We have all heard about Africa and its poverty but how many of us are really aware of Africa’s politics and the problems it faces? South Africa is a country with many races and most of its people are black. It has a population of about sixty million and has the most diverse and industrialized economy in Africa but sadly it has seen very little growth. I think that the deeply-embedded socio-economic inequalities in South Africa play a major role in its economy not growing. South Africa has been affected by its investment and trade relations on the African continent and by its political participation in the region, especially through its active role in the Intergovernmental African Union (AU). It saddens me to say that South Africa, the largest, most diverse, and developed economy of Africa which has made significant progress in promoting post-apartheid socioeconomic change, is held back by the negative socio-economic effects of apartheid.
The president of the majority African National Congress (ANC) party is Cyril Ramaphosa (Raham-POH-SA). He is leading a reform agenda aimed at providing the economy and public services and eradicating corruption. COVID-19 has exacerbated the already formidable economic and health challenges facing South Africa, including high HIV / AIDS outbreaks. The National Assembly elected then-Vice President Ramaphosa as President in early 2018 after the resignation of its predecessor Jacob Zuma. As a result of several national corruption scandals, Zuma’s faced the threat of a parliamentary no-confidence vote after he defied a decision by ANC leaders to remember him as the national presidential candidate. Zuma’s dissent helped consolidate Ramaphosa’s victory in the ANC elections in late 2017 to lead the party, which has gradually lost electoral support in the past years.
As I gather, in the last general election in May 2019, the ANC was able to retain a parliamentary majority – the nation’s first universal franchise since the 1994 election – with 57.5% of the vote. Following the election, parliament voted to re-elect Ramaphosa in the country’s indirect presidential election system. Like I told you, the ANC has a parliamentary majority and controls the Executive Branch – as the National Assembly Speaker is elected – since the first post-apartheid elections in 1994. Successive ANC-led governments were requested. In order to overcome the effects of apartheid, the government improved the social welfare of blacks and public goods and services by promoting pan-racial and multinational national identity. I can safely say that racial-relations have improved but there are still many divisions.
Politics and social media have led to racial debate and racially motivated crime has taken place from time to time. It’s true that the ANC-led state’s post-apartheid efforts have significantly boosted socio-economic change but unfortunately, it has also lowered public expectations for a quick change. The fact that the ANC government was unable to meet these unrealistic expectations has led to a fall in its electoral support. Sometimes, there are even violent protests, known as service protests, to protest the government’s inability to satisfy them. I would say that these demonstrations are politically sensitive as they protest against the local government’s corruption and cronyism.
In 2018, President Ramaphosa had to come back from an overseas trip early because of spreading unrest over service delivery protests, violence against foreigners, and anger over the government’s alleged corruption along with issues between local rival ANC members. In mid-2010, there were mass student protests, some of which were violent, over the cost of education, and institutional racism in higher education. Small protests took place from time to time. Labor strikes and unrest are common, especially in the mining and public sectors. The growing socio-economic implications of apartheid play a role in the challenges of sustainable development and governance. You would think that due to the large investments and collective policy efforts to improve housing, public services, infrastructure and state technical capabilities, there would be an improvement in the distribution of public goods and services but sadly, it is still inadequate and unevenly distributed.
As we know, Black people have been left behind in financial growth due to racism. All these problems negatively affect the black population, which is also particularly affected by high unemployment and low education. Although racial inequalities have been steadily declining, many black South Africans live in poverty and their average per capita income is almost one-fifth of the apparently significant white minorities. As I said, Revenue and consumption distributions are still extremely uneven. GINI’s coefficient is the measure of income inequality and, guess what? South Africa’s GINI’s coefficient is amongst the highest in the world. There are also significant regional, rural-urban and ethnic socio-economic and infrastructure disparities. Many poor people do not have access to good housing and adequate infrastructures services such as electricity and water. The most affected are the people living in rural areas and high-density settlements around cities. The so-called townships are mostly inhabited by poor black and mixed-race residents.
Most inhabitants of these areas live in informal housing and often do not own legal property. The local governments periodically vacate the newly settled quarters and destroy their homes. You would think that after the continuous implementation of land redistribution and restoration programs since 1994, there would be more improvement but there are, to this day, serious racial disparities in land acquisition. Under such programs, the state purchased large amounts of land to transfer to the population, that had been unable to buy land due to the apartheid system. Basically, the lands are mainly distributed amongst the black, “color” or of Indian origin. Although black ownership and other access to land have increased rapidly in some provinces since 1994, the redistribution and resettlement process has slowed and initially led to less widespread transfers. Can you believe that the small minority of white people own more than 70% of the land? Due to this, there are growing demands for the extension of private land to the unorganized state and pushed the ANC to continue its ongoing effort to amend the constitution to allow such an exemption.
Let’s discuss South Africa’s justice system. As most of us know, South Africa faces many challenges when it comes to the efficiency of its criminal justice system. Despite the relatively well-resurgent national police force in the country, there have been occasional incidents of vigilante mob justice, and the police sometimes use massive, abusive tactics to prevent crime and public unrest. Many police leaders have committed misconduct or corruption. Police performance is a sensitive political issue because rates of violent crime – especially murder, rape, and gun crime – are high. I will tell you the reasons for this. Besides the basic criminal motivations, it is believed that the socio-economic inequality and marginalization arising from social bias has led to many grievances which lead to crimes. In a township, like Capetown, police were deployed to deal with a group of murders that took place in 2019.
The ANC, the majority party since universal suffrage came in 1994, claims to be left-wing, but in practice, the development of private-sector leadership has received deadly support in the context of this “developing state” model with a state-centric economic plan. As I said earlier, the political credibility of the ANC largely depends on its major role in the fight against apartheid and its deep-rooted efforts to eliminate social inequalities. Sadly, ANC is struggling to keep up with this legacy amid the country’s ongoing challenges. If we just look at the ANC’s gradual loss of electoral support, service protests due to ANC policy shortcomings, and other indicators, it is quite obvious that the South Africans are very unsatisfied with ANC’s current performance.
The Democratic Alliance (DA) is the second-largest party in parliament with 84 seats in the 400 National Assembly. Its leadership has long been predominantly white, but it has built a growing base among blacks – despite repeated controversies about the racially insensitive remarks by white party leaders. The DA regularly confronted the ANC in parliament, along with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a popular radical party focused on black empowerment, controlling 44 national assembly seats. The EFF was formed in 2013 by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, who later became one of the ANC’s harshest critics.
Currently, national assembly elections are held under a party-list system in which voters elect one party and each party allocates a share of the seats selected based on internal party nominee lists. As a result, internal ANC politics and leadership choice play an important role in national politics. Hostility in the ANC at the regional and local levels – often about appointments in local state bodies and the choice of representatives in national party decision-making bodies – often leads to anger and numerous political assassinations.
I think that the South African political system may soon change drastically due to the June 2020 Constitutional Court ruling that lets independent candidates run in national and regional legislative races. The court directed the National Assembly to amend the law so that such candidates could take a part in elections within two years. I am certain that this possibility will lead to the concurrent direct constituency and electorate-wide party list-based elections. As observers, we are more concerned about the effects this change will have but many see it as an opportunity to promote a more competitive electoral landscape.
Ramaphosa, a former anti-apartheid activist and labor leader who took over as business executive, beat Zuma in the elections of 2018, shortly after winning the highly controversial ANC leadership election. His victory was based on his pledge to fight corruption and revive the economy. The Ramaphosa administration has prioritized efforts to boost economic growth by promoting public and private investment with the goal of increasing jobs and social services and infrastructure and further integrating development. His efforts were aimed at boosting small businesses to promote industrial development, using means such as state procurement priorities and other functions. His efforts were beneficial for poor blacks as he increased access to economic opportunities.
During Zuma’s presidency, opposition parties and NGOs used the courts to routinely prosecute state officials, including President Zuma. Many times these suits were successful. Zuma faced 16 charges of fraud, corruption, racketeering, and money laundering in a long-running case. Zuma has been handling the case for years, apparently with the help of the National Prosecution Authority (NPA).
In 2009, the NPA dismissed the case but had to withdraw the charges in 2018 after the Court of Appeals ruled that the decision was made under political pressure in 2009. As you would expect, this repeated unnecessarily favoring by the NPA towards Zuma has been the subject of numerous court cases. In 2018, after the court invalidated the appointment of the late Zuma-era head NPA director, Ramaphosa’s career prosecutor and former International Criminal Court legal adviser Shamila Batohini was appointed NPA head. Her goal was to help reform the broken and deteriorating criminal justice system and finish the NPA bias in high-level corruption cases.
Did you know that South Africa hosts around 273,000 people? They are asylum-seekers, refugees, stateless people, and other populations with international humanitarian concerns and many economic migrants from Africa. South Africa sometimes even welcomes politically exiled people. In 2014, one such person, a former Rwandan intelligence chief, was assassinated in South Africa. Analysts have blamed the Rwandan government for the killings it denied any involvement. In September 2019, South Africa arrested two Rwandans facing murder charges.
As I discussed, the Ramaphosa administration has taken steps to prevent the rapid rise of corruption and improve the deteriorating economy that happened due to the Zuma administration. In addition to the SOE reforms, there are numerous investigations into public sector corruption and malfeasance. I am sure that such efforts are going to become a political challenge to Ramaphosa, as the party affiliated with former President Zuma may be threatened by his policies. Ramaphosa balances pressure from the political left-wing on issues such as land reforms and economic empowerment of black people, along with the often influential interests of property owners and the private sector. Ramaphosa has made some progress in the economy by pursuing a 26 billion COVID-19 recovery package, achieving significant investment pledges, and allowing SOEs to further contribute to economic growth by advancing reforms.
I think that the reason this growth is slow is that these issues do not require quick fixes so they will take time. Also, the COVID-19 pandemic played a huge role in slowing down the growth of the economy. The good news is that the South African economy is large and diverse and is likely to expand in the coming years, especially if the country’s large unemployment pool is well integrated into the economy.
Written By: Ekow Shalders
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