South Africa’s Lame-Duck President
By Joel Hilliker
Once the jewel of Africa, this nation is now going the way of the rest of the continent. A new president won’t help matters.
Imagine a small cabal of leaders within the Republican Party forcing the president from office. No public vote, not even any input from Congress—just the application of enough pressure on the man that he resigns. Then imagine Congress installing a deputy president to fill in for several months until another election can be held.
Such a bizarre turns of events—aside from revealing just how powerful, and also shockingly divided, the ruling political party is—would mire the nation in a political muddle. It would also leave the nation vulnerable to exploitation by outsiders.
This is just what has happened in South Africa.
Thabo Mbeki had served as the nation’s president for almost a decade. Sunday of last week, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) forced him to resign over allegations that he’d interfered in a corruption case against Jacob Zuma, his longstanding opponent. When the presiding judge made accusations of political interference and dismissed all charges against Zuma, his allies had the pretext they needed to “recall” the president.
Kgalema Motlanthe, deputy leader of the African National Congress and former trade union leader, became South Africa’s third president last Thursday, the third since Nelson Mandela took the reins of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994.
An outbreak of singing and dancing from the anc greeted the announcement of Motlanthe’s win in the National Assembly—but Motlanthe’s presidency isn’t really worth cheering. His lame-duck tenure will only help the nation limp through what would have been the rest of Mbeki’s term in office. Elections are scheduled for April next year. Thus, South Africa will endure several months of an essentially meaningless administration, a situation that could well exacerbate several oppressive national problems.
South Africa is in trouble. At one time one of the most prosperous nations in Africa, today it finds itself in the jaws of the very woes that are swallowing nearly every other African state: rampant crime, corruption, unemployment, poverty and disease. This trend is doubly tragic because of the heights from which it has descended to this condition—and the speed.
Of course, fierce criticism of the white, apartheid-era rulers from which the ANC took control in 1994 has been widely publicized. That criticism, however, does not change this fact: Whatever problems existed under that much-reviled system, they are simply being dwarfed by those multiplying under Marxist ANC rule.
The undeniable, politically incorrect truth is that the descent of South Africa is largely the regrettable creation of the ANC.
Mbeki’s failings were clear. His leadership was widely criticized for being cloistered, exclusive, aloof, vindictive toward critics and aggressive against dissenters. Though his economic policies were credited with creating a boom, they helped chase a million whites from the country in a decade and have left many blacks in the dust of poverty. While a small black middle class is growing, as is a clutch of superwealthy, politically well-connected black oligarchs, one quarter of the nation is currently unemployed—40 percent, if you include those no longer looking for work. Eleven percent of South Africans live on less than a dollar a day, double the number of those in poverty when the ANC took power in 1994.
Under Mbeki, the nation also suffered from one of the worst crime rates in the world. It has eight times as many murders as the average country—nine times as many as the United States. It has more assaults, rapes and murders with firearms per capita than anywhere in the world. Over eight in 10 South African businesses are affected by crime—not missing Post-it notes, but violent crime and burglary. Even in “quiet” neighborhoods—which are routinely protected by security companies, closed-circuit cameras, palisade fencing, electronic gates, razor wire and alarm systems—burglaries and armed robberies are distressingly common.
Child protection services estimate that one third of girls and one fifth of boys in the country are sexually exploited; a child goes missing on average every six hours. And the reality is probably worse than the numbers suggest: The government is widely thought to fudge statistics down so as not to highlight its failures. The minister of safety and security once told people to stop complaining about the crime or leave the country.
Making matters so much worse is the appalling policing failure. Author and researcher Jonny Steinberg recently wrote a book, Thin Blue: The Unwritten Rules of Policing in South Africa, detailing the shocking truth about policing in post-apartheid South Africa, after spending eight years on the beat with police patrols. What did he find? “The truth is that it is not the police who control the criminals, but the criminals who dictate when, where and how they will be policed” (Pretoria News, September 17). The criminals rule South Africa’s streets.
At the same time, South Africa faces a food production crisis. “This is not a fight between racist farmers and disenfranchised black people. It’s a national crisis; it’s a fight for the economic survival of our country,” says Chris Burgess, editor of Farmer’s Weekly, the nation’s leading English-speaking farming magazine. “We are heading for a catastrophe and the cracks are already showing because our government under President Mbeki did not treat food production as a national priority.” Food production in South Africa is falling at an alarming rate as a result of white farmers being driven off the land and large tracts of agricultural land going out of production due to the transfer of land to blacks. As a result, this year the nation went from being one of only a few net food exporting countries in the world to being a net importer.
It is easy to see why so many were eager for a change in leadership. But Kgalema Motlanthe is merely a caretaker president. He stands no chance of making a dent in the country’s many woes.
The ANC’s cheers over his victory were likely more directed at the fact that now, the man in prime position to become president in next year’s election is Jacob Zuma.
Zuma is expected to be the ANC’s candidate, which means that, presuming he can continue to sidestep the corruption charges that have been leveled against him, he will be the next president. (Post-apartheid South Africa is effectively a one-party state.) Thus, Zuma is even now in a position to influence South African policy. Will we see a change for the good in South Africa as a result?
Zuma and his cronies have been undermining Mbeki’s power for the past nine months—ever since Zuma was elected leader of the anc last December. Now, Mbeki’s strategy of pinning corruption charges on Zuma has backfired. A South African high court ruled September 12 that the corruption trial against Zuma was illegal, causing the case to be thrown out. The legal clearing of Zuma, as Stratfor pointed out, “clears a lingering obstacle from Zuma’s path toward becoming South Africa’s next president” (September 12).
It is clear, however, that Jacob Zuma—should he become president next year as expected—will not represent a step forward for South Africa. Serious questions regarding his character, experience and policies dog him. Calling himself “100 Percent Zulu Boy” and using the anti-apartheid Zulu anthem “Bring Me My Machine Gun” as his theme song, the polygamist Zuma prides himself on his lack of formal education (some say he’s barely literate). He was brought up, fatherless, on the Soviet-era Communist ideals of the anc and joined its terrorist wing at age 16. Soon after, he was arrested and spent a decade in prison. Though he touts himself as a man of the people and defender of the poor, Zuma himself enjoys substantial wealth and a lavish lifestyle.
This is the man that the ruling party in South Africa has turned to in order to address the nation’s crushing internal crises. He’s not up to the job.
Economically, as much as he may talk about helping South Africa’s poor, Zuma’s allegiances lie elsewhere. Some believe that he will do little to change the reforms made under Mbeki’s rulership simply because of his accountability to the nation’s influential white businessmen. But there is tension over the fact that Zuma owes his political success to the ’s powerful allies in COSATU—the Congress of South African Trade Unions—and the South African Communist Party, both of which strongly oppose anything resembling free-market reforms.
True to its revolutionary roots, the ANC is proving itself increasingly driven by dangerous and shallow ideology rather than by what will best serve the country.
In clear contrast to the National Party that preceded it, the ANC is anti-West at its heart. From its earliest post-apartheid days under Nelson Mandela, it has routinely fostered relationships with dictators the world over, from Cuba to Libya to Iran. In the United Nations—within which it is wrapping up a two-year stint on the Security Council—it has consistently sided with Arab and Muslim entities and against American and Israeli interests. High ANC officials have publicly warned that South Africa must protect itself against possible invasion from the United States, of all things.
Zuma represents a further move in this anti-West direction.
Watch South Africa. In state after state on this aged continent, the transfer of power from colonialists to local rule, hailed as a victory for black Africans, has produced devastating results. The pattern that has been repeatedly followed is one of the new governing elite seizing the reins of power and driving their nations into the ground while making themselves criminally wealthy—often largely off international aid that never reaches the people for whom it is intended. The continent’s history of tribalism has simply overwhelmed democratic instruments and bestowed the unparalleled power of the modern nation-state on men who are essentially tribal chiefs.
South Africa has been a notable exception to this rule for several decades since becoming an independent republic. But now, that is changing—and rapidly. The true cause for this change is rooted in South Africa’s historical connection to the British Empire and the throne of England. Biblical prophecy describes and explains the curses South Africa increasingly finds itself under—curses that are destined to grow worse in the time ahead. A vital warning to the peoples of South Africa is contained in our booklet South Africa in Prophecy. Though written a decade ago, its prescient forecasts are even truer today, in the era of Zuma.
In short, by all appearances Zuma’s leadership of the ANC—and potential leadership of the country—represents, at best, a continuation of the problems that have plagued ANC rule, if not their intensification.
With Mbeki out, what foreign powers will come in to court his successor? This well-developed, resource-rich nation, in the absence of strong government, will likely become an even choicer target for predatory nations looking to exploit Africa’s wealth.
German-Foreign-Policy.com reports that Berlin has a long-term strategy to use Pretoria as a stabilizing factor for its interests in Africa. As such, it has been eagerly establishing extensive political, economic and military ties with South Africa, which is by far its most important business partner in Africa. More than 500 German enterprises hold majority shares in joint ventures—amounting to €4.2 billion in German investment. About 40 percent of South Africa’s exports go to Europe, and 40 percent of its imports come from Europe. Berlin and Brussels are also counting on Pretoria’s military to implement their African interests; Germany and other EU countries have been delivering military equipment to South Africa for years. One expert analysis says that Germany’s arms exports to South Africa have grown considerably since 2001, with South Africa being “the most important buyer of German military equipment” outside the Western industrial countries in 2004 and 2005. German-Foreign-Policy.com concludes, “The German hegemonic policy encompassing the African continent is taking effect.”
South Africa has tremendous natural resources and an excellent road and rail infrastructure that makes transporting the resources out very easy. With the government in crisis, a caretaker president currently in place and a questionable successor waiting to take his place, we can expect other nations to make their moves quickly.
Watch China, watch Russia—but even more, watch Europe, especially Germany. •