Is the ANC South Africa’s real problem?

Jacob Zuma

During the nine years of Jacob Zuma’s South African presidency, the once-bright colors of the Rainbow Nation were dragged ever deeper through the mud. The vision of a prosperous, egalitarian country operating under the rule of law which Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo laid before their people has been betrayed.

Zuma epitomized that betrayal. His corrupt misrule finally came to an end on Wednesday night when he agreed to step down before he was pushed from his position by a vote in parliament. But even to the end he was protesting he did not understand what he had done wrong and complained pathetically that all he had wanted was just a few more months in power.

It would, however, be entirely wrong to regard Zuma as the cause of South Africa’s ills. He was merely the most prominent symptom. Zuma did not make his way to the head of the ruling African National Congress and the leadership of his country by charisma and administrative competence. Rather he reached the top through a variety of corrupt deals and alliances in which he shared out payola from kickbacks and gave promises of more to come. And here is the rub. It was impossible for senior members of the ANC not to have known at the very least of Zuma’s reputation for corruption. Yet for a long while, there was no serious effort by the ANC leadership to rein in the man they themselves had chosen as their leader. This was despite credible corruption charges over an arms deal which, scandalously, were dropped when Zuma became president.

Zuma’s presidency was, therefore, an indictment of the whole ANC. Thus it is has to be a cause for concern that the man who is to succeed him is Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s deputy. Ramaphosa, a lawyer who once led the miners’ union in apartheid South Africa, later became a mine owner himself, then branched out into almost every sector of the economy. He is now said to be South Africa’s richest man with a fortune approaching half a billion dollars. His close relations with the ANC may have assisted him in building that business empire.

Ramaphosa has vowed to clean up corruption. It is a substantial challenge. The notion of kickbacks has become embedded in the ANC and the ANC has become embedded at the top of the country’s politics. It has been in power for 24 years. There is an assumption that it has an inalienable right to govern, in much the same way that the white minority ruled the country for some two centuries. For many in the heady days after Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, it seemed payback time. “Black empowerment” policies opened the way to wealth and power for leading members of the ANC.

Tragically, the ordinary black South Africans did not benefit. Under ANC misrule, unemployment is approaching 30 percent, public services are collapsing and violent crime is flourishing. Ramaphosa, who helped write the Rainbow Nation’s commendable constitution, needs to consider if the ANC is actually part of the problem rather than the solution. Busting corrupt leaders will not be enough. Root and branch reform is essential and that could involve the fostering of an alternative political party to which voters could turn in order to challenge any future abuses.