As we bid farewell to Nelson Mandela, his successors in the ANC have failed to govern a complex country.
Nelson Mandela used to joke that if he got to heaven his first move would be to join the local branch of the African National Congress there. For he was a devoted party man: the ANC was his life. It is perhaps just as well that he is no longer here to see what his party has become.
His immediate successor, Thabo Mbeki, was a clever, paranoid and unbalanced man who refused to allow HIV/Aids sufferers to get the medicine that would save their lives. He also supported Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Once he stepped down from office, Mbeki was shunned by the international community. His successor, Jacob Zuma, is a genial but uneducated man (he learned to read and write only when in jail) who is quite at sea when dealing with the sort of problems that are regularly thrown up by a complex and diverse society such as South Africa.
Zuma came to power after a long struggle against Mbeki. In the course of that, Zuma had to fall back on his own Zulu roots. The Zulus are the most numerous black tribe and they took it very badly that Mbeki had sacked Zuma as his deputy-president. To many Zulus, supporting Zuma meant “taking back” the ANC — it was founded by a Zulu, John Dube, and Chief Albert Luthuli, also a Zulu, had led the anti-apartheid struggle in the Fifties. The Zulus had patiently put up with three successive Xhosa ANC leaders — Tambo, Mandela and Mbeki — and there was a strong feeling that “now is our time”.
Thus Zuma came to office at the head of a Zulu bloc, which immediately took all the key “security” ministries —Police, Justice and Intelligence — as well as quite a few others. Within his home province of KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma led a huge ANC registration drive which soon gave KwaZulu-Natal a preponderance within the ANC — and that province also garnered more than its fair share of big state projects.
Zuma himself is very much the traditional Zulu — he is currently in negotiation for his sixth wife and he has more than 20 children. He has used more than £27 million of state funding to build himself a huge, almost royal compound at his native Nkandla plus a new tarred road leading to it. All his marriages are conducted in traditional Zulu style, with Zuma dressed in leopard skins and holding a spear.
In the 2009 elections Zuma’s ANC won heavily in KwaZulu-Natal and lost ground almost everywhere else. I have just conducted an opinion survey which shows the same trend going even further in the coming 2014 elections. At the 2012 ANC conference KwaZulu-Natal voted through its own programme to become the national programme and the province took over half the seats on the ANC executive. This Zulu dominance is naturally resented by other groups, resulting in growing tribal consciousness and rivalry. Already this has knocked on into the ANC-supporting Congress of South African Trade Unions, where the pro-Zuma faction is being opposed by a largely Xhosa faction. This is particularly shocking for the ANC, formed in 1912 in order to abolish tribalism and unite all Africans under its banner.
The government, racked by corruption and in-fighting, seems to be slipping towards a debt trap. Already the rating agencies have downgraded South African bonds to only two grades above junk bond level. With large budget and trade deficits the country needs foreign capital inflows of at least 11 per cent of GDP year on year just to stand still. Despite that, the government is gaily going ahead with moves which can only affront foreign investors, such as the scrapping of investment protection treaties and demanding that foreign companies who own the lucrative private security business hand over 51 per cent of their shares.
When Walmart wanted to move into South Africa the government put up all manner of obstacles. Similarly, when a South Korean telecoms giant offered to revive South Africa’s dying state-owned telecom company, the move was vetoed by government. On top of that, the end of the US Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing is likely to hit South Africa hard as money is sucked back to the United States.
All of which will quite likely see the final downgrades which will make South African bonds junk. That could trigger a stock market crash, a further fall in the currency, large capital outflows and end up with South Africa being bailed out by the IMF. In turn, the IMF would impose conditions which the ANC would find very hard to swallow: a party split is likely at that point. The ANC Left would argue for a debt default and a Mugabe-style refusal of IMF terms but there is really no way out of that cul-de-sac.
What this boils down to is that the ANC has simply failed to govern South Africa effectively. It is an extremely difficult country to govern and the party has seriously underestimated the task. It may seem very sad if Mandela’s party ends up in the debtor’s court but a sharp dose of reality is probably what it needs. The whole country has drifted on in a state of Mandela-induced euphoria but the hard fact is that you can’t govern a country like this on auto-pilot and by militant gestures alone.
A pro-ANC consortium has taken over all the country’s major morning newspapers and the editor of the Cape Times has just been sacked after publishing a true story about government corruption. Meanwhile, the ANC has forced through a law attempting to prevent the press from publishing unwelcome facts about the government.
The country has become utterly corrupt under ANC rule. Government ministers enrich themselves more or less openly. After all, Zuma’s palace at Nkandla tells one how the President behaves. Civil servants, teachers and the police are all massively corrupt. Community riots against poor service delivery occur once every two days. Mandela may join the ANC up in heaven — but the party down below seems hell-bent.
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