Time for change in South Africa: the ANC picks a new leader

Ever controversial, Jacob Zuma gave his last speech as President of the ANC today. Will his replacement create change in South Africa? Sammy Fookes explores the options

South Africa has suffered two recessions in eight years, dramatically halting economic development. Over 55% of South Africans still live in poverty  and between 2012 and 2016 gross national income decreased by 28%. The country remains highly unequal.  More unacceptable still is the economic legacy of apartheid. A 2016 research paper found 10% of South Africans, the majority white, own 90% of the country’s wealth. In addition to these financial pressures, the adult HIV prevalence rate is 19% and according to the Health Minister, among school girls it is a staggering 28%.

The 2008 global financial crisis was not kind to South Africa, hollowing out the country’s central economic pillar; demand for mineral deposits.  Many attribute economic woes specifically to Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s erratic president, who survived numerous attempts to force him to step down. Ivor Sarakinsky from the University of the Witwatersrand’s School of Governance in Johannesburg said in June that “Zuma being replaced sooner rather than later will certainly help rebuild the confidence needed to turn the economy in a positive direction”.  Such sentiment is mainly the result of businesses’ reluctance to invest in the uncertain environment Zuma is creating. The decision in March to sack Pravin Gordham, who is well-regarded by investors and economists, and had been looking to improve the performance of state owned firms resulted in several agencies downgrading South Africa’s credit rating. Gordham was critical of Zuma’s close ties to the Guptas, a powerful family of businesspeople. A report by the Public Protector has accused Zuma and the Guptas of ‘state capture ’ through the Gupta’s influence in Cabinet appointments and awarding of contracts at state-owned enterprises.

It is little wonder then that South Africans do not trust the institutions that govern them. According to Transparency International, in 2013, nearly 80% of people believed political parties were corrupt in South Africa, in addition to 70% believing parliament was corrupt.

Zuma himself faces a staggering 783 charges of corruption. The most notorious of these is the 2016 finding by the country’s highest court that he violated the constitution by using $23 million of state money to renovate his home with additions of a swimming pool and amphitheatres, claiming these were security upgrades.

President Jacob Zuma in 2013  / GCIS

Public anger has resulted in numerous street protests, as Zuma and his close circle of connections continue to grow rich while ordinary South Africans grow poorer. Even members of Zuma’s own political party, the African National Congress (ANC), have been vocal in their criticism, complaining of ‘massive looting and corruption’ at a recent parliamentary debate on whether to oust him. Opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance hope to make electoral gains through the ANC’s association with Zuma. Indeed, in local elections in 2016 the ANC experienced poor results, losing four ‘metros’.

The end of Zuma’s reign is, however, in sight. At a party conference on December 16 the ANC will choose Zuma’s successor as its leader and presidential candidate in 2019. The winner will likely be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and preferred choice, or Cyril Ramaphosa. Ms Dlamini-Zuma would protect her ex-husband from corruption charges. According to The Economist, a victory for her would undermine the economy, jeopardise social harmony and entrench state capture.  Ramaphosa, on the other hand, is seen as a pragmatist, with plans to boost economic growth and provide much needed jobs to South Africans.

In 2011 the acronym BRIC, which refers to Brazil, Russia, India, and China became BRICS with the addition of South Africa. It would then seem that South Africa’s economic development and growth would mirror that of China and India, the lives of its citizens would improve, and its geopolitical clout would rise. In recent years it has become clear that such optimism was misplaced.

Given the damage Jacob Zuma has done in power, this leadership election should represent a straightforward choice for the ANC. The numbers suggest Ramaphosa is in the lead. However, even with Zuma’s unpopularity, the vast majority of ANC MPs backed him when it mattered in a vote in August brought forward by the opposition on whether to remove him as President.

Millions of South Africans need a strong economy to reverse the country’s massive unemployment rate and escape poverty. The ANC must take stock of this.  They should consider its slogan of ‘a better life for all’ and change course by electing Ramaphosa if it wants to truly deliver this promise.

Find out more: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Trials_of_Jacob_Zuma

Thumbnail image: Jan Truter


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.


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