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Africa, Governance, Leadership, parliaments, South Africa

South Africa’s Looming Crisis: the End of Zuma?

South Africa’s economic, social and
political outcomes drive sub-Saharan
Africa. At least it did for a few
years at the end of the last century and
the beginning of this one. After all, South
Africa for many years harboured sub-
Saharan Africa’s most dynamic economy,
its most vibrant political system, its most
advanced infrastructure and its most
established educational system. South
Africa also became a member of BRICS
(Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South
Africa) — supposedly a group of the leading
nation states of the developing world.
After the defeat of apartheid, South Africa
also was led by Nelson Mandela, a glowing
icon of positive change and humanistic
achievement for his country, for Africa
and for the world.
South Africa was expected to lead
sub-Saharan Africa’s emergence onto
the world scene as a major player, soon
equivalent to Asia. But no longer. This decade’s
sad tale is of great promises unfulfilled,
of Mandela’s legacy blemished and
discarded, of political leadership failing
a now-cynical nation, and of increasing
internal anger over inequality. Thanks to
bad management and collapsing commodity
export prices, South Africa could
easily slip into recession this year.
Political regimes everywhere depend
on projecting and demonstrating legitimacy.
From Canada to Chile, from the
United Kingdom to Uganda, the ability
of a government to govern and a leader
to lead effectively depends on retaining
the legitimacy that each gained through
electoral approval or as a result of widespread,
generalized citizen-provided approbation.
When such legitimacy recedes,
as it did even before the Harper administration
was voted out of office in Canada,
the ability of a leader, or a regime associated
with a flawed leader, to continue to
preside assuredly over the affairs of a nation
becomes severely compromised.
That is what has happened, relentlessly,
in South Africa. President Jacob Zuma’s
political star, once shining brightly over
a legitimized post-Mandela, African
National Congress-mediated, limitless
horizon, has now dimmed to the dark
point where good governance in Africa’s
formerly most accomplished nation is
largely gone. According to a late 2015 Afrobarometer opinion survey, public distrust
of Zuma personally increased from
37 percent in 2011 to 66 percent in 2015.
Public “approval” of Zuma’s performance
as president fell from 64 percent in 2011 to
36 percent in 2015. Afrobarometer stated:
“A majority of citizens believe[s] that he
routinely ignores both the legislature and
the judiciary.”
Despite an unyielding drought that imperils
South Africa’s much-vaunted agricultural
productivity; the failure of Eskom,
the state-owned electric monopoly, to
supply steady power to cities, towns and
rural areas (cities are often plunged into
darkness for hours at a time); and a likely
annual economic growth rate of a measly
one percent, Zuma blithely condemns
his critics and giggles when criticized in
Parliament. Recently, he purchased a US
$251-million presidential jet. Last year, he
lamely defended the state’s expenditure of
US $21 million to construct a massive villa
for him in his home province of KwaZulu-
Natal, a retreat he intends to inhabit after
eventually leaving the presidency. (Just
before Zuma assumed South Africa’s
presidency in 2009, he had 783 counts of
corruption, fraud, money-laundering and
tax evasion over his head, charges that
were dropped as he entered high office.)
Zuma probably plunged himself and
his government to a nadir in December
when he dismissed an able finance minister
who had been thwarting Zuma’s
wild attempts to purchase Russian nuclear
reactors (with big side payments) and buy
new aircraft through shady middlemen
(with more kickbacks). Zuma installed
an amateur ministerial replacement, and
then, after a national uproar, was compelled
four days later to replace the amateur
with a well-respected finance minister
from the past. Even so, the first sacking
led to a run on the rand. In early 2016,
the rand had lost almost half of its value
against the U.S. dollar.
Nelson Mandela united South Africa
when he vaulted to prominence in 1990,
after 27 years in prison, and proceeded to
reconcile the peoples of the post-apartheid
nation. His too-brief presidency, from 1994
to 1999, was remarkable for its harmony.
Thabo Mbeki, anointed to succeed him,
denied HIV-AIDS, flirted with various
“alternative” cures for the viral disease
and — crucially — allowed corruption to
flourish. Regarded as imperious and disdainful
of parish politics, he was ousted in
a palace coup by Zuma and others in 2007,
when South Africa was still relatively
well-managed (despite growing corruption)
and the then-ANC-led government
fully legitimate. Kgalema Motlanthe finished
out the remainder of Mbeki’s presidential
term until Zuma could take up the
reins constitutionally. Motlanthe is now
critical of Zuma.
Since then, South Africa has rolled
uncontrollably downhill, with economic
growth rates and GDP levels per capita
suffering. A sizeable number of newly
empowered African businessmen have
grown immensely wealthy by partnering,
according to a Mbeki affirmative-action
scheme, with the pre-existing white corporate
and mining establishments. But
most Africans, Coloureds and Indians
have seen their living standards fall. Unemployment
rates are officially only 25
percent; unofficially, according to South
African academic researchers and other
experts, more than 40 percent of Africans
are unemployed. That is, 40 percent are
outside the formal wage sector, existing
precariously by “informal” means.
Crime rates in South Africa, high under
apartheid, are much higher today.
Although Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala
and Venezuela have overtaken South
Africa as the most murderous nations of
the globe, it still scores among the notorious
top five or six civilian-killing places
in the world. In 2013, 47 South Africans
were murdered each day, roughly 32 per
100,000 citizens annually. Rapes are all too
common, officially totalling 99 per 100,000
nationwide in 2014-15. However, the
well-regarded South African Institute of
Strategic Studies believes that only 1/13th
of all rapes are reported, so the overall
figure could be much higher. Certainly,
local watchdog groups and civil society
organizations believe that South Africa
has a plague of rapes, including rapes of
very young children.
On the increase over 2008 are violent
property crimes — “aggravated robberies”
— including street robberies, house
robberies, business thefts and car and
truck hijackings. South Africa’s rate of 225
violent property crimes per 100,000 people
was among the highest in the world in
2013-2014. A number of African- and
Coloured-populated townships have demanded
better and fairer policing, largely
to no avail. When New York City Police
Commissioner William J. Bratton visited
South Africa with me in 1997, he was
surprised to see so few police patrolling
Johannesburg; senior officials told him
that their men were fearful of being out on
the streets at night, even in groups of two.
Little has changed in 2016.
A worrying and growing category of
crime occurs on farms, especially in this
unusually dry year. According to the
Transvaal Agricultural Union, a long-established
local farmers’ organization, and
Afriforum, the murder rate of white farmers
was 133 per 100,000 in 2014 (a devastatingly
destructive number by global
standards). In 2015, the rate was lower —
65 per 100,000. But even that lower rate is
almost as high as the murder rate in Honduras.
Most of the killers of white farmers
were Africans, but Africans also killed
African farm owners, 35 percent of the
total murdered in 2015. White and black
farmers say that South Africa’s police ignore
farm crimes — a common complaint
from nearly all sectors of society. Because
South Africa’s agricultural sector is at
risk economically, and because the ANC
and Zuma have noisily suggested that
Africans should own considerably more
farms than they do, farming and farm
ownership is much more precarious than
it was a decade ago. White farmers are
fleeing farms, thus depressing agricultural
output and making South Africa poorer
than before.
South Africa’s deteriorating educational
system hardly provides the basis on
which young Africans can emerge capable
of replacing deprived circumstances with
new kinds of lives and fortunes. The statistics
are harsh: Only about half of the
Africans who finish high school and sit the compulsory matriculation examination ever pass. They are therefore denied
school completion certificates and, in effect,
are unemployable in crowded urban
job markets. More telling, in some ways:
only 12 percent of the 500,000 Africans
who try to “matriculate” each year score
highly enough to qualify for university
training. One recent study of how well
students across the globe performed in
science and mathematics ranked South
Africa next to last. Two of its older universities
are ranked among the best in Africa,
the remainder far lower.
South Africa, having dismissed or retired
a cohort of white (mostly Afrikaans-speaking)
civil servants and artisans in
the years after independence in 1994, now
suffers a massive skills shortage. Approximately
800,000 positions — from accountants
to plumbers — are said to be vacant
and effectively unfillable despite the very
large pool of unemployed Africans. The
Economist reports that a key reason South
Africa under Zuma is so short of electrical
power and Eskom so badly run is, first,
that a cadre of experienced engineers was
replaced by unqualified African political
appointees, and second, that the ANC
insisted on installing party hacks in senior
positions. “You don’t deploy cadres to
play on the national football [soccer] team,
so why do you deploy them to Eskom?” a
senior African reputedly pleaded, unsuccessfully,
with Zuma.
The same incompetency prevails in the
700 other state-owned corporations, especially
those under the aegis of Transnet,
the overseer of harbours, rail transit and
the money-losing South African Airways.
(China recently promised big loans to
shore up Transnet and Eskom, but that
funding and some experts from China
may arrive too late for major rescues of a
collapsing infrastructure.)

Despite lapsing legitimacy and protests
over service delivery failures, cabinet
ministers, Zuma and civil servants have
enjoyed fat pay raises and increased perquisites.
The number of civil servants has
grown by 25 percent since 2000; a whopping
20 percent of all employed Africans
work for the central government, its nine
provinces or its municipalities.
But even those who have gainful government
employment bemoan how little
is accomplished. Health services have
declined, but it is the schools, on which
Africans depend for their advancement,
that infuriate parents. According to South
Africa’s Corruption Watch organization,
there are at least 1,000 crooked school
principals, some of whom have walked off
with cash meant to provide textbooks and
food for their pupils. Many teachers turn
up drunk. Many fail to show, and very
few appear on Fridays, instead beginning
their weekends early. Officials of the powerful
teachers’ union have been charged
with selling access to comfortable school
positions.
Corruption is everywhere, certainly at
the highest ANC levels. But the stench of
corruption also pervades most municipalities
beyond the non-ANC-run Western
Cape Province. The police, the National
Prosecuting Authority, the Health Professions
Council and most dealings between
government and citizens are riddled with
corruption. Some years ago, parliamentarians
were accused of padding their
travel allowances. More recently, Zuma’s
example has emboldened many of his subordinates
to abuse their public positions
for blatant private gain. Because the Office
of the Public Protector, an ombudsman,
was publicly critical of illegal spending
on Zuma’s retirement villa, her office has
since been starved of funds.
Only a still mostly free press, a handful
of private radio and TV stations and South
Africa’s Constitutional Court prevent
Zuma’s South Africa from regressing to
the distressing African weak governance
mean. Many judges on the constitutional
and lower courts still uphold the rule of
law and despite ANC verbal attacks, the
Constitutional Court often rules against
the executive. There have been a number
of significant reversals of official policy.
Yet often, the ANC government pays the
courts little heed. When a lower court
ordered Zuma to detain visiting President
Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan in late 2015
because of an outstanding International
Criminal Court indictment, Zuma let
Bashir quickly fly home from a government
airbase.
Zuma’s and the ANC’s legitimacy will
be tested electorally in August when
elections at the local level are scheduled.
The ANC kept its parliamentary majority
with a reduced 62 percent vote in the
2014 parliamentary elections, down from
66 percent five years before. The liberal
Democratic Alliance (DA) increased its
total to 22 percent and the militant Economic
Freedom Fighters won six percent.
Given its decreasing legitimacy, the ANC
fears it will lose control of a number of
major cities, including Johannesburg and
Port Elizabeth. (The DA already runs Cape
Town.) There could be a decisive turn
against the ANC, and thus against Zuma
(whose term runs to 2019).
If the ANC loses massively, testifying
clearly to its forfeiture of legitimacy and
dominance, it could easily regard Zuma
as a liability and force him to retire early.
That could promote Deputy President
Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union
leader and anti-apartheid campaigner
who became wealthy as an empowered
elite. Or the ANC might overlook Ramaphosa
(from a minority ethnic group) and
choose someone else much more sympathetic
to Zuma (and prepared to protect
him from retribution). Ramaphosa is
capable of restoring a Mandela-like legitimacy
within the ANC and South Africa,
but those who prefer the wages of corruption
and naked power may prevent such a
return to stability and progress. If so, Mandela’s
legacy of integrity and inclusivity
will continue to be thwarted and denied.
Only someone of Ramaphosa’s stature
and ability, heading a rejuvenated and
reformed ANC, could restore South Africa
to its rightful position of leadership within
Africa in the second and third decades of
the 21st Century. Absent a Ramaphosa,
South Africa’s national performance will
continue to deprive its people of beneficial
outcomes, and an Africa of integrity and
positive developmental advances.

This post first appeared under almost the same title in Diplomat & International Canada, April-June

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