South Africa at a Turning Point?
South Africa has been on the edge the past two months, with no one certain of which way things will turn. In December 2017, there was much enthusiasm as the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party finally agreed to change its party ruler, which by the end of 2019 should mean the end of President Jacob Zuma’s increasingly chaotic term in office. However, with the news this month that the country’s second largest city, Cape Town, is due to completely run out of water in a matter of months, there is a sense of urgency that the country must confront its problems as soon as possible.
Mr Zuma is South Africa’s third President in the post-apartheid era. His tenure has grown in controversy seemingly every year, with 2017 marred by the exposure of a scandal involving the billionaire Gupta brothers. Long accused of having suspiciously close ties to the government, the brothers paid vast sums for the public relations firm Bell Pottinger to stir up racial tension in the country in an effort to distract the public from accusations of corruption towards them and the President. On top of this, 2017 saw several months of recession in a country often touted as being of huge growth potential, and a member of the BRICS group of fast developing countries.
Therefore, many were pleased by the results of last December’s vote on who will be the new leader of the ANC, when President Zuma’s term expires in 2019. Zuma’s preferred replacement was his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who was suspected to continue many of Mr Zuma’s policies, and protect him from the 783 criminal charges levelled against him. However, the vote was won by Cyril Ramaphosa, a former trade union boss turned millionaire businessman, who helped draft the country’s 1996 constitution. He has pledged to target corruption and unemployment, and his economic policies are widely seen as more likely to help the country regain its footing as a leading driver of growth in sub-Saharan Africa. The economic signals have already been positive, with the country’s notoriously volatile currency, the Rand, performing better than it has for years.
However, reform cannot come soon enough, as the country returns to the spotlight this week with its second largest city, Cape Town, in the midst of a catastrophic water shortage. Multiple years of drought have been draining all water sources, so that intense rationing has already been rolled out across the city. Now the city’s 4 million residents have been told that unless much more extreme rationing is carried out, the government will turn off the city’s taps on April 22nd. This would make it the largest ever city to totally run out of water.
Therefore, the last couple of months have shown that South Africa does have the potential to bounce back to its long-held position as one of the leading economies in Africa. Nevertheless, the depth of the country’s governance problems have been exposed, and action needs to be taken as soon as possible. Some are predicting that President Zuma might be pressured out of office before his term expires. Either way, the end of his presidency and the following election, between Mr Ramaphosa and his contenders, will be seen as a pivotal moment for the country.