Under Zuma’s leadership, a culture of impunity has taken root at the highest levels of the ANC. https://t.co/OoLfVbjOJa— Foreign Affairs (@ForeignAffairs) May 22, 2016
South Africa is in the middle of a period of political and economic unrest unlike anything the country has experienced since the end of apartheid in 1994. In March 2015, students at the University of Cape Town launched the #Rhodesmustfall campaign, aimed at bringing down a statue of the British imperialist Cecil Rhodes. Since then, students have regularly stormed the nation’s universities, labor unions have held strikes, and populist social movements have taken to the streets. The protesters have called for wholesale reform of the country’s economy and directly challenged the ruling African National Congress. And the ANC itself is in crisis, divided between supporters and detractors of South African President Jacob Zuma. On March 31, the country’s highest court ruled that Zuma had failed to uphold the constitution when he ignored a state order to repay government funds used in a $23 million upgrade to his private residence at Nkandla in KwaZulu Natal. And on April 29, the High Court in Pretoria ruled that the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority, Mokotedi Mpshe, had acted irrationally when he had dropped corruption charges against Zuma in 2009. Although the opposition failed in its bid to impeach Zuma, the National Assembly remains fractious and divided. The Nkandla revelations and growing dissatisfaction with Zuma have sparked broader protests about poor living standards, low economic growth, high unemployment, and political stagnation.Keep reading.
The roots of the current crisis lie in the country’s tortured past. Since the end of apartheid, the number of people who live in absolute poverty has fallen, and access to and quality of services has improved, but unemployment, crime, and housing remain the top three concerns of South Africans, as they have been since the mid-1990s. In fact, the gap between rich and poor has widened: South Africa’s Gini coefficient, a measure of economic inequality ranging from 0 (perfect equality) to 1 (perfect inequality), increased from 0.62 in 2008 to 0.70 in 2013; by contrast, Brazil’s has fallen from 0.55 in 2009 to 0.53 in 2013. For all of those who expected great progress since 1994, the slow pace of change has been bitterly disappointing.
After the political stalemate of the late 1980s, the ANC made a bargain with the then ruling National Party: it would take power and focus on postapartheid reconciliation, while committing to economic policies that would disavow the appropriation of land and economic assets from the country’s white elite. In short, the ANC chose political power and social reconciliation over economic restitution and the redistribution of wealth.
The concessions hobbled the party during the critical years immediately following the end of apartheid, when economic restructuring could have had great impact. Apartheid policies had stripped the country of its natural wealth and impoverished its people, and the state had developed the capacity to provide services to only a small portion of the population. The government had pushed responsibility for the black majority to the Bantustans, self-governing territories that the architects of apartheid had established to house the country’s “African” populations. After the transition, the state had to expand its scope to include the millions it had previously excluded.
Yet political freedom did not lead to economic prosperity for the vast majority of South Africans. The ANC had not anticipated how much globalization had constrained the ability of the state to foster economic redistribution. What’s more, the ANC discovered that the state it had inherited lacked the resources to deliver on its 1994 campaign promise, “A Better Life for All.” The dual costs of maintaining the security apparatus and unequal welfare system necessary to sustain the apartheid state had drained the state’s coffers. The ANC had initially adopted a moderately redistributive economic program (the Reconstruction and Development Programme), but in mid-1996 it replaced this with Growth, Employment and Redistribution, which was modeled on the structural adjustment programs that the World Bank promoted in the 1980s. Many South Africans who had been deprived of basic services under apartheid continue to lack housing, electricity, water, and sanitation...