Trouble in the Rainbow Nation

Trouble in the Rainbow Nation

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Toni Mikec, Foreign Policy Contributor

Opinion - Although the government-sanctioned form of discrimination known as apartheid has ended in South Africa since the election of Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC) party in 1994, it is becoming clear that South Africa is still far from becoming a stable and prosperous nation that the democratization literature suggested. For instance, the domestic political period has entered a period of political turmoil as the President, Jacob Zuma, has surprised many political analysts by surviving an eighth round of a vote in the legislature that aimed to express no confidence in his government.

While the mere fact that President Zuma has survived that many votes of no confidence against his government is surprising enough, political analysts point to another problem facing the President. The dissent in his own party, the ANC, is growing as many members of his own party voted against the President in the vote of no confidence for the first time.

In contrast, before the vote, only four ANC members in the legislature openly broke with their party leader. Even though the election was run on a secret ballot, it is clear that this growing bloc of dissent with President Zuma is threatening to split the ANC apart. In fact, Milton Nkosi, of BBC Johannesburg, noted that this was a recent change within the ANC when he wrote that “the governing African National Congress (ANC) used to stand together as a solid block, particularly when they were under attack from outsiders. But not this time.”

The vote has also provoked a call among the various South African opposition parties for the ANC members who voted against the President to resign from office. In the eyes of the ANC opposition, it would make little sense for these dissenters to continue to support someone who they want out of office. Some of the anonymous ANC dissenters have countered with the argument that while they want President Zuma out of office, they want to do it through the ballot box, not through a vote of no confidence.

The next election in South Africa will be in December when the ANC will meet and elect a new candidate to replace the aging President Zuma. As of right now, it is highly probable that the new candidate will either be the Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa or Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, President Zuma’s former wife.

Part of the fury with the President has been over various accusations of corruption that have been linked to him or to his administration. For instance, in 2005, he was charged with “corruption over a multi-billion dollar arms deal in 1999”. Those charges have since been dropped but in 2016, a court ruled that he usedgovernment money to “upgrade his private home in Nkandla”. Furthermore, in 2017, a judge recommended that he appoint an inquiry into his dealings with the Gupta family. For obvious reasons President Zuma has been reluctant to do so.

While these choices may have played a role in averting being voted out of office by the national legislature, President Zuma’s personal choices have contributed to the weakening not only of his party, which still retains the prestige of being linked to the political liberation of South Africa, but also of the state of South Africa. With regards to the ANC, some political analysts, including Milton Nkosi have argued that the ANC has wounded itself too much to be a viable political party in the future.

However, it is becoming clear that no other political party in South Africa can hope to match the prestige and the ability to mobilize the South African electorate that the ANC is able to. At the same time, the problems in the South African state continue to accumulate whether they be economic inequality, government corruption, crime, HIV-AIDS, or unresolved issues from the Apartheid period that involve the white Afrikaner population.

It is clear that the new president, whomever he or she is, has to address these issues or else South Africa will run the risk of becoming a kleptocracy like Zaire was during the rule of President Mobutu. There is even a possibility that South Africa, if these problems are not addressed, could become a “failed state” like Sierra Leone during its 1991 to 2002 civil war. Such a calamity would represent a severe backslide for a country that recently escaped not only a dark period in its history but also many of the other problems that have plagued the nations of Africa since the beginning of decolonization in the 1950s.

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