ONE lesson the past six years has taught us is that leaders have a huge impact on national consciousness, economy, and institutions.

Under President Jacob Zuma the public mood is in a morose state. The economy is in bad shape. Our institutions are shaken to the core and limping. Over this destruction looms Zuma’s enigmatic shadow. The president is a colossal problem that stands in the way of generating the creative solutions necessary for rebuilding the economy and redefining a better future for SA.

He has been the focal point of our national dialogue for all the wrong reasons. In Zuma’s mind, the state is part of his patrimony extending from Nkandla right through state-owned enterprises, to be shared among his cronies.

Despite this, there is a kind of dangerous optimism that, intermittently, rears its deceptive head. It gives a false impression that change is at hand. Some are tarrying in a state of vigil for Zuma to be recalled by his party. Taking optimism to another level, business leaders went on a pilgrimage to Cape Town to meet Zuma, and came back converted. A bank CEO sounded more like an evangelist who had been raptured to heaven and sent back to earth with renewed vigour to burnish government’s tattered image.

Our challenges are fundamentally political. Policy reversals — including inept management of state-owned enterprises such as South African Airways; delays in promulgating the amended Minerals and Petroleum Resources Development Act; wrong-headed visa regulations; and somersaults on pension reform — tell a story of a government that is groping in the dark.

On the economic front, government places emphasis on a weak global economy, in particular the economic slowdown in emerging markets, as the main cause of our woes, failing to acknowledge poor leadership and policy failures.

This denialism was in display when government leaders admonished the media to report better on the global economy, as if this will revive the domestic economy. At this rate, the government will soon tell the poor and unemployed to get a dose of education on the global economy as relief for their socioeconomic pain.

If further damage is to be averted, Zuma should go. In my view, prospects of a recall by the African National Congress (ANC) along the lines of what happened to Thabo Mbeki are narrow. When Mbeki was recalled in 2008 he had already lost his position as ANC president. Zuma has a firm grip over the dominant faction in the party. ANC processes are opaque and factionalist.

Parliamentary impeachment, pending the pronouncement of the Constitutional Court regarding the Nkandla matter, is a better route since it affirms our constitutional processes.

Progressive ANC members can, with political dexterity and persuasion, convince a critical mass of ANC parliamentarians to ditch Zuma. This could be their last chance to redeem themselves. Otherwise this generation of ANC parliamentarians will leave a dishonourable legacy of having been the worst kinds of sycophants, complicit in the destruction of our institutions. Since Zuma is in his last term, ANC parliamentarians have little to lose in betraying him. The business community and unions must intensify the pressure on him, since there is no prospect of economic recovery under his presidency.

My parting shot in this last column is that, ultimately, the long-term future of SA lies with new agencies for change that can be nurtured in civic struggles and alternative politics. Seeds of this impulse can be discerned in spontaneous developments, including those related to public service delivery protests, the FeesMustFall campaign and causes that are championing social justice. Defining a new politics of hope is a goal we should express fidelity in, even as we flirt with contingency acts such as impeachment.

• Qobo is with the Pan African Institute, University of Johannesburg