Democracy in South Africa
Court to Zuma: Enough Already

Perennial scandal-maker (and political survivor) Jacob Zuma is in the hot seat once again, this time over his palatial taxpayer-funded estate. As The New York Times reports:

On Thursday, the Constitutional Court ruled that Mr. Zuma had violated the Constitution in his handling of a long-running corruption scandal involving expensive upgrades to his home in Nkandla, a town in the southeast. For years, Mr. Zuma waved away criticism — and then findings by the nation’s public protector — that he had misused public money on the home improvements, totaling more than $16 million at current exchange rates.

After failing to impeach the president, opposition leaders said they would use street protests and other means to keep the pressure on Mr. Zuma. On Wednesday, in a sign of widening popular discontent, an umbrella group of leaders from churches, unions, academia and other institutions said they would begin a campaign to press Mr. Zuma to step down.

The institutional spine the Constitutional Court is showing by taking Zuma to task is at least a bright spot for South Africa’s institutions. However, his extravagant level of corruption and criminality have not loosened his hold on the Presidency thus far, and its hard to imagine this latest outrage will change that. As The Times reports:

He has succeeded thanks to the backing of rural communities like Melmoth, where his party, the African National Congress, has established a vast network of patronage that is expected to yield electoral victories for years, and perhaps decades. More than any of his predecessors, Mr. Zuma, himself a product of rural South Africa, has championed towns and villages.

However, things are slowly changing. The Times continues:

The A.N.C. chapter in Gauteng Province has not backed Mr. Zuma as the party’s presidential candidate in the past. Voters, especially in Johannesburg, the provincial capital and the country’s largest city, have gravitated to opposition parties in recent elections. For the first time since the end of apartheid in 1994, the A.N.C. is expected to face serious challenges in Johannesburg and some other cities in local elections scheduled for August.

The split inside the A.N.C. reflects wider cleavages inside South Africa itself, said Steven Friedman, a political analyst at the University of Johannesburg.

In urban pockets, a growing black middle class, participating in the formal economy, looks to politicians for good government, Mr. Friedman said. These include A.N.C. members who are opposed to Mr. Zuma and his politics.

Competitive two-party elections in South Africa’s largest city are an encouraging sign, and the racial politics that have ensured the ANC’s dominance may be eroding: the opposition Democratic Alliance recently elected its first black leader, an inspiring speaker known as the “Obama of Soweto”. Zuma himself will probably manage to retire in style to his swimming pool, amphitheatre, and four loving wives. The system he manipulates so well, however, is starting to show its age.

Features Icon
show comments
© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service