by Michaela Elsbeth Martin
The emergence of a democratic South Africa in 1994 marked the beginning of a transition period from the brutal Apartheid-government to a newly democratised state. The first president of the new South Africa, the late Nelson Mandela, played an instrumental role in unifying the country and establishing democratic values with human rights at the forefront of his administration. Former President Nelson Mandela thus succeeded in creating responsive and accountable state institutions. The ANC at the time had a type of leadership calibre that spoke directly to the democratic project the country desperately needed. The leadership that followed consequently built on the established democratic values projected in 1994 with a more pragmatic approach to economic, social and political development in South Africa and Africa as a whole.
Under the leadership of former President Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s economic growth was at 4.2 percent per annum, and South Africa also contributed to the rejuvenation of Africa’s most pivotal institutions such as the transformation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU) in 2002. This reformation was coupled with additional institutions such as the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), Africa’s Peer Review Mechanism, and the formation of the bloc of developing countries BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). These institutions helped ensure the complete integration of South Africa into the international system and global economy. South Africa, under President Mbeki’s tenure displayed an image of strong leadership at a local, regional and international level. It can be argued that South Africa’s leadership style between 1994 and 2007 led to a large degree of democratic consolidation within the state, and an integration of the state and its institutions into regional and international bodies.
However, the calibre of the political elites that emerged in the post-Polokwane Conference in 2007, proved to be lacking in capacity and integrity. The Zuma administration’s capacity to lead state institutions and serve ordinary citizens has not been strong. In response to this decline, and the perception that radical economic policies are only benefiting party elites, the rhetoric of revolution has been growing louder. Ordinary citizens, especially the youth and women are economically marginalised. Moreover, there exist general feelings among government structures that if you are not with us, you are against us, and if you are against us, there is very little you can do to influence the country’s policy.
|President Jacob Zuma|
More problematically, consultation with the population means consultation with the African National Congress (ANC) branches and structures. Ordinary citizens outside these structures have limited spaces to make known their grievances. In essence then, the people are taken to be the members of the ANC and conversely the ANC is regarded as the people. It is this kind of high-handed hegemonic project and the persona of President Zuma that is having a serious impact on the South African state. The leadership crisis is coupled with intense factional battles fuelled by the desire to benefit from state coffers and this has led to the repurposing of state institutions to benefit power elite in the government. Moreover, President Zuma is hell-bent on staying in power, with his faction preparing itself to destroy the ANC and the national government to do so. The political and economic implications of the mismanagement of state resources and the lack of state capacity have left the South African state in a dire position. The economy has been seriously affected by the leadership crisis, with South Africa operating in junk status and an economic crisis; ordinary citizens are barely surviving with the unemployment rate at 27 percent.
With the upcoming ANC electoral Conference in December 2017, there has been much debate on who will be the next president of South Africa. The hope amongst the much of the general public, the opposition and the ANC, is that the challenges that beset the country will abate with the departure of the current President and that the constitutional fabric of post-apartheid democracy will be restored. The top six, referring to the ANC’s most senior leaders are known, appear to be evenly split. One faction consists of President Zuma, ANC Deputy Secretary-General Jessie Duarte, and Baleka Mbete, who is both the National Assembly speaker and party chairwoman. In opposition to the Zuma faction are the 'reformers' consisting of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe, and ANC Treasurer-General Zweli Mkhize.
It is imperative to note that without a serious change in leadership in the ANC the party might lose complete power of South Africa in the 2019 General Elections. The popularity of the ANC under the Zuma presidency has already declined significantly and has been criticised for being out of touch with its constituents and is associated with poor local administration.