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President Jacob Zuma could not walk down the red carpet at the opening of the parliament on Tuesday, raising more concerns about his health issues. His unsteady appearance and noticeable weight loss following a ten-day rest period after admission to a hospital for routine tests. Jacob Zuma obviously appeared tired and withdrawn.
The African National Congress (ANC) party spokesperson Zizi Kodwa said that there should be no unnecessary worry over the president’s recent health scare and that he will finish his five-year term. A local South African paper, quoting unnamed sources have indicated that President Zuma’s recent health condition was caused by a heart condition, exhaustion, and high blood pressure.
Opening the State of the Nation Address was the first public appearance Zuma made since his stay in hospital. During his time away from public duties, Cyril Ramaphosa,the deputy president of the ANC, has undertaken Zuma’s official duties.
When someone in a high-profile position such as the president taking time off from duties, it raises assumptions that he might not complete his five-year tenure. Under the South African Law, everybody who works five days a week is entitled to 30 days sick leave within a three-year cycle. Although the constitution does not mention the terms of sick leave for the president of the country. It is then assumed that Jacob Zuma can use the Ministerial Handbook for guidance.
The Ministerial handbook states that sick, maternity, annual, and other leave as may be necessary can be approved once the president approves such leave. In the absence of the president then the Premier of Government business has the authority to approve leave for ministers. This ruling does give more compassion to members of parliament than the average South African workers. Zuma as the president will have to decide on how much sick leave he would want to take.
The constitution of South Africa does indicate that the president can be removed from his position if he is too ill to govern the country. A committee of the National Assembly would have to present factual findings of the president’s health and inability to govern. The vote to remove the president would then follow. During this procedure, the deputy president will act as president.
The removal of Zuma from government might not happen as the ruling party the ANC would have to determine if he is healthy and able to govern during his five-year term. Should Zuma remain ill and not resign from his position as president then the ANC may initiate a motion to have him removed.
Zuma has a number of ministers to help with his current workload and the stress would certainly be eased once he hands over more duties to competent ministers. Many of Zuma’s speeches and answers to questions are coordinated before he appears at functions. Therefore, there is no immediate pressure of not knowing the answer, as he is always primed before appearing in public.
Historically many presidents have kept their illness secret from the public and have allowed their ministers to act on their behalf. The only South African Prime Minister, prior to 199, who died in office from natural causes was Johannes Strijdom, who reportedly died from cancer.
Questions throughout social media were raised following Zuma’s state of the nation address. Comments recall that he sounded hoarse while speaking and appeared drawn. Another comment said the president did not look fighting fit. Zuma’s speech was delivered in a slow tone, and he was not breathless. The concern of Jacob Zuma’s health does raise a concern among the public who are tentatively concerned about his ability to serve out his full term.
By Laura Oneale