Embattled South African President Jacob Zuma faces calls to stand down yesterday from members of his own Cabinet. The ANC voted on whether or not to oust him from power and decided that they wished to keep him as their leader and the President of South Africa. The vote took place at a meeting of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, and according to a statement by the ANC NEC a “settlement” had been reached between the two sides. Not only is this the wrong decision but it shows how politically unwise the ANC leadership is to remain loyal to a man that has split the South African Left and driven thousands of voters into the arms of the DA.
Jacob Zuma will remain President of South Africa, despite allegations of corruption regarding his links with the Gupta family and accusations of him using his power to enrich himself. The consequence of these allegations of corruption is that Zuma’s approval ratings have fallen through the floor. In a poll published in the Sunday Times in April, Zuma’s approval rating among black South Africans was 21%, the lowest since he was elected in 2009. A poll asking Zulu speakers their views provided what I believe to be an even more shocking result. Although a majority of Zulu speakers thought the President was doing a ‘very good/good/or fairly good’, his approval rating had fallen from 58% in 2015 to 33% in 2016.
If Zuma cannot manage to get black South Africans to vote for him it is time for the ANC to have a period of introspection. The ANC was the vanguard movement fighting Apartheid and now black South Africans are abandoning them in droves. Why is this the case? The answer is simple: the economic legacy of Apartheid remains and after 22 years of ANC governments, some of which had super-majorities, for many people economic hardship remains.
Take housing as an example. In 1923 the First Smuts Government passed the Native Urban Act which made it obligatory for black South Africans to live in certain areas, and subsequently many townships were created. Subsequently the 1950 Group Areas Act was passed and Apartheid governments continued social cleansing urban areas. When the ANC took power 1994 many black South Africans believed that they would ring the changes, including in this vital area. To this day millions of people still live in squalor. It’s worth point out that one of the reasons that the housing crisis has remained so bad is that lack of economic opportunities in rural areas has pushed people into urban areas, which has exacerbated the problems in big cities.
According to the South African government since 1994 approximately 5.6 million formal homes have been built, which works out at around 254,545 per year. To compare this where I live, in Britain we currently have a housing crisis and according to the charity Shelter one of the major solutions to this crisis is the construction of around 250,000 homes per year. I don’t claim to be an expert on housing policy but I do happen to know that the crisis in South Africa is much worse than in Britain.
According to the 2011 South African national census over 2.2 million people live in some form of informal housing, tents, a single room or ‘other’. If the ANC had 400,000 homes per year the people currently living in horrible conditions would be living in formal housing. The left over houses would have been available for the people migrating to cities, and would have prevented the re-emergence of informal housing in the lag time between investing in urban housing and economically developing rural areas. Housing is just one area where the ANC’s policies didn’t go far enough, and as a result the people who have been left behind are turning away from the party- and who can blame them?
The ANC should not have stood behind Jacob Zuma because he is a symbol of a system that for millions of South Africans has failed to overcome the economic legacy of Apartheid. I’ve focused on housing because it’s a clear example of a missed opportunity, but economic growth, diversification of the economy, healthcare, and infrastructure could all be used as examples of how the ANC didn’t implement the radical change South Africa needed. The ANC have time to recover before the 2019 general election but at this point in time the trajectory is downhill.