South Africa

South Africa’s 2013: The year of mediocrity or living dangerously… again

By Ranjeni Munusamy 7 January 2013

Three weeks on, now that the hype and excitement of Mangaung has subsided, it is apparent that there are actually no major outcomes from the ANC’s 51st national conference – other than the Zuma camp’s resounding victory in the elections. There is no solid policy or programme the ANC jamboree produced which indicates that the ruling party has a plan to turn the corner, particularly on crisis issues of unemployment, poverty and inequality. So, with Zuma re-loaded and nothing to lose, expect more of the same. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY. 

President Jacob Zuma was re-elected as the ANC leader in Mangaung a few weeks ago with very little expectation on the ground as to what his second term would bring. 

But by and large, Mangaung came and went without too much movement on the Richter scale in terms of hopes and expectations. The entire election battle in the ANC was fought with no undertakings by the Zuma camp of what his second term as party president would entail or how it would translate in the government programme of action. There were no conditions or mandate attached to the re-election. 

Of course Zuma’s supporters in the ANC are thrilled that he and his lobbyists were able to outsmart and outplay the “Forces of Change”, who had tried unseat the president and failed. And in the politically connected networks, there is a lot of excitement about another term of unfettered access to power and privilege. 

But outside the circle of privilege, reaction to Zuma’s re-election has been rather muted. It would appear that ordinary people have resigned themselves to another term of more of the same. 

This is in stark contrast to when Zuma was first elected ANC president after beating Thabo Mbeki in Polokwane in 2007. Then there were great expectations about the changes that were to come. It was assumed that because of Zuma’s own rural roots and rapport with ordinary people, the plight of the poor would naturally feature highly on the president’s list of priorities once he took control of the state. 

During his troubles with the law and in the run-up to Polokwane, Zuma sold himself as the “people’s president” who would be more receptive to the needs of communities compared to the cold, clinical approach of the Mbeki administration. 

But soon he was swallowed up by the very office he thought he would change, and became overwhelmed by the walls of bureaucracy and demands of the presidency. Over time, it also became clear that Zuma did not have the requisite leadership qualities to command the state in a way that delivered even on his own expectations.  

For example, Zuma says education is his passion and made the issue an apex priority of his government. However, the shameful episode of the non-delivery of textbooks to Limpopo schools occurred on his watch, and he is yet to publicly release the investigation report which names and shames those responsible.  

South Africa’s poor ranking in maths and science internationally is also being masked, and the farcical 30% for passing a matric subject is setting up a generation for failure. By allowing Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to bask in the glory of a 73.9% pass rate when the education system is so fatally flawed undermines whatever good intentions Zuma might have had for the sector.

Overall, very little of what Zuma set out to do has been achieved or is even close to being realised, particularly in relation to the upliftment of Zuma’s core constituency, the working class and the rural poor. 

The government machinery continues to grind as it does, functional in some aspects but inefficient, incompetent and wasteful in most. 

Mangaung has not provided any new direction on South Africa’s most pressing need: job creation. Without this the country remains moribund, and there is no hope of addressing poverty and inequality. 

The country has one of the highest rates of service delivery protests, and the last Auditor General’s report on municipalities provided a shocking indictment on the state and functionality of local government. Yet this failed to shock the ruling party into action or an urgent intervention.

But perhaps the most outrageous outcome of Mangaung was that it failed to be moved by the events at Marikana and the subsequent turmoil in the mining sector. The massacre of 34 mineworkers last August stunned the world and unleashed the previously suppressed frustrations of miners who live and work in appalling conditions. 

Apart from squashing any form of mine nationalisation – a veritable middle finger to axed ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and those who supported his “Economic Freedom in our Lifetime” campaign – the ANC did not set in place any emergency measures to prevent another Marikana from occurring. 

By its nature, Mangaung was a supreme power battle and neither the welfare of mineworkers who keep the wheels of the economy turning nor the future of the next generation could get in the way of the election war.

It says a lot about the state of our nation that nobody has questioned the ruling party as to how it can go to a national conference and not produce a tangible plan to address the country’s numerous crises. 

Zuma is not a president who comes up with ideas on his own; he is reliant on the ANC collective for decision-making. And with the centre of power vested at the ANC headquarters, there is no hope for large-scale changes in the state unless the ANC instigates it. 

Perhaps the newly elected national executive committee (NEC) will surprise us all and come up with a substantive programme that directs the state to operate more efficiently and provoke a turnaround in areas where it is failing. 

But with their election victory still fresh and likely to rouse jubilant celebrations in Durban this week, where the ANC’s 101st anniversary is being celebrated, this is not the immediate priority of the new NEC. They also have to decide how to deal with the remnants of the Forces of Change still holding high-profile positions in the state and provinces. 

While the tensions and battles that plagued the party in the run-up to Mangaung are likely to continue, there is no indication yet that the poor performance of government is the major concern of the ANC. Until it is, 2013 does not have much hope of being any different from the annus horribilis that preceded it. DM

Photo: Mangaung, Free State, South Africa, 20 December 2012. President Zuma was set to give the closing address at the ANC’s Mangaung conference Friday before the power went out. Photo Greg Nicolson/NewsFire

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