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A new president, the same ANC: Lessons from 2008

By Benjamin Hale - posted Monday, 12 March 2018


Earlier this month, almost 10 years after the ANC recalled former-president Thabo Mbeki, Jacob Zuma resigned as South African President. Though some may be hopeful about new president Cyril Ramaphosa, there are many reasons to be sceptical or even concerned about the ANC under a Ramaphosa presidency. The removal of two sitting presidents within 10 years by the ruling ANC party sheds light on the continued factionalism within the national liberation movement. Indeed, though Zuma has been dogged by corruption charges throughout his presidency, his removal from office took place in the context of a protracted leadership struggle with Cyril Ramaphosa.

Indeed, though Zuma's removal may be seen by many as an effort by the ANC to curb corruption, Zuma was maligned as corrupt even before he gained the presidency. His involvement in the 1999 arms scandal was well known, and he was dismissed by Mbeki from the position of deputy president in 2005 for similar charges of corruption. Indeed, the removal of Mbeki in 2008 can be seen as an attempt by the pro-Zuma faction in the ANC alliance to shield Zuma from prosecution for involvement in corruption. Even following accusations of misappropriations of public funds during the 2009 Nklanda saga, Zuma remained popular within the ANC and throughout its electorate.

The ousting of Zuma can be better understood as a continuation of the factional struggles that led to the removal of Mbeki in 2008, as factions within the ANC vie for access to valuable resources and business connections. Further, the Zuma presidency was not contested within the ANC until declining electoral performance, negative press and growing public sentiment against his leadership made it increasingly untenable for the ANC. Indeed, there was little talk of ousting Zuma after the 2009 and 2014 national elections and 2011 municipal electionwhere the ANC fared reasonably well. This was largely due to Zuma's widespread popularity in the populous province of KwaZulu-Natal which buoyed up declining ANC performance elsewhere. However, pressure began to build after the 2016 municipal elections, where support for the ANC hit historic lows, attracting only 54.48% of proportional representative votes. Further, the ANC lost considerable ground in the metropolitan municipalities control over key municipalities, with Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg all electing Democratic Alliance mayors. Thereafter, some members of the ANC alliance became increasingly vocal in their criticism of corruption, specifically relating to Zuma, looking instead to president Cyril Ramaphosa to refurbish the ANC's image.

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Following his inauguration Cyril Ramaphosa moved quickly to announce plans to increase anti-corruption efforts in his State of the Nation Address, with commentators expecting a cabinet reshuffle to remove members tainted by corruption charges. However, following the reshuffle of the cabinet on Monday night, Ramaphosa confirmed ANC deputy president David Mabuza as the deputy of the Republic, despite ongoing allegations of corruption and 'thuggery'. This has led opposition DA leader Mmusi Maimane to note that 'it's about the ANC and connected cadres first, and the interests of South Africa second'. Indeed, through employing the rhetoric of anti-corruption Ramaphosa can justify the removal of those in his cabinet and the party aligned with Zuma, and establish his own cronies. Thus, the appointment of Mabuza has confirmed that despite a new president, the ANC will continue to operate in much the same way, through a new set of patronage networks.

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About the Author

Benjamin Hale is an honours graduate and PhD candidate at Edith Cowan University in the field of politics and international relations with a specific focus on Africa.

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