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Ramaphosa: South African politics of succession and implications for Africa’s democracy

Ramaphosa  Photo Credit: www.iol.co.za

On the 14th of February, 2018, Jacob Zuma announced his resignation as South Africa’s President after cracks between him and his party- African National Congress, ACN, worsened. Following his resignation, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected  president. CRISPNG’S IFEANYI ONYEKERE MANDELA takes a look at the changing political atmosphere in the country, expectations as well as the challenges for the newly elected President and what the development portends to Africa’s democracy.

South Africa is the economic hub and most industrialized country in Africa. Meanwhile, after rebasing her economy in 2014, her arch-rival – Nigeria became the largest economy in Africa.

“Some economists point out that Nigeria’s economic output is under-performing because at 170 million people, its population is three times larger than South Africa’s. On a per-capita basis, South Africa’s GDP numbers are three times larger than Nigeria’s,” says a BBC report.

Again, South Africa tumultuously emerged from a political and economic segregation of the black majority by the white minority in a system of government known as apartheid. The outstanding political and diplomatic role played by her first black president – Nelson Mandela who was jailed for 27 years and others such as the erstwhile president, Jacob Zuma who was also jailed for 10 years brought the country to the limelight.

That is why recent political development in South Africa got the whole world particularly Africa watching closely.

                                 Successor by resignation: South Africa’s new way of transferring political power?

Since Nelson Mandela exited South Africa’s political scene, transfer of political power has been through resignation of incumbent presidents. In 2009, Jacob Zuma who was the deputy president succeeded the then president, Thabo Mbeki when the country’s most popular political party – African National Congress, ANC, forced Mbeki to resign on corruption allegations. Nine years down the line, Zuma’s respect has been ‘downgraded’ alongside the gold-rich economy.

According to a Washington Post report, “Systemic corruption prompted two ratings agencies to downgrade the country, Africa’s most industrialized, to junk status.” The Messiah South Africa sought in Zuma was bought over by corruption. The husband of four wives, Zuma whom some described as a cat with nine lives was forced to resign, reluctantly amidst threats of parliamentary proceedings towards his impeachment.

After his resignation, his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa became the president. In December 2017, Ramaphosa was elected the leader of ANC, and he has never reduced his momentum to ensure that Zuma was removed as South Africa’s president.

ANC has been more than a political party in South Africa because of its long track of fight against apartheid, it’s stance against inequality, the tall achievements of its former leader, Nelson Mandela, the patriotic sacrifices of its members and as a singular unifying force towards emancipation of Africans.

Only time that would tell how the next President would emerge, either via ballots or through resignation of the current President.

Only time that would tell how the next President would emerge, either via ballots or through resignation of the current President.

                                                                                         Zuma’s many sins

Jacob Zuma   Photo Credit: http://www.dw.com

From the beginning of Jacob Zuma’s presidency, corruption allegation chains never left his neck. However, he survived for nine years, more reason why he was referred to as a cat with nine-lives.

On February 4, 2009 Zuma was in court to answer for a 783 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering levelled against him.

According to Reuters, it all started back in 2003 when the then National Director of Public Prosecutions, Bulelani Ngcuka, made an announcement that there was a prima facie case of corruption against Zuma. Ngcuka declined to prosecute the then deputy president on the grounds that the state did not have a winnable case.

“The investigating team recommended that we institute a criminal prosecution against [Zuma]… while there is a prima facie case of corruption against [Zuma], our prospects of success are not strong enough,” he said.

“We cannot continue with a prolonged investigation that cast a shadow over [Zuma], whilst we are not assured of the outcome.”

Two years later, the NPA, then headed by Ngcuka’s successor, Advocate Vusi Pikoli, officially charged Zuma.

Now the head of state is facing the long barrel of that gun again.

This followed the conviction of Zuma’s close friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, on two charges of corruption, and for soliciting a bribe for Zuma from a French arms deal beneficiary, Thales, in exchange for protection from possible investigation into the arms deal. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Zuma previously faced only two charges of corruption based on the indictment in the Shaik trial.

But 14 charges were then added including racketeering, fraud and money laundering.

Zuma’s charge sheet disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, Zuma or his family allegedly received 783 payments totalling more than R4 million from Shaik or his companies.

It was alleged that Zuma personally met and interceded with Shaik’s prospective business partners, most notably, Thales, to try to secure Shaik’s interests.

The essence of the racketeering charge was that Zuma, Thales and Shaik effectively formed an enterprise called Nkobi Investments that existed because of their alleged corrupt deeds.

Zuma’s charge sheet disclosed that between 1995 and 2005, Zuma or his family allegedly received 783 payments totalling more than R4 million from Shaik or his companies.

The rest of the charges relate to Zuma’s alleged non-declaration of benefits to Parliament and Cabinet and alleged tax evasion for not revealing his payments from Shaik to the South African Revenue Service.

However, in 2006, the Pietermaritzburg High Court dismissed Zuma’s corruption case because the prosecution team was not ready to bring a case. Zuma was subsequently charged again in 2007, shortly after he was elected as president of the ANC at its Polokwane Conference.

Eventually, after a series of challenges by Zuma’s legal team, the case was to be heard in August 2009.

But there was another twist.

Before Zuma could head to court, then acting NPA boss, Mokotedi Mpshe, announced charges would be dropped because of alleged political interference leading to an abuse of the legal process.

Mpshe’s declaration resulted from transcripts of telephone calls — aka the Spy Tapes — between former Scorpions (anti-graft agency in South Africa) boss, Leonard McCarthy, and Ngucka. Mpshe said the transcripts revealed that McCarthy and Ngucka colluded to change the timing of the announcement of the reinstitution of charges against Zuma to damage his presidential campaign.

It has been a long road and Zuma is almost out of tricks.

Years later, in 2016, the North Gauteng High Court found the decision to drop charges against the president was illegal and irrational. The court set the decision aside, effectively reinstating the charges.

Now the president is seeking leave to appeal.

It has been a long road and Zuma is almost out of tricks. If his appeal is set aside, the NPA will be obliged to proceed with prosecution. If not, Zuma will not be prosecuted at all.

Are we finally seeing the culmination of a decade-long legal enterprise to get Zuma to face his charges, or does he still have some tricks up his sleeve? One thing is for certain, either way, South Africa is probably in for more legal drama.

Are we finally seeing the culmination of a decade-long legal enterprise to get Zuma to face his charges, or does he still have some tricks up his sleeve? One thing is for certain, either way, South Africa is probably in for more legal drama.

And having left the presidency, it’d be hard for the ‘cat with nine lives’ to go free in such a country with deep respect for constitution. If Zuma’s close friend and financial adviser, Schabir Shaik was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, there is every possibility that Zuma could have a stay in the prison longer than the freedom fighter, Nelson Mandela.

                                                        Ramaphosa: a saviour or another Zuma in disguise?

In his inaugural speech, the new president vowed to make tough decisions against corruption and land distribution in the country.

“This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions,” Ramaphosa said in his first State of the Nation address.

“We are determined to build a society defined by decency and integrity, that does not tolerate the plunder of public resources, nor the theft by corporate criminals of the hard-earned savings of ordinary people,”

He also pointed out, “This is the year in which we will turn the tide of corruption in our public institutions”

Hailing a “new dawn’, Ramaphosa declared that there would be “tough decisions” in order to revive the stagnated economy.

One of the various indications of optimism over the election of Ramaphosa is the financial market. Huffington Post reports that South Africa’s rand ZAR=D3 rallied soon after Ramaphosa started his address, trading near its three-year best. Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to woo overseas investment.

However, some still believe Ramaphosa was singing an old song. The leader of the opposition, and head of the Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane, said the president was reading from an old script.

“We could have gotten more bolder action today, but I heard more of the same stuff,” Maimane said.

Leader of the opposition, and head of the Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane pointed other challenges facing   the country to include a struggling education system, a bloated public sector and wage bill, cadre deployment and leadership issues at the National Prosecuting Authority and the Public Protector.

                                                                                         Expectations and Challenges

Ramaphosa now faces the task of winning back the support of voters. Twenty-three years after the country held its first all-race election, which the ANC won with Nelson Mandela at the helm, more than one in two South Africans live in poverty. The country suffers from an unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent. He also needs to fashion out ways to inculcate members who are still loyal to the former president Zuma.

Ramaphosa now faces the task of winning back the support of voters. Twenty-three years after the country held its first all-race election, which the ANC won with Nelson Mandela at the helm, more than one in two South Africans live in poverty. The country suffers from an unemployment rate of nearly 30 percent. He also needs to fashion out ways to inculcate members who are still loyal to the former president Zuma.

Another challenge is the issue of land distribution. Twenty-three years after apartheid rule in South Africa, majority of land distribution is owned by the white minority. There are already fears that one of the “tough decisions” Ramaphosa would make is land redistribution. Julius Malema, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader is one of South Africa’s most vociferous politicians. He told the National Assembly that the issue of land and ownership remains the most pressing issue in South Africa and that Ramaphosa must not be allowed to bluff the electorate.

“Investors were worried when you made the announcement of expropriation without land. You cannot make promises, bluff and then say ‘don’t worry, I’m just silencing my opponents inside the ANC’. There can be no conditions attached to land… there [were] no conditions attached when they took our land and killed us,” Malema said.

But according to Reuters, Ramaphosa has made a direct appeal to poorer black voters – the core of the ANC’s support – Ramaphosa that he would aim to speed up the transfer of land to black people.

Meanwhile, one of the indicators of trust in government – the financial market, has shown an increase since the election of Ramaphosa. Reuters reported that “South Africa’s rand ZAR=D3 rallied soon after Ramaphosa started his address, trading near its three-year best.” It also reported that Financial markets have rallied since Ramaphosa took over from Zuma as ANC leader in December, as investors warmed to his pledges to woo overseas investment.

                                                                   Implications for Africa’s Democracy

Recent happenings in Africa are indications that the continent’s democracy is improving. Following Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, annulment of Kenya’s presidential election among others, many believed Africa is on the path of true democratic dispensation.

In 2015, Nigeria- Africa’s most populated country- also demonstrated this when the then President Goodluck Jonathan conceded power to his predecessor, Muhammadu Buhari, even before the electoral umpire released a conclusive result.

Some observers pointed out that his attitude towards power in a continent of sight-tight political leaders brought a new wave in Africa’s brittle democracy. Some went as far as saying that Jacob Zuma emulated Jonathan by relinquishing power in lieu of keeping his country in a stagnant state for self-aggrandizement while others believe that what former American President, Barrack Obama said that Africa needs “strong institutions not strong men” led to Zuma’s resignation in a country with a ‘strong institution’.