ANC will be defeated because of its betrayal of South Africa’s people

In times of despair and scant alternatives, citizens desperate for change are vulnerable to the seduction of political elites masquerading as transformative leaders. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa once retained that power of seduction. But the potency of his charms has waned as he proves himself ill-equipped to confront the many crises threatening the country’s future.

Ramaphosa has recently been accused of money laundering, kidnapping and defeating the ends of justice. The credibility of these accusations remains in doubt — they were made by someone who is morally bankrupt — and investigations by the police are still under way. But the political consequences of the allegations are worth contemplating. 

In December Ramaphosa’s party, the governing ANC, will hold its national conference in which the party’s president is elected. The winning candidate will run in the 2024 national election.

If investigations show the president did participate in criminal activity, it would, according to the principles of the Constitution, render him unfit to hold office. Opposition parties in parliament possess the constitutional tools to impeach him through a vote or motion of no confidence. Historically the ANC has easily evaded motions of no confidence because it holds the majority of seats in parliament.

But Ramaphosa leads a divided party in which some influential factions perceive his governance as a threat to their material interests and the sustainability of the party at large. Divisions in the party are primarily grounded in conflict over accumulation.

Ramaphosa represents a political elite eager to appease corporate South Africa and foreign investment to restore and maintain conditions for accumulating capital. Opposing this faction is a kleptocratic formation keen to amass wealth through the misappropriation and abuse of state funds.

This group may punish him by casting their votes with opposition parties in a motion of no confidence.

It is not because of political plots by his enemies that Ramaphosa’s future and presidential legacy have been tarnished, but the destructive outcomes of his own governance.

Elected to lead South Africa in February 2018, Ramaphosa was hailed as the antidote to South Africa’s decay. The tenure of his predecessor, Jacob Zuma, is still defined by the disturbing revelations and disastrous consequences of what is now popularly known as “state capture” — simply put, a kleptocracy rose in the ruling ANC, using state structures in cooperation with private firms, to accumulate wealth and political power.

This project of corruption through networks of patronage has severely weakened the capacity of the state to effectively execute its most basic functions. With the state’s capacities and resources mostly exploited by a parasitic elite obsessed with gathering power, under Zuma’s “nine wasted years”, some of which Ramaphosa served as his deputy, South Africa’s working classes, poor and unemployed fell deeper into destitution as its middle class was introduced to a dizzying level of financial precarity.

Ramaphosa ran on an anti-corruption campaign promising extensive reform. Because of his background as a union leader during the anti-apartheid liberation struggle, his role as a key negotiator in the arduous transition to democracy in the 1990s and a billionaire status from ventures in mining, food franchises and banking, Ramaphosa was initially framed by mainstream media as a benevolent technocrat.

Covid-19 was Ramaphosa’s first and most revealing test. South Africa initially went into a stringent lockdown in March 2020. But the lockdown, which persisted at varying levels into 2022, was not accompanied by substantial government support. Within two months of the lockdown, food scarcity had soared. Many small businesses, unable to obtain the financial relief promised during the prolonged lockdown, never again opened their doors. As the economy withered, by the end of July 2020, three million people had lost their jobs.

Amid this socioeconomic malaise, Ramaphosa’s successive finance ministers have remained resolute in their commitment to a policy of austerity. As poverty and unemployment soar, the reduction of social spending continues. This counter-intuitive policy choice captures how the ANC’s inaction functions as a kind of cruelty against the destitute and working class.

Beyond the wreckages of the lockdown, a dysfunctional state and a flailing economy have converged to heighten social divisions and conflict. A scarcity of jobs, especially among young people, has allowed opportunists to spark another wave of Afrophobic sentiment in major cities such as Durban and Johannesburg. Unlike previous explosions of anti-migrant mobilisations, it seemingly has support from political parties and is immensely popular on social media.

If not hyper-nationalism, violent crime undermines the possibility of social cohesion on a daily basis. Confronted with the permeance of violence, Ramaphosa has not pursued a reform of the criminal justice system or extracted crime from the root. Beyond attracting investment, there is little evidence of plans to create jobs or policies to tackle the dire conditions which in part compel South Africans to scapegoat migrants.

This is the same Ramaphosa who was implicated in the killing of 34 striking mine workers at Marikana in 2012. Although the bullets were fired by police, the strikes were about a mine in which he had shares and allegedly put pressure on police to protect. Given this and his history, should we be surprised that a billionaire would consistently elevate the interests of big business over the public good during his presidency?

The recent accusations may taint the perception of his integrity but on numerous fronts the man had already failed. It is a possibility he will be the last ANC president in power after the 2024 general elections, with the party doing disastrously in recent by-elections. Only the ANC, because of its shameless betrayal of its people, will be to blame for its tragic defeat.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It’s designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.

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Andile Zulu
Andile Zulu is a political essayist who runs the Born Free Blues blog.

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