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Jacob Zuma and the rise and fall of the ANC


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

Right now, the Zuma presidency has been portentous in the worst possible way. South Africans, ordinary citizens, can only stare, agape, at how his presidency has turned the once noble organisation into a spectacle.

Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma may be remembered by future generations as the man who presided over the decline of a once-glorious liberation movement, and the ruin of Africa’s most powerful political economy.

From that fateful day, in December 2007, when he became the president of the ANC, until this week (who knows, when we will see the back of him) the Zuma presidency has had very few highlights. Under Zuma’s leadership, which he promised at Polokwane in 2007, would “build on the legacy of” JL Dube, SM Makgatho, ZR Mahabane, JT Gumede, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, AB Xuma, JS Moroka, AJ Luthuli, OR Tambo, NR Mandela and TM Mbeki, the ANC has come to resemble iskorokoro.

Some of the movement’s most respectable leaders are, today, sitting with their heads in their hands. Among the brightest, and most experienced, there is a sense of bewilderment and exasperation; others have simply walked away, and have “washed their hands of” Zuma. A select few may never return to the ANC, at least not in official roles. Many who have stepped out, and gone into business (where else?) will continue to vote for the movement; they may even remain fully paid-up members, but until Zuma the prebendary, and his circle of friends, have left the movement, they will probably not return to active work within the ANC. But, the history of the movement, and the respectability it once held will ensure that the ANC survives. People will continue to vote for the ANC out of deep-seated loyalty, especially in rural areas, where the ANC is, still, the party of Tambo, Mandela and Luthuli. The movement will most certainly survive Zuma. There is, however, no telling what state the movement will be in, after he has left town.

There are at least three questions that stand out: When will we see the back of Zuma? How far down the road to destruction is the ANC? Can the country be brought back onto a path of stability, prosperity, confidence, community safety and trust – back to the path where millions of jobs are created; millions of people are moved from informal settlements and into homes; to the point where millions of people accept that they have to pay their outstanding utility bills, where public enterprises turn a profit (and it is invested in education, health care and housing) and millions of school children make it through 12 years of education able to read, write and manage basic skills and concepts, from knowing how to use a calculator, to knowing how to cross the road when it is safe to do so, or understanding elementary civics?

At the outset, it is fundamentally important to understand how these issues fit together. Ultimately, though, it is fairly clear that the latter objectives cannot be reached; at least not within our lifetime. Moving then to the issue of Zuma’s departure: nobody knows.

It has been discussed at the highest level, behind very tightly closed doors, and in whispers. There are two problems, however, with removing Zuma. The rapid recall of Mbeki set a nasty precedent. This could mean (on the one hand) that, well, there is a precedent, which should make it easier to recall Zuma. Given, however, the fall-out of the Nene-Van-Rooyen-Gordhan fiasco, chances of a recall are low. Zuma would do well to keep his head down over the coming months, and let his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa lead. As it goes, Ramaphosa has been doing most of the more important presidential things, and Zuma has used his office mainly as a satellite office for the ANC.

What does seem clear, nonetheless, is that he may not get a third term, and there is only a very slight chance that he will be placed on gardening leave or out to pasture before the next general election. The gatvol factor is rising. Even where people on the NEC are “respectful” and “mindful of tradition” (one wonders what happened to this respect during the removal of Mbeki) some of the ANC’s most senior leaders can barely stand the man. They’re just not sure what to do about the problem called Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma.

As for bringing the country onto a path to prosperity: We may want to start with a select few pertinent questions – especially jobs and housing. Can we really create a million jobs in the next two years, and 10 – 11 million in the next 15 years? It is certainly true that almost all new jobs will be created by the private sector, especially by small businesses. We have to, then, focus very purposefully, in lowering the cost of doing business for the majority of South Africans. The approach that is most effective is to detect binding constraints to creating new businesses, and removing them, and then moving to the next set of constraints. It’s about prioritisation and sequencing. In our case, the latter would be bringing new people into the workforce.

Changing this is possible. There are, of course, questions of method, but prosperity can be achieved. This is not just a capitalist obsession. In his Critique of the Gotha Programme Karl Marx was adamant that a more equitable society (with tacit recognition of “unequal individual endowment and this productivity capacity”) could be created; one in which wealth was created in abundance.

When he first took office in Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew focused sharply and strategically on Singaporean industries and businesses, to provide job opportunities for local people, and for foreign investors. Together, under Lee Kwan Yew’s tutelage, the Singaporean government moved the country out of poverty within a generation. Singapore’s per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) jump by 2800% (yes, two thousand eight hundred percent) from around US$500 in 1965 to US$14,500 in 1991. Per capital GDP has since grown to US$55,000 only two places behind oil-rich Qatar. (Using the purchasing power parity (PPP) measurement in 2015 terms Qatar: US$146,011.85 and Singapore: US$ 84,821.40)

The use of Singapore and Qatar is significant because Singapore (like Japan, Taiwan, Belgium, or Italy) have little to no natural resources; South Africa has an abundance. With astute, visionary and corrupt-free management of the country’s resources, and just doing it (instead of talking about it), can move South Africa in the right direction. It is vitally important, as we move along this trajectory, that we do not rely on repeated statements, slogans, verbal commitments or policy-papers, but doing something measurable, and let that speak for itself. As in so many things, behaviour is the measure of success, not public relations. The stark reality is that unemployment is higher in South Africa, today, than at the end of apartheid. We must be doing something wrong. It is vital, then, that we understand the contingency links between things like a job, housing, education and good health. But let us focus on housing; people with decent jobs that pay a living (minimal wage) can, usually, provide for their families….

Can we really move 3,306,697 people (2013 Housing Development Agency research) out of informal settlements into some kind of formal housing? By one account, the government has, since 1994, provided more than 2.5 million houses and another 1.2 million serviced sites. Figures provided by the state, show that government provided 2.68 million houses, between 1994 and 2014. Between the state and the private sector, 5,677,614 formal houses were provided, “which resulted in a shift in the number of people living in formal housing from 64% in 1996 to 77.7% in 2011, a growth of 50% for the period,” according to the state’s 20-year review, released in 2014.

Over this period, the housing backlog has increased from 1.5 million to 2.1 million units, while the number of informal settlements has gone up from 300 to 2,225, an increase of 650%.

Presuming that we can move people into formal housing, it may be exceedingly difficult to have people pay for utilities – especially water and electricity – if they do not have an income. It is difficult, as it goes, to have existing users pay for utilities; new entrants into the housing market may simply emulate those who have failed or refused to pay for the past 20 years. By one estimate (February 2015), residents in Soweto collectively owe R4billion in outstanding fees. Much of this non-payment can be placed at the door of the ANC. Since we cannot, with any certainty, say when Zuma will leave, it does seem improbable that we will move more than three million people out of informal settlements.

Right now, the Zuma presidency has been portentous in the worst possible way. South Africans, ordinary citizens, can only stare, agape, at how his presidency has turned the once noble organisation into a spectacle. When he left the presidency, after he had been recalled, Mbeki told the country: “I am convinced that the incoming administration will better the work done during the past 14-and-half years so that poverty, underdevelopment, unemployment, illiteracy, challenges of health, crime and corruption will cease to define the lives of many of our people.”

Place this beside Zuma’s closing speech at Polokwane, where he said: “We have come to the end of our historic 52nd national conference, which has no doubt been a watershed conference in many respects. The outcomes of this conference are of historical significance and will have a lasting impact in relation to the nature and character of our movement. The conference is now behind us and we will continue to work together to unite and build a stronger ANC.”

Under Zuma’s presidency, the ANC is weak, fractured and have compromised itself. The movement is beholden to its alliance partners, the South African Communist Party and Cosatu, and it has shed members and affiliates (NUMSA). Barely a week goes by without one of its leaders is charged with misconduct, maladministration or blatant and egregious corruption. Most recently, Western Cape leader, Marius Fransman, was accused of sexual assault; John Block, is facing multiple criminal charges ranging from corruption to fraud and money laundering; Truman Prince, ANC mayor of Beaufort West, may be investigated for trying to influence tenders and soliciting money for the ANC, and smaller-fry, like Zolani Xego, who faked his own death to claim millions in insurance, have all come to present the state in which the ANC finds themselves.

Many of Zuma’s appointments and proxies have fallen, or they have brought state-owned institutions, from the SABC to SAA, into the verge of collapse – or at best mismanagement. The country’s intelligence community, the military and the police have lost the loyalty and confidence of society; some of us actually fear the police as much as we fear criminals. In short, things have not gotten better under Zuma; not for South Africa and not for the ANC. He has presided over the ruin of both. The ANC will, however, survive Zuma, but it will not emerge as the ANC of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu or Luthuli. DM


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