South Africa’s General Elections will be coming after a period of rampant political corruption and decay of democratic institutions. The elections, which are being held in May, will elect members of the National Assembly. The primary parties are the African National Congress (ANC) led by current president Cyril Ramaphosa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). The DA is the second largest party, after the ANC. The EFF tends toward radical economic policies and favors expropriation of white-owned land without compensation. The National Assembly chooses the president based on those elected so there is a likelihood that the next president will be from the political party that gains more parliamentary seats. The ANC, which has governed since 1994 under Nelson Mandela, may not have as solid a standing as once expected from past elections.
Corruption and state capture will be the key issues under debate for the ANC during the months leading up to the 2019 elections. The party has come under fire due to the trial of previous president, Jacob Zuma. Zuma has 16 charges against him including fraud, corruption, and money laundering. Since the transition of power, President Ramaphosa has had his hands full trying to save his party’s credibility and regain disillusioned voters. Under Zuma, the ANC engaged in “state capture”: the systematic approach of individuals or firms using the state to further their private interests. The Public Protector Report indicated that Zuma, the Guptas, ANC political officials, and their families benefited through government contracts. The government contracts were given to certain companies like Eskom and Transnet, which were linked to those previously mentioned. Officials who did not comply were removed from their positions, transferred, pressured to quit, or had fabricated charges brought up against them.
Ramaphosa’s State of Nation Address on February 7 has reinforced his promise to tackle corruption within his party. The President began 2018 with the addition of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry into State Capture and appointed Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo as the head. The “Zondo Commission” are public hearings, which have uncovered the extent of corruption between the government and private sector. One of the most shocking discoveries by the Commission was given by Mr. Angelo Agrizzi, the chief operating officer for Bosasa, who testified at the State Capture Commission earlier in January 2019. Bosasa is a company that has been accused of bribing political ANC officials in order to gain lucrative government contracts. The bribes given to officials included large sums of money, cars, and high-end alcohol. The testimony shows that the corruption began before Zuma and still remains a current integral part of the ANC. In 2009, the company was investigated by the Special Investigation Unit, but the national prosecutors were paid off along with the ANC committee members who oversaw prisons. Fortunately, the State Capture Commission is not the Special Investigation Unit. The publicity of these trials has brought about a sense of renewed transparency from the government. It has also been a warning to companies like Bosasa, Eskom, and Transnet that the future government will not come with a price tag.
There is the question of whether the publicity of the Zondo Commission is tarnishing the ANC as a credible contender in the election. The testimony has also tied President Ramaphosa and his cabinet to Bosasa. In December 2017, Ramaphosa was given $37,000 before the party elections by the company. Originally, he was quoted to have said it was for his son Andile’s consultation work for the company. He then backtracked and admitted it was for the campaign and vowed to return it. Two of the most prominent figures within Ramaphosa’s circle that have corruption charges against them are Ms. Mokonyane, the current Minister for Environmental Affairs, and David Mabuza, Ramaphosa’s Deputy. Mokonyane is reported to have accepted bribes during Zuma’s presidency while Mabuza has allegedly been siphoning funds from schools. It is doubtful that the ANC will return to their early post-apartheid image anytime soon.
So what does this mean for South Africa?
For DA and EFF members, the strategies should be directed towards expanding their platform to be more inclusive. There are disillusioned, marginalized voters looking for representation. However, the push for inclusivity should also be a push for moderate voices. Meeting in the middle will cast a more stable net over these groups. Globally, populism and partisan voices are gaining more popularity. The DA and EFF must not take these low hanging fruits and succumb to extreme rhetoric. Already there have been partisan actions like the Anti-ANC Billboards for the #TheANCIsKillingSA campaign. Keeping a moderate tone may miss the chance to garner immediate disgruntled voters but will protect South Africa’s political system in the long-term. The ANC still holds particular sway and the EFF will likely need to form a coalition with them if they want to gain parliamentary chairs. Whether the DA and EFF like it or not, the ANC still holds some keys to the government.
The ANC will have to purge itself if it wants to remain a credible political party. Future legislation will be jeopardized if the DA and EFF weaponize the corruption trials, which they have already begun to do. If the political parties refuse to work with the ANC after the elections, gridlock will be likely and the government will come to a standstill. Ramaphosa has kept to his image as a corruption fighter but the President cannot create a healthy democracy alone. Cross-party ties must be strengthened.
When political parties fail in their duty to uphold democratic norms, it can take a lifetime to rebuild. Zuma could not have single-handedly weakened the institutions. Collectively, the ANC have disregarded the democratic institutions and benefited off of self-interest. The South African Judiciary now has the responsibility of publicly strengthening democracy. The Zondo Commission and Zuma’s trial are the restoration of the social contract between the representatives and the public. It is the return to the basic constitutional values. These elections, therefore, will be the chance for South Africans to reflect on their past representation and the relationship they want between the government and private sector.
Image taken from Huffington Post