A month ago, on July 29, a knife-edge vote resulted in a return to the old status quo with President Jacob Zuma’s narrow victory against a fierce challenger.
So it came as something of a surprise that he then turned on South Africa’s long-time economic gatekeeper, the multilateral Development Bank, declaring that “the ANC must be willing to eat its cake and have it too.” The bank, he said, “should be encouraged to sanction payments and businesses that are abusing state resources for their own personal gain.”
Three days earlier, while addressing South Africa’s Business Day newspaper, Zuma suggested that the institution should be sold “because it is not accountable to the people or government.”
In other words, the Economic Freedom Fighters, the fierce new opposition force that demands an end to the corruption and incompetence that has brought South Africa to its knees, will be happy to see the bank liquidated in its entirety. With little more than a month to go before national elections, Zuma is pushing the familiar nationalistic, xenophobic direction that, if carried through, could potentially drive away market confidence.
The ANC’s traditional base that had previously stuck by the party since the end of apartheid in 1994 will also be pleased. A parliamentary vote of no confidence in Zuma to be held on September 25 will not be binding. But by staging a “protest vote” it hopes to remind voters that Zuma’s reign is marked by mismanagement, poor stewardship and high crime, which has seen his approval ratings plunge.
But at the heart of the ANC’s almost four decades in power lies a drive to sustain national unity, maintain political stability and fend off threats to the monopoly of state power. This is a man seen by many as irrevocably anti-capitalist — for all his long claim to be an anti-apartheid champion.
Last month, the ANC dispatched its powerful youth leader, Julius Malema, to China to build the party’s reach. This was a wise move to ensure the party does not lose much of its legitimacy in the next few months.
Zuma has himself in recent days made peace with the country’s trade unions and with his trade unions’ national executive, which bitterly opposed his change of finance minister, and reined in state-owned companies.
On Monday, Zuma agreed that South Africa will join China and India in adopting the Chinese social credit scheme, a digital intelligence data bank that monitors online transactions, financial data and lifestyle habits to assess the validity of one’s support. Critics of the system say it is effectively a surveillance system that can track millions of South Africans.
Meanwhile the ANC’s state capture commission will look into allegations of attempts by members of the Gupta family to tilt state contracts and appointments to their benefit.
Zuma’s clampdown has provoked fresh fears of a looming new civil war within the party that killed more than 100 leaders in the dying days of apartheid.
There have been allegations that the dead included the Zuma family and a communist military officer known as “the former president.”
The defence-industrial complex — a curious alliance of foreign arms manufacturers, arms contractors and defense ministry officials and the army — is also mired in an alleged racket, code-named “Leak,” that has been operating since the late 1980s in which the managers of state-owned companies are bribed to corrupt public procurement processes. It apparently emerged after revelations made in a 2006 book by a prominent whistleblower.
South Africa’s way of life is under growing threat. Tax dodging and offshore tax havens have, along with the mining industry, become more attractive — especially in the wake of the power-grabbing by President Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda. Global inequality is increasing, too, as more than 2 billion Africans remain trapped in poverty. The specter of wars in the Middle East and North Africa, from Libya to Yemen, the Central African Republic to Libya, have grown. The Southern African Development Community has been deeply divided over South Africa’s association with the regional bloc and there is more anti-American hysteria in the public sphere than at any time since Nelson Mandela’s jubilee in 1994.
A week before the ANC conference opened, Zuma announced he would not contest his party leadership. Zuma believes that in the run-up to the crucial national elections his party will become popular because of the destructive economic policies he is devising. The question is whether South Africans, emboldened by criticism of the incumbent, will welcome change.
As Zuma tried to read the mood of an adoring crowd, the large-scale market impact of economic policy on the