Zuma out! Zooming in on South African politics

The African National Congress (ANC) is undoubtedly the most popular political party in South Africa. They were a driving force in the process of abolishing apartheid laws, and the first party to be democratically elected in 1994, with Nelson Mandela as their leader. It is therefore hard for South Africans to vote for another party, despite the longstanding unpopularity of their former leader Jacob Zuma. The bond to Mandela, and what he did for South Africa, is difficult for many to overlook. So, if the election of the ANC leader to the office of president is inevitable, change then must come from within. This happened last week when Cyril Ramaphosa was elected the fifth president of South Africa. He might represent the turning point that South Africans and supporters of the ANC are hoping for.

Some experts claim that the election in 2019 is going to be the most challenging for ANC since they came to power. That said, it is still probable that they will take home the victory. Jacob Zuma first came in power in 2009 when the ANC won by a landslide with 65% of the votes. Since then, the Zuma Administration has been criticized for being corrupt, ineffective and not expanding the economy, and the ANC’s popularity has dropped. A struggling economy has led to poverty and widespread unemployment in South Africa, one of the most unequal societies in the world. This, in conjunction with Zuma’s scandalous and much criticized leadership has created unrest in South Africa. Students have protested against colonialism, and demanded that statues of colonial leaders should be taken down. The “Rhodes must fall” (Cecil Rhodes is a famous colonial leader) movement developed in to “fees must fall” where violent riots against increasing university fees erupted. These are just two examples of the politically frustrated South African youth expressing their dissatisfaction with the political leadership.

Protesters marching against university fees in Pretoria (Photo: Paul Saad)

But what did it take for ANC leader Jacob Zuma to loose his grasp on power? In 2009, the year that he got elected president, he faced 783 corruption charges, but the charges were dropped because they were seen as politically motivated. He also renovated his luxurious mansion in Nkandla using taxpayers’ money, and later was ordered by the constitutional court to repay it. Zuma was also accused of sexually assaulting an HIV positive woman in 2005. The fact that she was HIV positive became relevant because Jacob Zuma afterwards claimed that he avoided getting the virus by having a shower afterwards. He was acquitted in court, and Zuma’s testimony was that it was consensual, but he still doesn’t seem to know much about how HIV is transmitted. This is just a small selection of the scandals that Zuma faced, and survived, puzzlingly enough. From 2009 up until last week he has been the president of South Africa. A president surrounded by scandals, but a president nonetheless.

On February 12, 2018 the National Executive Committee of ANC held a meeting addressing the future of Zuma as president. The ANC leaders asked Zuma to resign from office and on February 14, 2018 he resigned from office with the following words “No life should be lost in my name and also the ANC should never be divided in my name”. On February 15, 2018 Ramaphosa was elected president, by the parliament of South Africa.

Many believe Cyril Ramaphosa has all the qualities a South African president needs. Firstly, he is a part of the ANC. Secondly, he was part of freeing South Africa from apartheid, and therefore the bond to Mandela is clear. Thirdly, he is not Jacob Zuma. And finally he is a successful businessman, who promises to turn the economy around and “make South Africa great”. We all know that businessmen becoming politicians is always a good idea… right?

Ramaphosa was part of the ANC when the apartheid regime was ousted, but when Mandela didn’t choose him as his vice president, Ramaphosa declined Mandela’s offer to be a part of the government and instead left politics to commit to the business sector. Ramaphosa is seen as a symbol of black capitalism in South Africa, where majority of businesses are still owned by the white population. Critics say that he didn’t build his business empire on his own. They claim many white businessmen gave him stakes in their companies after he left politics, and since he still had a foothold within the ANC he could acquire insider information that helped him expand his business.

However, Ramaphosa has too, been surrounded by scandals. Ramaphosa started his political carrier as a union leader for the trade union. One of his biggest achievements as a trade unionist was organizing the largest mining strike in South African history, as a method to pressure the apartheid regime. It is therefore seen by some as contradictory that he, in 2012 as non-executive director for a company that owns the Marikana Platinum mine, criticized miners for protesting and called for harder police action. The protest resulted in 34 miners being killed by the police, the deadliest shooting since the apartheid regime was in power. Ramaphosa, who earlier was seen as a great labor activist, found himself in a situation where miners and opposition leaders held him responsible for the “Marikana massacre”, calling him a cold hearted capitalist, and accusing him of having blood on his hands.

Despite this, Ramaphosa returned to politics and rose within the ranks of the ANC. In 2014 he became vice president of South Africa, serving as Jacob Zuma’s deputy. Many commentators see Ramaphosa as a strong candidate for ANC in the upcoming general elections in 2019. He is liked by most voting groups, not only for his work against apartheid but also for his knowledge on business and economy. Ramaphosa wants to take hard action against corruption and change ANC and South Africa from within, develop the economy and bring people out of poverty.

The ANC’s popularity has dropped with the Zuma administration but Ramaphosa hopes to bring ANC back to what it once represented. Time will tell if he is the cold hearted capitalist that his critics claim, or if he can live up to his image among his supporters as a knowledgeable and non-corrupt politician. He will also probably be the last president from the Nelson Mandela era. Hopefully he can carry on Mandela’s legacy of the South African rainbow nation, and bring some much-needed change to the country.

Isak Fritzon

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