Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

Jacob Zuma. Picture: GCIS

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South Africa is in a bad, bad place. You have only to look at the ministerial task team President Jacob Zuma has compiled to “deal” with the current student unrest to understand that he is preparing for something dramatic. The ministers of intelligence, security, defence and justice are in it. The minister of finance is not. It is hard to escape the suspicion that the president is preparing to crack down hard to keep universities open and soon, if it is not already the case, a crackdown will have wide public support. Could Zuma declare a state of emergency (on the campuses or in the wider country) to regain control? Soon he may have no option.

But it is what could happen under a state of emergency that matters. Zuma is under enormous political pressure and may find he is unable to control his own succession — a vital position for him as he must ensure the election of a leader of party and country who will make sure he survives the fraud charges he faces and which, in theory, could put him in jail for the rest of his life. This week the supreme court of appeal (SCA) decided that it wants to hear argument on Zuma’s appeal that a high court judgment that the charges which were set aside to help make him eligible to run for the presidency should be reinstated. The SCA decision gives him some time — it will hear argument only next year — but it seems unlikely he will be able to argue his way out of it in an open court. He could then try the constitutional court but I doubt he’d have much luck there either.

His preferred candidate would be his former wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but she must be conflicted about the proposition too. Who would seriously want to inherit the network of patronage Zuma has built around him? And, for that matter, many of the people in that network don’t trust Dlamini-Zuma anyway, primarily the so-called Premier League — the premiers of the Free State, Mpumalanga and Limpopo.

 Meanwhile, his people are pursuing finance minister Pravin Gordhan as hard as they can. They’ve charged him with fraud but the case is so weak it is unlikely to survive. That doesn’t matter and more charges against Gordhan are likely even before the court date of November 2 set by the NPA this week. The point is to pile pressure on Gordhan in the hope he cracks and resigns. Firing Gordhan would be within Zuma’s rights but politically dangerous. It could be the final move that swings sentiment inside the ANC decisively against him.

The thing is Zuma is unsure of himself and, in fact, no-one really knows what is going to happen. By refusing to resign Gordhan is directly challenging Zuma and his patronage network — the Guptas, the premiers, assorted business people and party acolytes who depend on him for their futures. That is why getting rid of him is of paramount importance. But even in this endeavour, Zuma’s troops are both intellectually and politically challenged. Not least the head of the NPA, Shaun Abrahams. Here’s Business Day’s front page lead today: NPA chief backtracks over Gordhan charges.

Stephen Grootes also nicely captures the tension in the air this morning in Daily Maverick: Op-Ed: Truth (Lies) and Long-term Consequences of the probe into Gordhan. Here’s a good example of how the Zuma network functions: Plum tax contract for Sars chief's nephew and a good analysis of how important the battle over Sars (including the charges against Gordhan) is to Zuma: SARS Wars: A desperate endgame for NPA (and Zuma). And yet more evidence of the war being fought between Gordhan and Sars boss (and close Zuma ally) Tom Moyane: SARS Wars – Makwakwa scandal: Gordhan has serious concerns about Moyane’s stewardship of vital fiscal institution.

The fact is that Zuma is fighting now on all fronts. Outgoing public protector Thuli Madonsela will publish an interim report on state capture tomorrow, her final day in office and the ongoing university unrest will have severe medium and long-term consequences for education in SA. I have heard that the UK consulate is processing around 6,000 study visa applications from young people wanting to study abroad, whatever the cost. And The Times reports that academics are also heading for the exit doors in large numbers: Academics 'queuing to quit SA'.

Alan Hirsch, who now teaches at UCT (or doesn’t teach at UCT, depending on whether or not it is open for learning) is an experienced public servant and I think this sober analysis today from The Conversation is really excellent. We are at high risk here. Zuma, typically, is out of the country: Why South Africa faces a train smash if its finance minister is removed.

Not that we are the only country going awry. In the UK, the vote to leave the European Union is confronting Britons with all sorts of challenges, perhaps especially in their pockets as the falling pound begins to stoke inflation. Suddenly the consequences are in the shops, as this delightful tale from the Financial Times tells us: Tesco pulls products over plunging pound (paywalled).

And bad stuff is happening in the US as well. Or perhaps it’s good. Donald Trump is not going to become president of the world’s biggest super-power. His past has come back to haunt him as women speak out about how he has sexually assaulted them. It started with a tough story in The New York Times: Two women say Donald Trump touched them inappropriately. Then a journalist from People magazine recalled how he kissed and touched her without permission: People magazine journalist writes disturbing account of her alleged assault by Donald Trump. And if anyone has been left out the digital magazine, Slate, has compiled a handy list of sexual allegations against Trump. Bye-bye Donald. Hillary Clinton has caught up with him even in deeply conservative Utah: The floodgates are open on Trump sexual assault allegations.

And you have to love this. The Russians, increasingly bellicose and short of cash, are building blow-up replicas of aircraft and tanks that could be used to fool Nato and US reconnaissance satellites about the true state of its readiness for war. Unbelievable: A new weapon in Russia’s arsenal, and it’s inflatable.