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Zuma’s time is up – but what does it mean for South Africa?

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Jacob Zuma ANC

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) is mired in a serious leadership crisis, and President Jacob Zuma faces an ignominious end to his political career. The 74-year-old has refused to take responsibility amid corruption and conspiracy charges. Having been replaced as party president by Cyril Ramaphosa in December 2017, he faced the choice between resigning or taking his chances with a no-confidence vote in parliament. After days of mouting pressure, he finally walked.

The whole episode carries more than an echo of recent events in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where a bloodless military coup removed President Robert Mugabe but left his ruling ZANU-PF party in power, while the coup’s leaders were rewarded with cabinet posts.

The global public seems glued to every move in South Africa’s political drama. But is the attention actually warranted? Is the country really at one of its most momentous crossroads yet? That will only be clear with hindsight.

Perhaps Zuma’s removal will help transform South Africa’s political culture and regenerate the ANC, which is still stuck in its old anti-apartheid/Mandela mode. If it revives the ruling party and ends the era of old men clinging to power and acting with impunity, Zuma’s departure will be one of the great Rubicons in South Africa’s post-apartheid history.

READ MORE: Lessons for South Africa’s Jacob Zuma in Robert Mugabe’s misfortunes

Falling short

Just before the 1994 elections, ANC activist Albie Sachs declared that the ANC had at best two terms in power to bring electricity and running water to the majority of South Africans and to address the inequality in educational, health and infrastructural services. Any longer, he said, and young South Africans would start to challenge its authority.

To give the party its due, what has been achieved is remarkable. It is easy to forget just how momentous the country’s problems were when the ANC took power in 1994. Given it started with one of the world’s largest gaps between the wealthy (at that time almost exclusively “white”) and the poor (almost exclusively of colour), post-apartheid South Africa has been tremendously successful in creating a stable and solid black middle class.

The party had to try and refashion the country on all levels – political, economic, social, cultural – and in some ways, it has made great strides. While it has its many critics, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of the late 1990s helped the nation start to move on from one of the most intense protracted experiences of racial discrimination in recent history.

But some of the deep problems apartheid wrought are anything but solved: millions still live in poverty, and levels of violent crime (notably sexual violence) are strikingly high. All the while, many among the ANC’s elite (not least Zuma himself) have conspicuously accrued tremendous wealth, and their extravagance has become a significant problem for the party’s legitimacy. But instead of cleaning house or changing its ways, the ANC has over and over again chosen to fall back on its victory against apartheid and the memory of its most famous member, Nelson Mandela.

READ MORE: ‘Zuma The Thief Must Voetsek’

Behind the figleaf

In 2013, a month before Mandela passed away, the South African High Commission in London hosted the exhibition “We Love Mandela”, which included a painting by South African artist Simon Dean entitled “The Last Supper”. It portrays Mandela as Jesus, surrounded by an astonishing cadre of “disciples” – from Desmond Tutu, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie.

This sort of Mandela-worship has been the party’s figleaf, and a useful device for silencing opposition, criticism, and calls for change. For far too long, it kept the party safe enough from electoral humiliation that Zuma remained secure in his office. But underneath it all, the political crisis that now confronts both the ANC and South Africa writ large has been brewing for years, and Zuma’s demise is long overdue.

To judge by the coverage outside South Africa, with the global public glued to every turn in this political drama, one might think Zuma’s demise had come from nowhere, and that it is guaranteed to change the country for good. But in reality, nothing new has come to light in some time. The latest investigation into his connections with corrupt interests began with exposés by the South African Mail & Guardian newspaper in 2013. Most of the assorted corruption charges against Zuma predate his presidency, as does the controversial rape case against him in 2005-6.

Zuma’s presumptive successor, Cyril Ramaphosa, is not exactly the embodiment of radical change. But Ramaphosa will have the chance to finally seize the impetus for a true political transformation – to find a way of tackling poverty, violence and discrimination while reforming the ANC from top to bottom.

The ConversationOnly if that happens will the end of Zuma really turn out to be the moment of transformation much of the world thinks it is guaranteed to be. – Written by Heike Schmidt, Associate Professor in Modern African History, University of Reading

This article was originally published on The Conversation.

Current Affairs

Why Zimbabwe Is Not There Yet

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Despite the ample investment opportunities in Zimbabwe, post-election setbacks challenge its economic recovery

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First African Elected Female Head of State Urges Women to Be Bold

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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has an iconic status in Africa and the world. As the first elected female head of state in Africa, she served as the leader of Liberia for two elected terms.

Those terms saw Liberia’s slow and steady march from what was considered a pariah state to a country with what the Mo Ibrahim Foundation calls a “trajectory of progress” that has helped transform its economy, survive the shock of Ebola, and restructure public institutions to respond to the needs of the people.

READ MORE: The People’s President

It is only fitting that FORBES WOMAN AFRICA gets to meet the Nobel Peace Prize winner in Rwanda, a country known for its high representation of women in Parliament, and where Sirleaf is awarded the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership at a special ceremony.

Q. Please share your thoughts on the African Union (AU) self-funding reform goal, the Kaberuka Proposal.
The dependency of the AU on external sources has been the subject of debate for many years, and the thinking of our leaders is that it is better to finance our operations by ourselves and alleviate pressure and dictation from these external sources. On the other hand, we know that to have financial autonomy, every country must be able to contribute consistently. So, the crux of the reform is to change the payment formula and make sure everyone knows they have to pay their part.

When it comes to the Kaberuka suggestion, it meets our objective of financing our organization ourselves. However, it does place a burden on the poorer states… So, our position with the Kaberuka plan is to study it some more so when we commit, we do not fall into arrears. We want to see the reform implemented, and for it to include cost-reduction in structural aspects such as travel and positions etc., thus reducing the burden on poorer countries.

Q: Will Africa really be able to tackle illicit financial flows? And with women being conspicuously absent from financial decision-making, yet being the greatest losers on such issues, how do we tackle these discrepancies?
We have to become more accountable and pass stringent mandates in institutions, as well as instill practical capacity to understand the complexities of these financial transactions. Also, we must implement a legal system that will enforce against such flow violations.

Access for women is difficult even in the case of legitimate flows. Even with a growing manufacturing sector and agri-industrial activities usually manned by women, access is still limited, for rural women particularly.

There is a big effort being put in by different regional institutions; in Liberia’s case, GIABA, the Intergovernmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, has been analyzing the flows and determining what is illicit.
But it is up to women to stand up and put other women in leadership roles, because the record is clear: women are more credit-worthy when it comes to financial transactions, and this suggests the more women there are heading these institutions, the more we can be assured that regulatory laws will be more effective.

READ MORE: ‘Women’s Leadership Is Under Attack Globally’

Q: What are your plans? How would you encourage young women to follow in your footsteps, or even create their own path?
We are establishing the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women and Development. The activities will center around five themes that will promote women in business; women in leadership; women in fragile states; women in migration; and education for women and girls. We will use the life experiences of women who have excelled in these areas. For the young women, I say to all, be self-confident and pursue your goals…Let us be bold as women.

– Interviewed by Laura Rwiliriza

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Prosecution And Praise For Jacob Zuma

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It proved a day short on time in court and big on political posturing and speeches. The former president of South Africa Jacob Zuma’s appearance lasted a mere 10 minutes, on April 6, and the trial postponed until June 8 – yet he managed to make political capital out of his day in court in Durban.

On a bright sunny day in the coastal city of Durban in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) Province of South Africa, the former head of state stood trial in his own court. Almost 10 years ago, 10 days after this day, 18 charges on 783 counts of fraud, corruption, money laundering and racketeering were dropped against Jacob Zuma by former National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) boss Mokotedi Mpshe.

This decision was said to have been based on the recordings of the so-called ‘spy tapes’, which were presented to Mpshe by Zuma’s legal team. And almost a decade later, Zuma stands trial in the same court for the same charges which were reinstated by now NPA boss Shaun Abrahams.

The court was packed to full capacity with only 25 journalist allowed inside. Media came from all over the country, the continent and the world. Night vigils and pickets were held outside the night before the court case and on the day the case took place, led by different organizations supporting the former president. These organizations included Transform RSA, Black First Land First led by Andile Mngxitama, student groups from various KZN universities and members of the African National Congress (ANC) ruling party who claimed not to be operating under the party’s name.

The National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC made an announcement a week before the trial that members of the party who liked to support Msholozi, as Zuma is affectionately called, could do so in their own personal capacity and not wear any party regalia. However, ANC members who attended actually did the opposite and when asked if they were defying their own party, countered “you cannot have an ANC without Jacob Zuma”.

Thousands of supporters in front of the Durban High Court chanted struggle songs and praised Zuma.

Zuma addressed the crowds after spending close to 15 minutes inside the court room.

“I keep asking them what have I done for them to keep trying to bring me down but they have no answers but one day they will,” he said.

Among the top-ranking ANC officials in KZN was the province’s MEC for Economic Development and Tourism Sihle Zikalala who vowed to aid in defending the former president.

What is clear is that the ANC in KZN is still divided, with its members committing to prove Zuma’s innocence and unseating current president Ramaphosa before the 2019 elections. On the other hand, some others are calling for his prosecution by the court of law.

This case may take years to be concluded and political wars in the province may not augur well for the ANC.

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