Turn the page: On ANC’s future

South Africa’s ANC must seize the chance to pull away from the Zuma cabal

Updated - December 11, 2017 12:51 am IST

Published - December 11, 2017 12:02 am IST

This month South Africa will have a rare opportunity to break away from the difficult political legacy of corruption and governance failures that have blighted its post-apartheid years. At a conference during December 16-20, the African National Congress will pick its candidate for party leader, and that person will go on to replace 10-year incumbent President Jacob Zuma. Whoever Mr. Zuma hands over the reins of power to will be the favourite to become the country’s next President in 2019. But he or she will also inherit a troubled political system and a nervous, gloomy economy. Steadily rising unemployment, now nearly touching 28%, has been the chief characteristic of what some describe as Mr. Zuma’s “scandal-ridden decade” at the helm of the ANC. This has been, by most accounts, a period during which allegations of grand corruption and cronyism multiplied exponentially. Promising to root out this pervasive rot in institutional quality is one of two leading candidates: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a policy centrist and firm member of the party’s constitutionalist wing. The other serious candidate in the reckoning is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Mr. Zuma’s ex-wife, who was a minister across several cabinets and chair of the African Union.

Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, if she prevails, is expected to muddy the prospects of any investigation into alleged murky financial dealings between Mr. Zuma’s son and three brothers of the wealthy, Indian-origin Gupta family of South Africa, owners of a massive business conglomerate that controls stakes in the computer equipment, media and mining industries. She is also expected to be the candidate of continuity inasmuch as she will echo Mr. Zuma’s call for “radical economic transformation” and continue policies that are ostensibly aimed at redistributing control of resources to the nation’s relatively impoverished black majority. Either way, her nomination will boost the forces of “state capture,” or economic rent-seeking built on the marketisation of the South African state itself. Already, there are 783 counts of corruption relating to a 1999 arms deal pending against Mr. Zuma, yet no charges have been pressed. Similarly, despite reams of evidence against the Guptas in a report by a former Public Protector, no enforcement action has been forthcoming. According to Pravin Gordhan, who was fired as Finance Minister in March 2017, about $15 billion “has been looted” owing to undue influence of private interests over public institutions. Yet even if Mr. Ramaphosa triumphs at the party conclave, the troubles of the ANC may be far from over. With its overall popularity sliding, the party will have to work hard to bring in the next generation of leaders, with a greater political stature, if it wishes to realise a greater collective destiny for South Africa.

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