The Globe: Zuma's Fiefdom

The African National Congress (ANC) has held a monopoly on power in South Africa since the end of apartheid – a grip powerful enough to make South African President Jacob Zuma state that the ANC will be in power “until the return of Jesus Christ.” However, that power is faltering.

In recent elections, the African National Congress has lost majorities in urban areas such as Cape Town, though it still maintains power in rural areas. The motivator of this decline is the previously mentioned President Jacob Zuma, the ANC member who was held the presidency since 2009. With a South Africa in increasing economic peril, an ANC that is turning on itself; in a presidency defined by rampant corruption, Mr. Zuma has a 20% approval rating – and may bring the African National Congress down with him.

Jacob Zuma is the third President of post-Apartheid South Africa. He is preceded by Thabo Mbeki, and Nelson Mandela - both members of the ruling African National Congress. The 74-year-old Zuma is a former communist who has been imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela and met Thabo Mbeki in exile. Until later this year, Mr. Zuma leads the African National Congress - a leftist party that has served as an engine in the liberation movement and is the main power-holder in South Africa. With hundreds of corruption charges, as well as a rape charge, Mr. Zuma has become the personification of impunity. The court of public opinion is punishing Zuma and the African National Congress he leads via the rise of more powerful opposition parties.

On the left, the ANC is being flanked by a Marxist party that occupies many posts formerly held by ANC members. This conquest is being filed by young people angered by South Africa’s high youth unemployment rate. On the right, the African National Congress faces the Democratic Alliance - a center-right party that is built on the middle class. The Democratic Alliance is particularly popular in urban areas, with the party controlling Cape Town and Pretoria. The Alliance draws its appeal from its technocratic opposition to the corruption of the ANC.

The threat Mr. Zuma faces from opposition parties lacks the intensity of the threat from his own party. The African National Congress is not a party united. At the funeral of Ahmed Kithara, who was imprisoned alongside Nelson Mandela, former South African President Thabo Mbeki, a controversial president in his own right (though not to the extent of Zuma) read a letter written by Ached Kithara that called for Mr. Zuma’s resignation. Mr. Zuma did not attend the event.

Other outrages against the ANC that Mr. Zuma committed includes the dismissal of his otherwise highly respected finance minister because of the minister’s attempt to curb Mr. Zuma’s appropriation of government funds, such as his 23-million-dollar mansion upgrade. In his stead, Mr. Zuma appointed a loyalist to the position (his official reason for removing his finance minister based off a fabricated intelligence report that suggested the finance minister intended to “overthrow” Mr. Zuma.) The economic community punished South Africa for Mr. Zuma’s actions; the ranking of South Africa has fallen in economic brackets. Mr. Zuma proceed with the elimination of his former finance minister, ostensibly disregarding the economic consequences, which resulted in protests unprecedented in post-apartheid South Africa.

 The African National Congress, along with its allies in the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, have experienced an amount of internal dissent and opposition not seen in the young democracy’s brief existence. The internal strife in the party has also turned violent; in 2016, five people died in a protest and 12 ANC candidates were assassinated.

Nonetheless, President Zuma still retains a support base – albeit a small one. The support Mr. Zuma enjoys originates from the rural populations of South Africa. The support is predicated on government programs, such as welfare and medically-related programs. Rural supporters of Mr. Zuma’s ANC fear that there will be a potential power shift that will lead to a greater deemphasis from the provincial provinces, and a centralization of power that will favor rural areas more. Also, a fear of welfare reform exits; with Zuma supporters promoting rudimentary arguments that encourage rural supports to support Zuma, or face the possibility of benefits being taken away. In essence, South Africa under Mr. Zuma has estimably become a fiefdom: Zuma has developed a symbolic relationship with rural provincial leaders that help him, and in return he allocates power to the rural provinces.

As to be expected, current events in Africa tend to go unnoticed by general viewers in the United States. President Trump and President Zuma had a phone call after the Mr. Trump’s inauguration; the two executives discussed trade and terrorism, but there has been little else. Considering the statements released in foreign policy white papers published by the ANC (the ANC decried the fall of the USSR as a moral regression in the world), such relations are preferable to the alternative.

South African politics has transcended the acrimonious state that exists globally and has evolved into open violence – including fistfights breaking out in the South African parliament. The future of South Africa is uncertain, as is the consequences of the decline of the African National Congress. Optimists believe that the ANC will learn from its mistakes and ensure a period of reformation. Pessimists believe that the ANC will continue to fracture until it splits into opportunistic factions. The same dichotomy exists for the ANC’s rivals such as the Democratic alliance, with some suggesting that the fall of the ANC and rise of new parties represents a maturing of the new post-apartheid democracy. Others doubt the governing ability of the new parties. What is certain is the people of South Africa won the war for human freedom more the twenty years ago, and now it must secure the peace – or suffer the same forlorn fate of so many new democracies.