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Zumxit: the age of the portmanteau

Grexit’ — Greek exit — first appeared in a research report by the US investment bank Citigroup in 2012, as Greece teetered on the edge of defaulting on its enormous sovereign debt. It caught on over the next year, as the country played high-stakes economic chicken with the financial markets and its creditors in the international community.

Although other countries in Southern Europe, to differing extents, faced mounting pressure that could have pushed them to the brink of leaving the Eurozone, ‘Spanxit’ or ‘Italexit’ were portmanteaus too far. ‘Portugexit’ may just have had legs, if only the government in Lisbon had not stepped back from the brink of collapse. ‘Brexit’ — British exit — started to appear soon after. Some early adopters chose ‘Brixit’, but the sharper-edged version never quite caught on.

With the term now featuring constantly in headlines and hashtags, it was inevitable that it would evolve — in the way that ‘gate’ has been appended willy-nilly to political scandals ever since Richard Nixon. Even that force of history, however, cannot justify the hideous chimera that is ‘Zumxit,’ which began appearing in analysts reports this month.

South African president Jacob Zuma has hadSouth African president Jacob Zuma has had a difficult 18 months and a poor show at the local election could eventually lead to a premature Zumxit a difficult 18 months. After a series of overlapping scandals in 2015 — including ‘Nkandlagate’, a tussle over expensive renovations to the presidential residence — Zuma has become embroiled in a political crisis that many thought could see him driven from office. First, the president fired his finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, replacing him with backbench MP David van Rooyen. The currency, the rand, tanked, as investors panicked, and van Rooyen was out within days, replaced by the veteran Pravin Gordhan.

With allegations and recriminations still flying around, a fresh scandal broke this month. Deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas said that he had been offered the finance ministry by a family of wealthy businessmen, the Guptas, who have long been suspected of wielding undue influence. The Guptas deny the allegations, but the damage to Zuma may have been done. Local elections later this year will be a big test for the president. A poor showing could lead, eventually to a premature Zumxit.