The ANC can bounce back. But it faces a long, hard road to win SA’s trust again – analyst

JOHANNESBURG — With South Africa sitting on the edge of its seat over the weekend, waiting to see whether Zuma will fall, there will be many a citizen who would be wondering if this is the moment that South Africa starts to get back on the right track. After years of struggle, Ramaphosa will have a tall list of orders to go through in order to win back investor confidence. There’s no doubt though that he’s the right man for the job. Here’s hoping for a much bright future. – Gareth van Zyl

By Phumlani M. Majozi*

South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has paid a huge price over Jacob Zuma’s dreadful leadership over the past ten years. During this period it has seen its support decline.

Phumlani M. Majozi

Now that Zuma seems about to leave some wonder whether the party can bounce back and restore its marred image. During the Zuma years, corruption became synonymous with the name of the party.

That this is a party once led by the heroic figures of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and other men and women who sacrificed their lives in the struggle for a democratic South Africa, became hard to believe during the Zuma years.

Under Jacob Zuma, not only did the ANC become a rogue political party, it also failed miserably on socioeconomic policy. The best indicator of the party’s failure on policy is unemployment that rose from roughly 22% in 2009 when Zuma came to office, to 27% by the end of 2017.

Zuma and his ANC cabinet have – as I wrote on BizNews in March 2016 – been the architects of South Africa’s economic mess.

The positive reaction to Cyril Ramaphosa’s election last December suggests that the ANC may be able to bounce back after a decade of decline and reputational damage.

In my engagements with former ANC supporters on radio, and in public, over the past year and a half, I got a sense that they had abandoned the party because of disillusionment with Jacob Zuma. They saw Jacob Zuma as a destroyer of a party they had passionately and resolutely supported. According to them, the ANC had been hijacked by Zuma in order to advance his personal interests.

ANC signage sits on a banner during the party’s 54th national conference.
ANC signage sits on a banner during the party’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg on December 16, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

They had always believed that the problem was Zuma’s leadership – not the party itself. Now with Zuma going – and Ramaphosa in power – these supporters will surely return home.

The campaign to attract disillusioned supporters back home should be amongst the first steps to undertake by the ANC in order to restore the party’s image to South Africa’s public.

Also, the relentless fight against the party’s own corruption – by its own senior members – will be key to the restoration of the party. That fight will be very tough in a world where political and individual interests eclipse national interests.

Crucial to watch in the near future will be whether the ANC implements pro-growth policies that will reverse Jacob Zuma’s damages over the past ten years.

Ramaphosa has great latitude to lead his party in a direction that will promote pro-growth reforms. His likeability in the ANC and countrywide, has the potential to make him one of the most consequential presidents since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy.

President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa react during the ANC’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg on December 18, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg
President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa react during the ANC’s 54th national conference in Johannesburg on December 18, 2017. Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg

The confusion we see in the opposition parties presents the ANC with an even greater opportunity to reform itself without any threat to its power. The opposition parties still have a long way to go to gain support from the majority of South Africans. And now with Ramaphosa as president it’s going to be much tougher for opposition parties.

If the ANC wants to return to its glorious days, then the interests of the majority of South Africans should come first – not the interests of the party’s elite. It will need great courage from Ramaphosa to embark on this path.

Luckily for the ANC and the country, Ramaphosa does not come to the presidency with a cloud of corruption hanging over his head. Unlike Zuma, he doesn’t seek to use his presidential powers to dodge courts. At least for now, that’s what we know.

The 106 year old ANC can bounce back –only if it makes the right decisions – with the intent to avoid finding itself being led by people like Zuma again. The excitement over Ramaphosa shows that the party still has support – and has a chance to reform itself. But whether they do actually reform to clean up their tarnished image, is another question.

  • Phumlani M. Majozi is a business analyst, a political analyst, a Sub-Saharan Africa observer, and non-executive director at Free Market Foundation South Africa. Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi