South Africa: A swift departure needed

The ANC badly needs to renew its own internal life by clearing out Zuma’s legacy

 

South Africa’s political leadership is in transition as the African National Congress begins to move against its former president Jacob Zuma. He remains the country’s president despite losing the confidence of the ANC, its largest party. Cyril Ramaphosa, his successor as leader, skilfully fused national and political interests in calling yesterday’s meeting of the party executive to decide on Zuma’s fate ahead of next year’s elections. South Africa badly needs to open an era of less corrupt and more effective government.

Legal as well as political considerations complicate this change of leadership. Zuma faces multiple charges of corruption during his nine years in office arising from arms deals, preferential contracts with the wealthy Gupta business family and funding of his official residence. That record of cronyism and incompetence has sapped political confidence, as was seen in the 2016 local elections when the ANC’s share of the vote fell to 54 per cent. Unless it reverses this path, coalition or loss of power looms for the party; but it must negotiate the transition within the law and constitution. Should these central elements of South Africa’s legitimacy be undermined, the country’s economic and international position and reputation would be badly affected.

Zuma’s demands for immunity from these charges, for payment of his legal bills and for security protection not only cannot be granted by the ANC but require due legal process. He still commands some support in the party and dares its leadership to risk a no confidence vote or an impeachment in parliament if he fails to secure them. The ANC would be compromised and embarrassed by one option and would have to muster a two-thirds majority for impeachment. Resolving this issue within the party is the better course for the ANC. But that cannot disguise the fact that it badly needs to renew by clearing out Zuma’s legacy and concentrating on restoring capable and accountable government. Ramaphosa has many of the qualities necessary for these tasks. He deserves a clear start by securing Zuma’s swift departure.

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