After Zimbabwe, South Africa is yet another country that is witnessing acute crises at the party, state and the societal levels within southern Africa. There is a growing discontent with the African National Congress (ANC)-led Jacob Zuma regime due to pervasive corruption and misrule.
Moreover, ANC's alliance with the South African Communist Party (SACP) is almost dead and its other partner, Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU), is undergoing intractable crisis. As the ANC is gearing up to hold its 54th national conference from 16 to 20 December 2017 at Gauteng, President Zuma’s critics want to highlight how the misrule of Zuma has virtually stifled development of South Africa. Almost one third of South Africans live below the poverty line. Besides, problems such as growing rate of unemployment among the youth, soaring debts, inflation, and endemic corruption of mammoth proportions entangled with arbitrary exercise of power by the Zuma regime have consistently undermined the credibility of the ANC. A colourful and controversial president, Zuma has faced charges from alleged rape to massive financial scams since he assumed office in 2009.
Unsurprisingly, Zuma was dealt a severe legal blow when 783 charges against him in cases involving corruption, money laundering and racketeering were reopened for investigation by the Supreme Court in September 2017. Julius Malema’s party called Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) is determined to expose financial scams under Zuma. The EFF is not merely influenced by Marx and Lenin but rebel thinker Frantz Fanon who drove home the significance of race-based politics in dehumanising the black races.
In the midst of radical opposition from the parties like the EFF as well as media, the judiciary is more often giving verdicts on legal battles inimical to Zuma regime. Indeed, like the Indian National Congress (INC) after Nehru, the ANC after hundred and five years of its existence is witnessing progressive deterioration because it is losing inner values and idealism of Mandela years. Ostensibly, Zuma has reconciled to the fact that he is an outgoing president since the ANC will choose its presidential candidate in the forthcoming conference. The candidate will contest the presidential election in 2019. Nevertheless, he is also trying to push Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, his ex-wife as a candidate for the presidential office. Dlamini Zuma, a competent anti-apartheid activist in her own right, was minister of health and later of foreign affairs in South Africa before the African Union Commission elected her as its Chairperson in 2012. Cyril Ramaphosa, current deputy president of South Africa, is also a powerful contender for the job. An erstwhile trade union leader, a self-confessed socialist, and a businessman, Ramaphosa is also market-friendly and perceived as someone who can revive ANC’s fortunes.
If the ANC is serious about reinventing itself, it needs to address the most dominant issue of the cancerous growth of corruption and its debilitating impact on South African state and society. Strangely, past corruption scandals have been incessantly haunting President Zuma. In 1999, when Zuma was deputy president, the South African government announced its largest-ever arms deal involving US $5 billion. The deal involved companies from Germany, France, Britain, Sweden and South Africa. Allegations of bribery rocked the Thabo Mbeki as well as Zuma regime over the arms deal. Owing to the deal Tony Yengeni, the then chief whip of the ANC and member of the defence committee of parliament, was convicted of fraud in 2003. Likewise, Schabir Shaik, a financial advisor who was allegedly soliciting bribe on behalf of Zuma from Thint (a local subsidiary of French company called Thales), was found guilty in 2005. Although charges of fraud were dropped against Zuma in 2005, they are resurfacing now in spite of his vehement denials to the contrary.
The greatest corruption scandal under Zuma has been Guptagate. An Indian family of Guptas, closely associated and generously supported by Zuma, has been able to build a formidable business empire with a wide range of assets in the areas from mines to media in South Africa. It has allowed Guptas to enjoy excessive political influence in the functioning of the government since 2013. Guptas were also able to appoint a deputy finance minister (Mcebisi Jonas in 2014) of their choice through Zuma through alleged bribery. Media and civil society in South Africa resented such ‘corporate capture’ of the state that allows big conglomerates to make meal of democracy. In the midst of Guptagate, Zuma had fired Pravin Gordhan, his honest finance minister who was fighting corruption from within, in March 2016. However, Ramaphosa had opposed the decision and showed courage to speak truth to power. Sadly, the decision had led to a fall in international credit ratings of South Africa which marked it with ‘junk status’. What is more, Zuma showed no qualms about spending lavish governmental funds towards refashioning his private residence!
Chased by a blazing trail of corruption charges and misrule, Zuma has had to face no confidence motions in the parliament but the last one launched in August 2017 led to secret ballot voting where Zuma regime could survive with a slim majority of barely 21 votes (198 for, 177 against and 25 abstentions). There was also conspicuous dissent in the ranks of the ANC which challenged legitimacy of Zuma within his own party.
Admittedly, the existence of key strategic minerals like uranium, gold, platinum diamonds etc and quest to bolster security through arms deals have often left enough room for structural corruption in South Africa since apartheid days. Consequently, it has not been easy to contain an urge of predator politicians to take cuts from mining to launder money overseas or add more cash to funds of the ANC. There is an ongoing and visible tussle between corrupt politicians and greedy businessmen on one hand and independent regulators and judiciary on the other. Amidst this, a vibrant judiciary and resilient civil society with courageous journalists/activists appear like a silver lining in the clouds.
Under the prevailing conditions, the ANC will have to choose a leader with a clean record in its national conference. Among the two serious contenders, it is Cyril Ramaphosa rather than Dlamini Zuma who is more unequivocal against corruption while the latter, like President Zuma, has stooges of Gupta on her slate. Although, the contest is still wide open between the two contenders, so far Ramaphosa has received 1862 nominations from ANC branches located in nine provinces while Dlamini Zuma has received only 1309 nominations. The contest for ANC presidency is being keenly observed the world over.
(The author is the president of the GB Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad, and founder and former vice-chancellor of the Central University of Allahabad.)
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Updated Date: Dec 15, 2017 09:18:32 IST