South Africa, you’re next: Will change come to Mandela’s country?

In a time when the political establishment all over the world is suffering, with voters from America to Gambia opting for change, there are few countries in need of a new direction the way South Africa is.

The promise of the Rainbow Nation after the end of apartheid in 1994 has largely been wasted, replaced by the fecklessness of the ANC and, in particular, Jacob Zuma.

Before becoming president, Zuma was already a magnet for scandal and controversy. Schabir Shaik, his financial adviser, was found guilty of bribery in 2005. Even though Zuma was the recipient of the bribes, he never stood trial. Zuma was also involved in a rape case with a friend’s daughter. But that did not stop him from being ANC President in 2007 and South Africa’s president in 2009.

Since then, every single warning sign has been borne out to the extent that it threatens the ANC’s hold on power.

There are many people, both within and outside South Africa, who are not happy with the direction in which Jacob Zuma has taken the country, and the opposition to him, both within and outside the ANC, is growing.

The local government elections in August were the first time the ANC won less than 60% of the vote, with opposition parties Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters –  both led by charismatic men – making important inroads.

It is not hard to see why. Since coming to power in 1994, the ANC has failed to fulfil many of its promises, but all these have risen to a new level under Zuma.

From scandals like Zuma’s residence in Nkandla built with public money, to battles with finance minister Pravin Gordhan, to his association with the Guptas and the damning state capture report. The list is endless.

The ANC has been slow to call him to order as well. Zuma has been successful at stacking top party positions and government institutions with his loyalists, successfully stifling dissent. However, there are cracks opening up.

Some members of his cabinet called for his resignation at the ANC’s National Executive Committee meeting at the end of November, in what is the most severe challenge to Zuma’s power. He is scheduled to step down as ANC president in a year, and his term as South Africa’s president ends in 2019.

What happens between now and then will be crucial. If someone opposed to Zuma becomes ANC President, he may be forced out before his term as president is up, giving the ANC enough time to rebuild trust with the electorate with a new face at the helm.

If he manages to install another loyalist to replace him, there is no telling what state the ANC – or South Africa, for that matter – will be in by the time the next general election comes around. It is safe to assume that there will be even more scandals to come.

South Africa is also dealing with a stagnant economy, high unemployment, and is on the verge of having its credit rating rated as ‘junk’ by Fitch.

The local government elections are enough of a sign of the ANC’s waning popularity, and if the Democratic Alliance and Economic Freedom Fighters – led by Mmusi Maimane and Julius Malema respectively – manage to put together a coalition, there is no telling what is possible.

What is clear right now is this: South Africans are open to an alternative that appeals to both black and white voters. If that coalition can be put together, the space is there to take full advantage of the ANC’s failures.

The ANC will be making a mistake if they think the corruption and general incompetence on display for years will be tolerated forever by South Africans. They have had enough time to put their house in order.

If they do not, let no one be surprised if they lose their ‘right’ to rule.


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