When Jacob Zuma succeeded Thabo Mbeki as African National Congress (ANC) party leader and eventually became the South African chief of state, his flaws were already well known: personal financial issues, a rape trial (he was acquitted), and corruption scandals. The ANC was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
However, during his second term, patience may be wearing thin in the face of Zuma’s continued refusal to accept accountability (not least with respect to public expenditure on his private estate, Nkandla), his attacks on independent institutions such as the public protector, and visible economic stagnation highlighted by high unemployment rates. Most South Africans believe that corruption is getting worse. Nevertheless, earlier in March the ANC majority soundly defeated a motion of no confidence in the president.
In the aftermath of that defeat, Bantu Holomisa, the leader of a small opposition party, the United Democratic Movement, publicly said that South Africa is in “a leadership crisis of epic proportions.” He urged the ANC “to take back its president and keep him (Zuma) away.” This is what the ANC did in 2007, when it deposed Mbeki as party leader, ultimately leading to his resignation from the presidency.
However, Ranjeni Munusamy, in a compelling piece in the Daily Maverick, argues that ANC support is based on history, its delivery of social services since 1994, as well as popular “love” for the party. Hitherto, Zuma’s leadership failures do not threaten ANC electoral support. That could change in the future. Munusamy suggests that the first signs of change might be seen in the local government elections next year. But, for now, she argues, the ANC leadership continues to back Zuma.
In a nice twist, Munusamy argues that the opposition, especially the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, also need Zuma. She maintains that anger against the president promotes the consolidation of the support base of the opposition parties.
Some thoughtful South Africans argue that the fundamental problem is with the electoral system, whereby ballots are cast for a political party, not for specific candidates. Holomisa, for one, is calling for the direct election of the president. Others are urging that South Africa’s system of proportional representation be altered to make individual members of parliament somehow accountable to the voters. However, at present, such fundamental changes are unlikely.