirable leaders.

There is the public protector, Thulisile Madonsela. And Zwelinzima Vavi – formerly of COSATU. There’s the Democratic Alliance’s Mmusi Maimane. And now there is Nhlanhla Nene.

They are not alone. And South Africa will need them in the months and years ahead.

In the meantime, as Vavi put it so accurately: a bleak Christmas lies ahead.