South Africa

Change of guard

Print edition : February 02, 2018

Cyril Ramaphosa, the newly elected president of the African National Congress, arrives to take part in the fourth day’s proceedings of the party’s 54th annual national conference on December 19, 2017, in Johannesburg. Photo: MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP

President Jacob Zuma listening to the closing speech of Ramaphosa on the final day of the conference. Photo: GULSHAN KHAN/AFP

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Zuma and a significant section of the party had thrown their weight behind her. Photo: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The leadership change in the African National Congress could mean challenges ahead for South African President Jacob Zuma.

THE African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party in South Africa since the end of apartheid, has for the last couple of years been witnessing bitter dissension. It was the election of Jacob Zuma to the leadership of the party in 2007 under controversial circumstances that accentuated the problems. So, it was with bated breath that South Africans waited for the outcome of the leadership battle in the ANC in the second week of December last year. The two candidates vying to be Zuma’s successor were Cyril Ramaphosa, his Deputy President, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, his former wife. Zuma and a significant section of the party had thrown their weight behind Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, but it was clear that the majority in the South African political establishment and the local business elite wanted Ramaphosa to be at the helm of affairs. In a hard-fought contest, Ramaphosa won by a narrow margin of 179 out of the 4,708 votes cast by the delegates.

Tales of corruption

The South African economy has been on a downward spiral and its politics has been tainted by myriad tales of corruption under the Zuma presidency. The Ramaphosa campaign focussed on the corruption and the mismanagement of the economy. He is the man the financial establishment has chosen to stem the slide and stabilise the economy.

In his last speech as the ANC’s leader, Zuma was unapologetic about the state of affairs in the country. He launched a strongly worded attack on the opposition, the judiciary and the media. Zuma was also critical of the domination by the minority white community of the South African economy and politics. He warned that the “corporate sector” was trying to control the party, saying that corruption was as endemic in the private sector as it was in the government.

After losing the leadership struggle to Thabo Mbeki in the early 1990s, Ramaphosa, the former trade unionist and anti-apartheid fighter, joined the private sector and went on to become one of the wealthiest men in the country. He was on the board of several companies, including Lonmin, which owns several mines in the country. In 2012, when 34 striking mineworkers of Lonmin were killed in police firing, Ramaphosa tried to intercede on behalf of the company and defended the police action, saying that it was the protesting workers who had broken the law.

In 2012, Ramaphosa, who owns a big cattle ranch, paid $2 million for a prize bull at an auction. In the eyes of many South Africans, Ramaphosa symbolises that section of the ANC that cohabits with the business elite. Both Zuma and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma in recent months have been fiercely critical of the dangers posed by the “white monopoly capital” that dominates the economy. But Zuma, as President, did very little to curtail monopoly capital.

‘State capture’

Zuma has been accused of facilitating “state capture” of key sectors of the African economy. In South African political parlance, “state capture” means government help to crony capitalists to take over important industries. Zuma has been very friendly with the Gupta family, which migrated from Saharanpur in India after the end of the apartheid era. Today, the Guptas are among the wealthiest business groups in the country. One of Zuma’s sons, Duduzane Zuma, is a senior partner in some of the big ventures undertaken by the Guptas.

The Gupta family is alleged to have been involved in the sacking of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 and in the appointing of another person. The move sparked an outcry within the ANC, and Zuma was forced to appoint Pravin Gordhan, a more acceptable face, as the Finance Minister. Gordhan had held the portfolio from 2009 to 2014. In early 2017, Zuma replaced Gordhan with Malusi Gigaba, who was in charge of the Home Ministry. The South African media and sections of the ANC said that the Guptas were responsible for the removal of Gordhan yet again. Zuma had to issue a public statement that he, not the Gupta family, was running the government.

Even leading financial institutions such as KPMG and McKinsey have been accused by the South African authorities of colluding with the Guptas and Zuma’s relatives. The two companies have since issued mild apologies. A South African public sector company, Eskom, has asked McKinsey to refund $73 million it earned in a contract that was shared with a Gupta-linked firm. A top South African economist, Iraj Abedian, has said that KPMG could be held liable for the loss of “tens of billions of dollars, caused by its damage to institutions and investors’ damage”. Despite their apologies, both the companies have refused to admit to any wrongdoing or legal liability.

The South African judiciary has held Zuma guilty in some cases of “state capture”. The President faces 783 separate charges of corruption. Before becoming President, Zuma was accused of getting kickbacks on an arms deal the South African government had signed with a European arms manufacturer. On December 13, 2017, the High Court ordered the President to set up a judicial inquiry committee into allegations of “state capture” against his friends and close relatives. The High Court had earlier ordered the President to compensate the state for the huge expenses he had incurred in building his private residence in Nkandla, the area he grew up in. Around $21.3 million from the state exchequer was spent on refurbishing his private compound. Zuma justified the expenditure by saying that previous Presidents had also spent huge amounts for security upgrades for their residences.

All the latest court rulings have gone against Zuma. Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng has ruled that the commission inquiring into the charges levelled against Zuma will be headed by a person chosen by the High Court. On December 29, South Africa’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, ruled that the country’s Parliament had failed “to hold the President to account as required”. The court ordered Parliament to frame laws that would put in motion the process for the possible impeachment of the President.

Zuma’s presidential term ends only in 2019, but the ANC leadership can force him out before that. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was ousted before he could complete his term after losing a leadership vote in the party. Impeachment proceedings will be an unwanted distraction for the ANC when the country goes to the polls in 2019. The left-wing Economic Freedom Fighters Party, which filed the case before the Constitutional Court, has said that it will start impeachment proceedings as soon as Parliament reconvenes in January. Ramaphosa has also been making critical speeches about the harmful effects of corruption on the country’s politics.

In the end, Ramaphosa won by a narrow margin, but the voting took place after the delegate list had been pruned. As many as 400 delegates, most of them Zuma loyalists, were disqualified at the eleventh hour. Several provincial branches of the ANC were involved in disputes over credentials.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was no walkover either. She has impressive credentials and had the support of the ANC’s youth and women’s wings. She has held senior ministerial portfolios in the South African government; her last job was as Chairperson of the African Union. She is a qualified medical doctor.

Urban-rural divide

An urban-rural divide prevails in ANC politics. Zuma, despite the allegations of corruption and impropriety, retains considerable support in the rural areas. This was reflected in the elections to the six other top posts in the ANC. Among those elected is David Mabuza as vice president of the party. He is close to the Zumas. Three of the seats on the ANC executive committee went to Zuma supporters, leaving it evenly divided. Obviously, Ramaphosa will not have a free hand in shaping the ANC’s programmes and policies after he takes over.

Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma fought for the ANC leadership on a radical platform advocating nationalisation and redistribution of land. Ramaphosa, on the other hand, focussed on the economy, stressing that he was the man who would be able to attract foreign direct investment and create more jobs. In recent elections, the ANC has lost control of major cities such as Johannesburg and Cape Town. Voters in the urban areas have drifted away from the ANC in large numbers.

Tripartite alliance under strain

The ANC will have to repair its relationship with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the powerful trade union grouping, the Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions). The tripartite alliance has been under severe strain with Zuma at the helm. Since the end of apartheid, the ANC has been ruling in coalition with the SACP. During the anti-apartheid struggle, the armed underground wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (Sword of the Nation), was composed of fighters from the ANC and the SACP. For the first time, the SACP put up candidates against the ANC in municipal elections in Metsimaholo held in November 2017. The SACP was apparently angered by the sacking last year of Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, one of their senior nominees in the Cabinet. The SACP said that Nzimande’s criticism of the Guptas and the practice of “state capture” had angered the President.

The party had indicated its support for Ramaphosa. Interestingly, the SACP had supported Zuma in his successful bid to unseat Mbeki as President in 2007. The SACP leadership was won over by the persona Zuma had cultivated at the time—that of a progressive leftist.

The challenges ahead for the ANC are manifold. The most pressing ones relate to the economy and land reforms. There is a growing demand for land redistribution and urgent creation of jobs. Despite South Africa being the economic engine of the continent, the disparity between the rich and the poor in the country is the widest in Africa.

In its eagerness to end apartheid rule, the ANC had made huge concessions to the white minority, which still controls the economic levers. The ANC had pledged not to expropriate land when negotiations for the transfer of power were held. Most of the best agricultural land is still in white hands. “In dealing with the land issue, we came up with a policy that stated that there should be a willing buyer and a willing seller. Even the ANC has conceded that this policy was wrong. Where are we going to get the money to buy the land?” Winnie Mandela, the ex-wife of Nelson Mandela, observed recently in an interview. She went on to add that even the notion that South Africa was a “rainbow nation” was a myth. “The rainbow colour does not have black,” she pointed out.