On The Current South African Political Crisis and the Failure to Fully Eradicate Apartheid


The year was 1994, and the Apartheid regime had finally been replaced by majority rule. With it, the highly progressive “Rainbow Nation” of South Africa was born, and people were optimistic that a new age of prosperity was on the horizon. However, while the new South African constitution was highly democratic and tolerant, since the end of Nelson Mandela’s rule as President repeated abuses of power have ground any further anti-Apartheid reforms to a halt. While political Apartheid has fallen, economic Apartheid is still very much a factor in people’s daily lives, an issue that the post-Apartheid government of South Africa has yet to counter. The African National Congress (ANC), the main ruling party since 1994 and once the standard-bearer of anti-Apartheid resistance, has now become horribly corrupt and ineffectual at governance, to the point where Nobel Prize winner and anti-Apartheid activist The Very Rev. Archbishop Desmond Tutu claimed the ANC was worse than Apartheid. If it wants to continue to gain political support, the ANC must rid itself of corruption and focus on the political and economic grievances of its population.

Currently, the biggest symbol of ANC corruption comes in the form of President Jacob Zuma, who just recently managed to avoid getting impeached. Despite the fact that Zuma was ruled to have broken constitutional law, most of the ANC has still decided to stick by him, partially because the ANC does not want the center-right opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) to take power. Despite this, the ANC has begun to fracture because of Zuma’s failures, with some continuing to defend him while others launching their own internal opposition movements. In the months before the 2016 Municipal Elections, in protest of Zuma’s continuing reign, five branches of the Nelson Mandela Bay Area ANC boycotted the launch of the ANC election’s manifesto. Other critics of Zuma include Ahmed Kathrada, a friend of the late Nelson Mandela, as well as the members of the Tripartite Alliance of civil society groups, namely the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Previously the latter groups took a more passive role in governance with the ANC, but now that Zuma’s corruption has been ruled illegal, they have begun to voice complaints of Zuma’s regime, indicating South African civil society’s growing displeasure.

With civil society and popular discontent levelled against the party, if the ANC is to maintain political legitimacy and popular support, it has to first get rid of Zuma. Issues that faced post-Apartheid South Africa have only been compounded further by Zuma’s rule. The class and racial divides that the post-Apartheid South Africa was supposed to have bridged still exist, and in some cases has even grown wider. Fewer and fewer South Africans are going to stand idly by while the government fails to address these issues, and the first symbolic step to remedy these grievances is to remove Zuma from power. While it has been said that by ousting Zuma could possibly create another rival political party to the ANC, that is simply a risk the ANC has to take – a risk it could have avoided if it had not become complacent in governing South Africa.

Once Zuma is out of the picture, the ANC must continue anti-corruption initiatives. Funds that should have been spent on improving South African infrastructure is more often stolen by officials than actually put to use. These kinds of practices must be stopped and heavily punished to deter any more wrongdoing. After the ANC has freed up more money for itself by targeting sources of corruption, it must begin addressing the many problems facing South African society. These days, few measures have been taken to curb the unemployment rate (not only is it at its highest rate since the end of Apartheid, but an overwhelming number of the unemployed are black South Africans), extra-governmental private security has grown much larger in response to ineffective policing, and crushing student debt have all contributed to anti-ANC sentiment. If it wants to continue maintaining an image of legitimacy, it must address these problems and address them immediately. All of these issues can be solved by increasing the size of the South African state in public affairs, like providing employment through government programs to improve infrastructure (akin to Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration), place more resources into a more effective police force, and provide government funding to universities.

While this is certainly a tall order, the ANC’s complacency has already put it into a tough spot. Zuma’s administration merely showed the cracks in the ANC’s ability to rule. If the ANC fails to address the concerns of the South African people, it is highly likely the opposition DA will see a rise in popularity and one day even gain power of the national government, finally ending the ANC’s rule since 1994. Perhaps the threat of losing power will incentivize the ANC to finally get its act together and enact the reforms it has to.

Francis Shin

Author: Francis Shin

Francis Shin is a student currently majoring in international affairs and history. In addition to his majors' topics, he is interested in international politics, philosophy, theology, and the arts.