South Africa’s long-ruling African National Congress (ANC) party narrowly escaped its first real political threat in ages this week, as a much-heralded merger of two opposition parties abruptly collapsed. Last week, the Democratic Alliance (DA) and Agang S.A. parties were poised to join forces, with Mamphela Ramphele, former partner of black apartheid activist Steve Biko, at the helm. With Ms. Ramphele, founder of Agang S.A., as the first black leader of the DA, the party hoped to pull the country’s ethnic majority away from the ANC, whose increasing incompetence has dominated the domestic media for years.The ANC, a party whose base of support has long been connected to its history of anti-apartheid activism and its close ties with the late Nelson Mandela, is no doubt relishing some Shadenfreude in the wake of the news. The NYT has the story:
“In hindsight, in our urgency to seize the opportunity presented last week, both parties rushed into the agreement,” [Ms. Ramphele] said. “We wanted to present a government-in-waiting to the citizens of our country, who are suffering under this government’s corruption and its refusal to properly deal with the myriad of issues that prevent us from realizing our potential.” […]Political analysts in South Africa said Ms. Ramphele’s supporters may have objected to cooperating so closely with the Democratic Alliance, which has a strong following among whites. The Democratic Alliance had hoped that a pact with Ms. Ramphele would enable it to capitalize on the charges of corruption and ineptitude leveled against Mr. Zuma and his followers. […]The rift is certain to embolden the A.N.C. as elections approach, highlighting the fissures and inconsistencies within the opposition.
The country seriously needs a serious opponent to emerge and give the ANC a run for its money. The ANC’s long dominance has led to a hardening of the arteries, rampant corruption, and to a general decline in the health of South African democracy. Now that the merger has failed, seemingly for the long run (though nothing is eternal in politics), the country seems further than ever from building an effective “loyal opposition.”South Africa, boasting one of Africa’s largest GDPs, is facing sizable internal crises: one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, a severe AIDs epidemic, and an increasingly restive labor movement. President Zuma may be able to secure another term in power with this recent windfall, but he and his party are nowhere near offering the kind of leadership the country needs now.