Can Cyril Ramaphosa make South Africa a source of pride for its own people and a model for others?
After Zuma, South Africa must restore faith in the state hallowed by Mandela's stewardship
Asked about the cloud of mistrust hanging over his candidacy in the run up to the 2009 elections in South Africa, Jacob Zuma replied: “We have no cloud. Nothing. Not even the mist.” The chutzpah was characteristic of a man who, despite facing 700 charges of fraud and corruption, worked his way to the top of the African National Congress and became a contender for South Africa’s presidency. The ignominious termination of Mr Zuma’s reign on Wednesday night is a glorious triumph of the democratic values bequeathed by Nelson Mandela. That it came days after the 28th anniversary of Mandela’s release from prison ought to prompt an honest reckoning among South Africans with their recent history.
It is easy to ascribe South Africa’s decline to Mr Zuma alone. Such a view, however, obscures the structural issues within the ANC, which not only enabled Mr Zuma’s ascent but also protected him in office even as accusations of graft and nepotism piled up. Mr Zuma is symptomatic of the ANC’s degradation. Incarcerated alongside Mandela for his anti-racist activism in white-supremacist South Africa, Mr Zuma was once an embodiment of hope.
The ANC shielded Mr Zuma against credible allegations that he had allowed the rise of a parallel government run by the Guptas, a family embroiled in scandal. It stood by Mr Zuma when, in 2017, youth unemployment reached almost 60 per cent. It had Mr Zuma’s back when proof of the country’s rising disaffection with their president presented itself in the form of major electoral losses in urban areas. Had the internal election to the presidency of the ANC in December swung in favour of Mr Zuma’s former wife, he would still be in power. It is her narrow defeat at the hands of Cyril Ramaphosa, an anti-corruption crusader and a rival of Mr Zuma’s, that re-energised the values that had gone into retreat over the past decade.
Mr Ramaphosa became South Africa’s acting president on Thursday. The job before him is to restore faith in the state that was once hallowed by the stewardship of Mandela. This will not happen if Mr Zuma is allowed to evade the law: the interests of the ANC must be subordinated to the interests of South Africa. Mr Zuma’s exit coincided with the death of Morgan Tsvangirai, the courageous opposition leader of Zimbabwe who saw South Africa as a role model for his own country. The task before the ANC and Mr Ramaphosa is formidable: to make South Africa a blossoming source of pride for its own people and a shining model for others.