Disputed resolutions, deferred decisions and policy uncertainty were the prime bequests of the policy conference of the African National Congress to the troubled organization, notes analyst Susan Booysen:
To the question: is President Jacob Zuma leading the ANC onto a path of implosion, the verdict is a sad but unambiguous “yes”. The conference confirmed that the president and his faction are not letting go – neither of their ambitions to determine Zuma’s successor, nor of their efforts to make “radical economic transformation” their platform.
“The conference confirmed that the ANC recognises that the cancer of corruption and capture afflicts it badly. Yet the organisation remains stunted in finding ways to deal with it,” Booysen adds.
Zuma told policy conference delegates that the government sought to accelerate land redistribution and that a Zimbabwe-style expropriation-without-compensation was a possibility. Zuma railed against his critics, but conceded that the ANC had been tainted by corruption.
A recent report into corruption allegations against Zuma –“State of Capture” – contains evidence, of cronyism, questionable business deals and ministerial appointments, raising fears that South Africa is “going to become a kleptocracy.”
Zuma’s desire to lever his ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma into the leadership of the ANC, and by extension the presidency of South Africa, is driven by baser motives, as he believes that she will protect his core interests in two main areas, the University of Leicester’s James Hamill writes for World Affairs:
- First, Zuma hopes that Dlamini-Zuma would ensure that the 783 charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering that have been threatening him for over a decade now never translate into a formal criminal prosecution. If they do, and he is convicted, he believes she can be relied on more than [deputy president Cyril] Ramaphosa to issue a presidential pardon.
- Second, Dlamini-Zuma represents continuity and with it the preservation of the patronage networks that have become so entrenched under Zuma. Over the past year, South African politics have been dominated by discussions of the systemic political corruption orchestrated by Zuma and the private interests that cling to him. Zuma and his lackeys view access to the state, particularly state-owned enterprises, as an opportunity to loot and plunder with impunity.
Mcebisi Ndletyana, associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg, says Dlamini-Zuma’s background and her candidacy “are at odds”. “Her faction is pushing populism and policy positions they don’t believe in — radical economic transformation. It’s a slogan . . . designed to conceal a presidency built on patronage-client networks,” he says. “But she has always been an authentic person — she doesn’t play to the gallery.”
South Africa could serve as a powerful model for the continent and play a more influential diplomatic role in pressing other countries on democracy and human rights concerns, but its inward focus and distraction with its own challenges (which pale in comparison to some other countries in the region) leave it underperforming regionally, according to a new report from the McCain Institute:
South Africa is experiencing a rise in nationalism in certain segments of society, as well as calls for the redistribution of private property by groups such as opposition leader Julius Malema’s “Economic Freedom Fighters,” who some view as exploiting socio-economic grievances for political gain. Another unsatisfied segment of the population are the “bornfreers” – those who were born in the post-apartheid period but feel alienated by the ANC, which is an aging organization demonstrating increasingly authoritarian tendencies in its internal governance, and believe that the overall system is not benefitting them. This level of dissatisfaction was evidenced by the near sweep of municipal elections by opposition parties in August 2016.
Some observers believe the EFF are emerging as South Africa’s version of the authoritarian populism that has emerged in central and eastern Europe, Latin America, the Philippines, and elsewhere, exploiting socio-economic grievances – not least acute social inequality – for political gain.
Both the African National Congress (ANC) and Namibia’s South West Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) had to adapt to a liberal democratic order that included transparency and accountability as part of civic demands and expectations, note the University of Pretoria’s Henning Melber and the University of Cape Town’s Chris Saunders. In both cases the constitutions provided for strong executive presidents with far-reaching influence and power, along with the rule of law and multi-partyism, they write:
But the two countries have adjusted in different ways. SWAPO has entrenched its political dominance in all spheres of society since independence. The ANC is in decline and faces massive public protest and political opposition. In both cases the state presidents have resorted to populism to pursue their agendas.
The scandal surrounding Zuma’s relationship with the Guptas business empire is more than a serious corruption case and raises the prospect of ‘state capture,’ as detailed in “Betrayal of the Promise,” a recent report from South African social scientists.
The authoritarian turn of the ANC is disturbingly reminiscent of similar syndromes within other parties of ‘national liberation’ – from Angola’s MPLA to Zimbabwe’s ZANU-PF.
Other observers highlight the problem of the political impotence or culpability of civil society: as the SA analyst RW Johnson has noted, some NGOs have undergone a transformation from apartheid era watchdogs to post-apartheid lapdogs.
Judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week strongly criticized South Africa for violating ICC rules by failing to arrest Sudan’s president during a 2015 visit to Johannesburg, in a case that will test international support for the court, Reuters reports.
The case highlights disappointment that, as one of five rising democracies, South Africa has been at best an inconsistent advocate of democratic values and liberal norms.