President Jacob Zuma’s legacy and what’s next for him
As the country gets ready for Jacob Zuma to step down from the ANC hot seat we look back at his time as leader of the country
BY THE time you read this, President Jacob Zuma will have mere days left as head of the ruling party. Under his watch much has happened – people have been hired and fired, the rand has plummeted, the economy has suffered and the state has been captured. All of which has led many to rejoice at the fact that, come 2019, he will become “an ordinary voter”, as he puts it, at his local Nkandla branch of the ANC. Yet there is more than a year to go until the general elections – and the million dollar question now is, will Zuma still wield power and influence after the elective conference closes on 20 December? We went looking for answers to this and other questions as Zuma’s last year at the head of the party draws to a close.
Expect Zuma to have some level of leverage and influence in areas where he has a firm foothold, says Sanusha Naidu, senior research associate at the Institute for Global Dialogue and a politics lecturer at the University of Cape Town.
He could also exert influence as an elder and an outgoing president.
But can president of the party be separated from president of the state? Naidu says we will have to wait and see. “At this point in time, everything is a grey area.”
But political analyst Daniel Silke believes Zuma’s days are numbered and doubts he’ll make it to the 2019 general election as head of state.
“Whoever wins at the elective conference will want to resolve the issues that surround Zuma and cement themselves as the president and leader of the country,” he says.
Analysts also believe the ANC might have a better chance in 2019 if they get rid of Zuma now.
HAS ANY GOOD COME OUT OF HIS PRESIDENCY?
The first five years had some gems, analyst Oscar van Heerden says in the Daily Maverick.
This included rural development programmes spearheaded by Zuma which brought rural development “front and centre with its own financing and priority investments”.
He also did better than his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, when it came to rolling out ARVs, analyst Ralph Mathekga says.
“There are also more children in early childhood development programmes,” Mathekga adds.
But the bad stuff far outweighs the good – the excessive spending on his Nkandla
homestead, the ousting of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene that brought the economy to its knees, his friendship with the Guptas and state capture.
“The dramatic events of the past year have embroiled the president and his faction in state capture and have put the final nail in the coffin of any lasting legacy he might have wanted to leave,” Silke says.
All he will be remembered for is presiding over a country mired in graft. He has also lost the confidence of his own party.
Lukhona Mnguni, an analyst from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, says under Zuma’s leadership there was “an undermining and collapsing of democratic institutions”.
“If we ask, ‘do we have efficient, effective and responsive institutions of government?’ the answer is no – which means his legacy can only be negative. In short, the president will be leaving behind a divided ANC and a country he led into crisis.”
WHAT EFFECT HAS HIS PRESIDENCY HAD ON THE ANC?
The party is split by factions and is deeply divided, Mathekga says.
“Zuma’s leadership has had a profoundly negative impact on the ANC.”
It’s been felt at the polls too – under Zuma’s tenure the party lost control of the City of Tshwane, the City of Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay, devastating blows to the once all-powerful party.
The ANC has also lost a lot of credibility in the eyes of the world. “SA isn’t seen as a country that is modelling true democracy,” Mathekga says. “People know more about Nkandla and other controversies than anything else. And it’s not something we can be proud of.”
IS THE STATE OF THE ECONOMY ALL HIS FAULT?
The downturn shouldn’t be blamed entirely on Zuma, says Dr Azar Jammine, director and chief economist of Econometrix.
“There was a sharp slowdown in global economic growth from 2011 to 2015 and that impacted directly on us.
“There have also been major droughts, none of which were issues within Zuma’s control.”
However, our economy has steadily underperformed compared with other emerging world markets, he adds. “Issues related to commodity prices can be significantly attributed to the impact Zuma had.
“More specifically, the rise of state capture and the extent of corruption under his stewardship, coupled with the inefficiency and incompetence of management at state-owned enterprises all had a negative effect on the economy.”
Jammine believes the biggest damage has yet to be felt. The full impact of this year’s significant downgrades to junk status will mean less economic growth and less investment because of increasingly low levels of business confidence.
There is a lot of uncertainty about South Africa, Naidu adds – whether we’re at the tipping point in terms of our political, social and economic landscape and whether we can pull back from it.
The social cohesion and nation building that seemed so possible in 1994 haven’t happened as envisaged, she adds.
CAN IT BE FIXED?
Through sound leadership many of the issues can be addressed, Jammine says. But he warns there will be lasting effects that will take a long time to get over.
“One example that’s a little less tangible is the increase in racial polarisation that’s come about by deliberate attempts to shift the blame for poor economic policy on racist attitudes in South Africa.”
The incoming party leader will need to ensure sound policy implementation, Naidu says, in order to “recalibrate the political and economic landscape”.
“But how long that will take is anyone’s guess.”
Whoever wins at the conference will need to first rebuild confidence in the country.
HOW DOES SOUTH AFRICA’S FUTURE LOOK RIGHT NOW?
It isn’t all gloom and doom, Jammine says. “In the short term the economy is actually doing somewhat better than many people are giving it due.
“It’s not actually collapsing despite all the headwinds and that is a source of encouragement – but a lot of damage has been done.”
He also points to astute leadership to turn the ship around. The next ANC president needs to act harshly against state capture and corruption. “And that’s quite a tall order.”
ABOVE: Brothers Ajay and Atul Gupta are at the centre of state capture and corruption allegations. RIGHT: Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Cyril Ramaphosa (FAR RIGHT) are both vying for the position of ANC president.