South Africa under Zuma: The apple falls far from the tree

Zachary Barker


“Among our country’s major challenges are crime, joblessness and corruption.”

Nelson Mandela

The presidential term of the African National Congress’ (ANC) first democratically President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, is widely acknowledged to have had more symbolic importance than legislative importance.  Granted, much was achieved in those years.  Trying to convey the spirit of reconciliation Nelson Mandela overruled a vote by younger militant activists to change the look and name of the Springbok South African rugby team, instead actively encouraging it to go on and win the 1995 Rugby World Cup on home turf and thus promote unity.  Many trade decisions were made quickly in order to help the economy recover from apartheid era sanctions.   Mandela freely admitted that he did not do nearly enough to help tackle the HIV/AIDS epidemic in his country.  While much has been alleged about Mandela, there has never been any proof that he was corrupt.  Setting the tone of his presidency he once worryingly looked at his Presidential salary and then significantly reduced it.  That altruistic trend sadly seems to have left with his retirement from the Presidency.

Mandela’s successor Thabo Mbeki was not fit to lick Mandela’s boots, never mind succeed him in the presidency.  Mbeki’s default mode for addressing difficult problems was to attack.  Not attack the problems itself or the root causes but those who simply pointed them out.  He was contemptuous of Western advice about tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic and consorted to pseudo-science and questionable “doctors” instead of modern medical science. He even went as far to say loudly that he suspected that HIV/AIDS was the product of a Western conspiracy.  Corruption within the government increased exponentially.  However the current President of South Africa Jacob Zuma has brought controversy and corruption thoroughly into the heart of government.

An anonymous ANC government member was quoted in 1994 as saying that “I didn’t struggle so hard to remain poor”, a mentality which Zuma seems to embody.  He only just became President, after some 783 corruption charges that were filed against him by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), many relating to a huge South African arms deal, were dropped on a technicality mere weeks before he assumed the presidency.

Since then controversy has never been too far away from him.  In 2005 he was charged with rape.  While Zuma was tried and cleared the judge lambasted him for recklessness in his personal life.  Zuma’s recent brush with corruption was brought up by the opposition back in 2013.  The allegations, now proven to be founded, were that Jacob Zuma had used state funds to not only pay for security upgrades at his home but also improvements for his private benefit, including a swimming pool.  This year at long last the Constitutional Court recently ruled that Zuma had in fact acted illegally and will have to pay back the considerable public funds he misused.  A stormy attempt by the opposition at impeachment in the National Assembly ended in an anti-climax when the vast majority of ANC members voted to save their leader.  During the months of legal wrangling over this scandal another one exploded over Zuma’s close association with the wealthy South African-Indian Gupta Family, who allegedly influenced cabinet appointments.  Since this happened around the time that a well-liked finance minister was sacked this did little to soothe the many worries of South Africans.

The South African economy is in trouble.  25% of the population are unemployed.  This state of affairs is made worse by cronyism caused by the government making political appointments to some 700 state owned firms.  In this way patronage is favoured over meritocracy and as a result exports have stagnated.  To make matters worse this cronyism has merely made South Africa’s state power company worse in fulfilling it’s duties in providing the country with power.  Blackouts have become so common that some observers estimate that it strikes at least 1 percentage off annual GDP growth.

Corruption from the political class has permeated down to other levels of society.  Teachers unions sell of jobs while police corruption is rife.  Meanwhile violent crime levels in South Africa put the country among the worst in the world.  The last fortress holding out against corruption seems to be the judiciary.  But this has led to South Africans dangerously over relying on it, exemplified by Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) lobbying it for things such as free electricity, housing and water.  Even there Zuma’s dirty hands have not stayed away.  Zuma has tried multiple times to disarm the (NPA) by placing cronies into the top spot, with to date embarrassingly unsuccessful results.  ANC rhetoric against the NPA has been hysterical in the extreme.  Unfortunately for Zuma the judiciary is not done with him.  The courts are still yet to rule on whether his pre-presidency corruption charges should be reinstated.

Not content with mismanaging South Africa’s democracy and economy, the ANC have taken aim at the country’s foreign policy.  The ANC’s latest foreign policy strategy paper regurgitates the worst of African Communist propaganda.  The fall of the Berlin is heralded as a disaster that unleashed American imperialism.  The paper talks about America in Africa in neo-colonialist terms and takes Russia’s side of the Ukraine Crisis.  The ANC has had a long history of rough relations with the Western powers during apartheid due to their dealing under the table with the South African pro-apartheid Government.  However since then Nelson Mandela led the way in terms of reconciliation with these countries.  In return South Africa has received vital help from these countries, especially in fighting HIV/AIDS.  It may not be a coincidence that these denounced countries have tight rules when it comes to trading with other countries where corruption and money laundering are real dangers to their investments.

South Africa is in danger of becoming another squandered opportunity in Africa.  The country’s Liberal Democracy is under siege with the ANC arrogantly treating the country like a one party state.  Meanwhile big problems are getting worse instead of being solved.  The Democratic Alliance (DA)is the most serious opposition challenger to the ANC, but it has a long way to go.  DA wins in local elections in big urban areas such as Cape Town has done much to raise the party’s profile.  During next year’s local elections, if things continue to get steadily worse for the ANC, the DA might be able to win control of Johannesburg, Pretoria and Port Elizabeth.  The DA is a long way off from being a significant challenger to majority ANC governments being elected nationally, but locally it is gaining momentum.  It has sought to change it’s image too with white anti-apartheid activist Helen Zille stepping down from the leadership to make way for the younger, black and more charismatic Mmusi Maimane.  Despite Zille’s respectful anti-apartheid credentials the ANC has shamelessly played the race card against the ANC.  However growing interest in the DA on the part of mulatto South Africans has done much to challenge the ANC’s image as a rainbow coalition.

South Africa is on the way off the short list of reliably democratic African countries (if it has not already left it), leaving Botswana, Senegal and Cape Verde among a few others as examples.  The ANC is squandering Mandela’s vision of the country as a beacon of Liberal Democracy on a continent that is short of it.  The ANC have no right to venerate the person whose legacy they are actively destroying every day.

About Zachary Barker 42 Articles
Zac is a graduate in BA Hons International Relations and Politics and MsC International Development and Security. He is Bristol's Local Coordinator for the political organisation, Republic. His favourite journalists include Nick Cohen and Hunter S Thompson. Zac is currently working on a novel. His interests include Model United Nations, current affairs, travel, video games and reading and writing. Follow Zac on Twitter @ZacharyBarker1