Splits plunge South Africa’s lib­er­a­tion party into tur­moil

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

South Africa’s gov­ern­ment has de­scended into open war­fare as a clash be­tween Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and his fi­nance min­is­ter un­veils ri­val­ries that could tip the coun­try into in­sta­bil­ity. The rul­ing African Na­tional Congress (ANC) party looks set for wors­en­ing strife as its di­vided lead­er­ship strug­gles with fall­ing pop­u­lar sup­port, a weak­en­ing econ­omy and vi­o­lent stu­dent protests. Fi­nance Min­is­ter Pravin Gord­han, a re­spected ANC vet­eran who was head­ing for a peace­ful re­tire­ment un­til his ap­point­ment last year, has emerged as the un­likely fig­ure­head of op­po­si­tion to Zuma.

Gord­han, 67, will next month ap­pear in court on crim­i­nal charges that he says are a po­lit­i­cally-mo­ti­vated at­tempt to oust him after he stood up to Zuma and al­leged cor­rupt as­so­ci­ates linked to the pres­i­dency. Gord­han’s cause has at­tracted some sig­nif­i­cant back­ers - not least Deputy Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa as well as sev­eral other min­is­ters. “Peo­ple in the ANC are be­gin­ning to un­der­stand the grav­ity of the cri­sis that the coun­try is in,” Prince Mashele, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst based at the Univer­sity of Pre­to­ria, told AFP. “Th­ese are not just or­di­nary mem­bers, but se­nior mem­bers who have now bro­ken ranks, in­clud­ing Ramaphosa - some­thing which I would de­scribe as ground­break­ing.”

‘A Very Dark Place’

Zuma in De­cem­ber re­luc­tantly re-ap­pointed Gord­han, who had served as fi­nance min­is­ter from 2009 to 2014, to calm pan­icked mar­kets after sack­ing two fi­nance min­is­ters within four days. Gord­han vowed to use the un­ex­pected op­por­tu­nity to re­vive South Africa’s econ­omy by con­trol­ling spend­ing, re­form­ing loss-mak­ing state com­pa­nies and tack­ling ram­pant cor­rup­tion. His work put him in di­rect con­flict with Zuma loy­al­ists such as the Gupta busi­ness fam­ily, who are ac­cused of wield­ing huge in­flu­ence over the gov­ern­ment.

In a care­fully-worded state­ment on Sun­day, Ramaphosa said: “I lend my sup­port to Min­is­ter Gord­han as he faces charges brought against him.” Adding to the toxic po­lit­i­cal mix, Zuma last week went to court to block the re­lease of an of­fi­cial anti-cor­rup­tion probe into his re­la­tion­ship with the Gup­tas. Zuma has sur­vived sev­eral ma­jor scan­dals dur­ing his pres­i­dency, but at a cost to the party that led the long fight against apartheid rule and took power un­der Nel­son Man­dela in 1994.

Lo­cal elec­tions in Au­gust pro­duced the ANC’s worst-ever poll per­for­mance, and a dif­fi­cult gen­eral elec­tion looms in 2019. “South Africa is in a very dark place,” said Mashele. “We have lost that moral high ground that we used to oc­cupy.” Zuma - who re­tains deep loy­alty in many parts of the ANC - is due to leave of­fice in 2019 after serv­ing the max­i­mum two terms, with Ramaphosa and Zuma’s for­mer wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma among his pos­si­ble suc­ces­sors.

Wors­en­ing Im­passe

The pres­i­dent was rep­ri­manded by South Africa’s high­est court in March for us­ing pub­lic funds to up­grade his pri­vate home, and he is also fight­ing a court or­der that could re­in­state al­most 800 cor­rup­tion charges against him. GDP growth is ex­pected to be vir­tu­ally zero this year, un­em­ploy­ment re­mains stub­bornly high at 27 per­cent, and pub­lic anger at lack of progress since apartheid has most re­cently erupted through vi­o­lent protests by univer­sity stu­dents.

“So much dam­age has been done in the process of keep­ing Zuma in power. Nei­ther the ANC or South Africa are win­ners,” Su­san Booy­sen, a po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand, told AFP. “We haven’t pre­vi­ously seen this level of di­vi­sion in the ANC and cab­i­net dur­ing Zuma’s time in of­fice. It’s very un­usual for cab­i­net mem­bers to speak out.” Zuma ap­pears un­able to sack Gord­han as it would trig­ger huge with­drawal of in­vest­ment from South Africa, which al­ready faces the pos­si­ble loss of its in­vest­ment-grade credit rat­ing in De­cem­ber.

“Any move he will make against Gord­han now is likely to pro­voke a mas­sive back­lash,” Ran­jeni Munusamy, a com­men­ta­tor and for­mer aide to the pres­i­dent, wrote on Mon­day. “(He) faces the real dan­ger of be­ing iso­lated as his com­rades and sub­or­di­nates close ranks around Gord­han.” — AFP

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