Zuma’s ouster should save South Africa

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - OPINION - ROBERT ROTBERG

Found­ing di­rec­tor of Har­vard Kennedy School’s Pro­gram on In­trastate Con­flict, for­mer se­nior fel­low, CIGI, and pres­i­dent emer­i­tus, World Peace Foun­da­tion

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s ouster and the ANC’s Leader Cyril Ramaphosa’s as­sump­tion of power should save South Africa. Mr. Zuma an­nounced he was re­sign­ing Wed­nes­day evening. How­ever, what mat­ters more is the fact that South Africa’s rul­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) dis­missed him on Sun­day as a cor­rupt em­bar­rass­ment.

The ANC traded Mr. Ramaphosa for Mr. Zuma pre­cisely be­cause South Africa is bro­ken and the ANC un­der Mr. Zuma for­feited the re­spect of the peo­ple. With an elec­tion loom­ing next year, the ANC has no chance of main­tain­ing its tra­di­tional tight hold on vot­ers with­out Mr. Ramaphosa at the helm.

Mr. Ramaphosa has much to do be­fore the poll in 2019. His tough­est and most im­por­tant task is to re­store South Africa’s be­lief in it­self. Mr. Zuma, as with most wildly cor­rupt ex­ec­u­tives, turned ide­al­ists into cyn­ics, hard and hon­est work­ers into scam­mers and con­nivers. Mr. Zuma’s ev­i­dent greed and pal­pa­ble ab­sence of in­tegrity in­flu­enced the pub­lic’s grow­ing dis­dain for both state and regime and, in­deed, for the na­tional val­ues that had been nur­tured by late pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela, the icon of pro­bity and fair deal­ing.

Mr. Ramaphosa must try to re­pair South Africa’s so­cial fab­ric first, and then to re­build ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency lead­ing to­ward trust. With­out some re-en­er­giz­ing of the coun­try, and with­out turn­ing skep­ti­cal youths (half of the coun­try, de­mo­graph­i­cally) into be­liev­ers will­ing to re­ject crim­i­nal pur­suits for the pos­si­bil­ity of jobs, South Africa will find it dif­fi­cult to re­ju­ve­nate it­self after the lost years of Mr. Zuma.

For­tu­nately, Mr. Ramaphosa should be equal to the task of up­lift­ing South Africa, dust­ing it off, and aiming a re­silient coun­try down the path of recovery. He was the young suc­ces­sor Mr. Man­dela pre­ferred, but the ANC’s el­ders favoured Thabo Mbeki. Mr. Ramaphosa was then cred­ited, as a skilled ne­go­tia­tor and smil­ing prob­lem solver, with hav­ing pre­vented blood­shed when Africans gained in­de­pen­dence in 1994 and cre­ated a multi-com­mu­nal state.

Ear­lier, Mr. Ramaphosa, a univer­sity grad­u­ate, had headed an up­start African Trade Union and the un­der­ground anti-apartheid move­ment that cre­ated chaos in the coun­try’s ur­ban town­ships. He greatly im­pressed those who knew him then as smart, savvy, thought­ful, diplo­matic and re­source­ful. Now he is much older, wiser, still as deft with peo­ple as be­fore, and much wealth­ier. If any­one can put South Africa’s im­mense prom­ise back into play, Mr. Ramaphosa is the one.

But the tasks are many. South Africa’s econ­omy is grow­ing much more slowly than the rest of Africa, less than 1 per cent last year and pos­si­bly 1.5 per cent this year. Economists sug­gest that the coun­try can only pros­per if it grows at 6 per cent, a rate that would pro­vide jobs for un­em­ployed youths, keep up with pop­u­la­tion in­creases, and be­gin to re­duce poverty and hunger. At least 40 per cent of work­ing-age adults are not for­mally em­ployed. They need houses and ser­vices, too.

In or­der to en­cour­age for­eign and do­mes­tic in­vest­ment and eco­nomic ad­vances, Mr. Ramaphosa will need to break with Mr. Zuma’s pay-for-play at­ti­tudes; his un­abashed at­tempts to en­rich him­self and his cronies at the ex­pense of the cit­i­zens; his con­niv­ing with In­dian en­trepreneurs to lease the state (“state cap­ture”); his in­sou­ciant dis­re­gard of con­ven­tional per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal ethics, es­pe­cially re­gard­ing HIV/AIDS; and his devel­op­ment and di­rec­tion of what has be­come a crim­i­nal­ized state. Pros­e­cut­ing cor­rupt ANC of­fi­cials would be salu­tary, but di­vi­sive.

Mr. Ramaphosa also needs to re­vive South Africa’s fal­ter­ing ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem. Be­cause of teach­ers who fail to teach or even show up in their class­rooms, be­cause of a short­age of text­books, be­cause of mas­sive un­der­fund­ing and poor salaries, and par­tially be­cause losses of elec­tric power mak­ing study­ing at night dif­fi­cult, South Africa’s pri­mary-school sys­tem has de­te­ri­o­rated since in­de­pen­dence and its sec­ondary sys­tem is even more en­dan­gered. Fewer than half of those who sit the an­nual high-school grad­u­a­tion exam pass, and of those who pass, only 20 per cent qual­ify for univer­sity en­trance. Those 400,000 or so an­nu­ally who fail the ex­ams are thrust into a job mar­ket that can­not ab­sorb them.

Mr. Ramaphosa has one other task. Ne­go­ti­a­tions this week over when and how Mr. Zuma would leave the pres­i­dency re­volved around the is­sue clos­est to Mr. Zuma’s heart: how to evade the 783 charges of cor­rup­tion that were re­cently re­in­stated by South Africa’s high­est court, and whether Mr. Ramaphosa and the ANC cen­tral ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee would give him im­mu­nity from fur­ther prose­cu­tion. If they do so, they run the grave risk of feed­ing the cyn­i­cism of cit­i­zens who al­ready be­lieve that po­lit­i­cal elites (and the bosses of the ANC) are only out for them­selves. If they don’t, Mr. Zuma is likely to walk ever so slowly to­wards his fi­nal exit from South African po­lit­i­cal life.

Cyril Ramaphosa must try to re­pair South Africa’s so­cial fab­ric first, and then to re­build ac­count­abil­ity and trans­parency lead­ing to­ward trust.

MIKE HUTCHINGS/REUTERS

ANC Leader Cyril Ramaphosa ad­dresses a rally to com­mem­o­rate Nel­son Man­dela’s cen­te­nary year in Cape Town, South Africa, on Sun­day.

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