‘Mired in allegations of wrongdoing, he oversaw the rainbow nation’s most troubled period’
‘He gave a lesson in how to protect yourself and build your own empire. He can still say he has never been convicted in a court of law’
Jacob Zuma’s resignation as president of South Africa ends a nine-year rule seen by many as the most troubled period for the “rainbow nation” since the end of the racist apartheid regime 24 years ago. Zuma’s decision came after days of intense pressure from opponents within the African National Congress (ANC), the deeply divided ruling party. The 75-year-old political veteran leaft office mired in allegations of wrongdoing, ranging from improper relations with a family of wealthy businessmen to economic mismanagement. He has denied all allegations against him.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president and standard bearer of the reformist wing of the ANC, will now take power as interim president pending election by parliamentary vote. The news will please the business community, markets and international investors. Millions of South Africans from all communities who were concerned about the longterm consequences of Zuma’s rule for a country struggling to overcome many of the most damaging legacies of its troubled history will also be relieved. Some are talking about a “Cyril Spring”.
“He’s a good man. He [Ramaphosa] has the country’s interests in his heart, not his own or some family’s,” said Gwede Dube, a 39-year-old carpenter, as he queued in central Johannesburg for an overcrowded minibus to return to his home on the distant outskirts.
Ramaphosa, 65, a former union leader and multimillionaire businessman, won the leadership of ANC in a hotly contested internal election and will lead the party into general elections next year.
Zuma had led the ANC since 2007 and was South Africa’s president since 2009. His tenure in both posts was controversial. Many ANC loyalists accuse him of having undermined the image and legitimacy of the 105-year-old party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994 and has ruled since. Others on the left of the party say Zuma was a radical reformer who tried to help South Africa’s poorest, but fell victim to the “forces of capitalism”. “Our past legacy is oppression and theft. These capitalist forces decide who can be a president in our country. He never assessed this reality … so his approach was wrong,” said Billy Tsotetsi, an ANC official and TV commentator.
The ANC still dominates the country’s political landscape but its popularity has been dented by a failure to transform the lives of the country’s poor. The party lost control of several cities in municipal elections in 2016 and, even with Ramaphosa in power, may be forced into a coalition after the 2019 vote.
It is unclear if Zuma, who was born in a remote village and grew up in poverty in what is today South Africa’s south-eastern Kwa Zulu-Natal province, negotiated any deal to protect himself from prosecution on corruption charges. But his stubborn refusal to leave power did not surprise analysts.
“He gave a lesson in how to protect yourself and build your own empire. He can still say he has never been convicted in court. He can still say ‘show me what I did wrong’,” said Susan Booysen, a politics professor at the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His defeat at December polls, when a new ANC president was elected, signalled his weakening. It was clear that power was slipping away. Less than two months later Zuma, the consummate inside operator, is on the outside.