South Africa: From Model Nation to Captured State?

South Africa – the country which has often been described as model for a good, functioning democracy and prospering example in Africa, is nowadays making headlines of a rather different nature: growing dissatisfaction with the national government, President Zuma’s announcement to withdraw the country from the International Criminal Court (ICC), a stagnating economy and ongoing protest are elements of how South Africa currently jeopardizes its model perception. What way forward can there be? Lindiwe Mazibuko, former Parliamentary Leader of the official opposition in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), joined us for a chat and gave us her perspectives.

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The social realities: student protests & the ICC

The South African nation is currently experiencing violent protests at universities throughout the country. Since announcement of steep raises of tuition fees in 2015, there have been ongoing protests against further raises and a growing frustration about a lack of access to funding. Even though President Zuma has frozen the fees for the time being, new raises have already been announced, fueling again the anger of the students. But it is many different inequalities which have merged under the demand “#FeesMustFall”, according to Lindiwe Mazibuko. As she argues, these protests are indicators of something greater – a sign of lack of economic growth and high unemployment rates, especially among the (black) youth: “The dissatisfaction has been underestimated. We have to come to terms with these realities. We cannot ignore them. These are issues which have to be addressed at the leadership level.”

Moreover, President Zuma recently announced the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Mazibuko condemns the President’s action: “It’s a dodgy, shady move.” Other African countries might jump on the bandwagon and follow the nation’s negative example.

Capturing the State?

But the leadership, namely South African President Zuma, has to face a number of further criticisms. The South African Public Protector’s Office recently published its state capture report, which points out several hundred allegations, potentially against the President. Some of them reach back to the time even before he entered office. Many of them evolve around the speculations of the President outsourcing governmental duties to external businessmen, specifically the Gupta family. Since he is transferring governance matters to them, he is breaking his sworn presidential oath, argues the former Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance. Their influence supposedly even reaches into appointments within his Cabinet. “This should have been the thing that toppled him out of office”, so Mazibuko. Despite all of this his party, the African National Congress (ANC), is still doing its best to protect President Zuma. According to Mazibuko, it is a “poor decision” to support him no matter what. Thus, the prospect of change in South Africa political leadership will depend on whether the ANC’s support of President Zuma will hold on in the years leading up the to the next General Elections in 2019 or if they would be willing to come forth and support a different candidate, she concludes.

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Will the state capture report make President Zuma fall?

However, bearing the recent state capture report in mind, the question has to be raised whether President Zuma will still be in office at that point. Will President Zuma resign as a result of the report? According to Mazibuko, no: “He would like to profit as Head of State as much as possible, and then resign. He will sit our legal proceedings”. Mazibuko, currently author-in-residence at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study in South Africa (STIAS), names the government’s planned nuclear deal, which would cost the African nation a large chunk of its annual budget, as an example. While it would put the country into long-term debt, President Zuma is still determined to push it through. There are a number of renewable energy options in South Africa, so it’s not like there is no alternative to nuclear energy, argues Mazibuko: “When we think of President Zuma’s personal plans for being in office, this is the deal he wants to push through”. For the time being though, the Treasury still constitutes a threshold against the President’s plans.

 

The Democratic Alliance – is it able to spearhead change?

During the local elections in August of this year, the ANC unexpectedly lost a number of important municipalities to the Democratic Alliance, the official opposition – a sign of the ANC’s declining electoral support. On a national level “it was always the plan of the DA to draw the ANC under 50% and then form a coalition government”, explains Mazibuko. What she regards the biggest task ahead of the opposition party now to ignite change: “Gather enough votes so that it can push through its ideas. It’s not enough for ANC to decline, but to make sure that the DA can bring through democracy”.

Anna Reineke