Hello and welcome dear reader! It’s a pleasure to be in your company again.
Right, let’s head to South Africa, where the country’s embattled President today received a stinging rebuke from the Supreme Court. In a profound and unanimous ruling, the Court found that the already scandal plagued administration of President Jacob Zuma, had shown a “substantial disregard” for the findings of South Africa’s top anti corruption official, the formidable sounding Public Protector , in 2014 which had ordered him to pay back an excess charge to the state for home improvements to his extensive Nklanda estate. By home improvements I’m not talking about a lick of paint or some new potted plants, but a swimming pool, chicken run, gymnasium and other trimmings! His behaviour in flagrantly disregarding this report broke the law and infringed on the constitution the Supreme Court has said.
These are significant findings and add fuel to the fire for those who want to rid this promising rainbow nation of it’s increasingly beleaguered and lame duck President. If you want to see how these things can escalate you only have to look across the Atlantic to Brazil where a once powerful President is also slipping towards the exit door.
Fresh from the mishandling of a cabinet reshuffle (which I had previously written about in my articles) Mr Zuma is not likely to disappear soon, as he still has a large majority in Parliament of his hiterto loyal MPs from the ruling African National Congress (ANC). This a massive blow to the leader though and that old politicians’ nose for survival might force some ANC MPs to wake up and smell the coffee as the saying goes.
The South African daily newspaper, the Mail & Guardian, reported that President Zuma will not appeal the verdict and will “reflect upon” the Court’s declaration. Mr Zuma is clearly a man who believes that he can stick out this latest crisis. It follows hot on the heels of a scandal which broke earlier this month where several junior Ministers claimed they had been offered government jobs in exchange for favours by an influential family called the Guptas who employ Mr Zuma’s son. A drip drip effect is taking its heavy toll on the credibility of not just the government but also South Africa as a whole.
Following the botched handling of a reshuffle of Finance Ministers back in December, the economy and national currency (the rand) continue to plummet. eNCA, the respected South African news service, reported that the number of businesses going bust (or insolvent) is up 22.2% in February alone. The UK’s Financial Times noted that earlier this month the South African currency, the rand, took a 3% tumble as poor economic data was released and a spat over the powers of an anti corruption unit broke out. This has left it teetering on the brink of the notorious ‘junk status’ used by credit ratings agencies (such as Standard & Poor’s) to highlight investment potential. The IMF has already forecast a 0.7% GDP growth rate for the year, far below other emerging economies such as Indonesia, Bulgaria and Brazil.
This less than rosy picture of the economy is exacerbated by a government which is drifting and unable to push through reforms in the still restricted labour market or able to cut the onerous red tape which envelopes so many small businesses. Hence the increasing monthly bankruptcies, alas.
Another area for urgent government attention is the spiralling rate of crime. The increasing number of daily crimes eerily mirrors the start of the latest round of corruption allegations against Jacob Zuma. According to figures released by Statistics South Africa, the data collection government agency, the daily murder rate is nearly 50 every single day, almost five times the rate in New York. For young black males in the deprived township areas in urban centres, such as Soweto, it is even higher. This creeping increase started its upward trajectory in 2013, after falling steadily during the Mbeki and Mandela eras.
Unfortunately, whilst the blame for this collapsing economy and fragile society can be substantially attributed to the person of the President, it would not resolve the deep malaise which has set in for the country. Cyril Ramaphosa, the ambitious Deputy President, is angling for Mr Zuma’s job but recently commented on SABC (the South Afrcian Broadcasting Corporation) that ‘white people still dominate our industries.’ Whilst this is a cause for concern the solution doesn’t lie, as some in the ANC still believe, in seizing more property from the White South Africans but by creating more opportunities for young black people. It also fails to acknowledge the evident rise of a vibrant black middle class. A joint United Nations (UN) and African Development Bank study found 4.2 million black South Africans enjoyed a middle class lifestyle (as defined by the UN) which is just over 50% of the black population. More work still needs to be done of course, but there is progress and now the challenge is to roll out a proper, multi racial and inclusive apprenticeship and graduate schemes for the young in the still promising private sector.
To get there means making sure the education sector is not a closed shop for the poor, no matter what their race. The increasing tuition fees, some by over 10%, imposed by the government priced out many, not just lower income but middle income students, and led to violent clashes with police and demonstrations on campuses. On social media, the hashtags #feesmustfall and #zumamustfall, spread like wildfire and it forced the President into a humiliating defeat on the matter. An inquiry has been set up and in the meantime the government has extended the provision of subsidies to universities for the next two years, meaning a fee increase is no longer necessary.
The common thread running through all these three issues – economy, crime and university education, is inequality. South Africa is still a very unequal society, but it is no longer as race based as it used to be. The inept administration currently at the helm has singularly failed to grasp the nettle on this and instead has become cosseted by the privileges of high office. It goes beyond the leader, who has been prone to arrogantly and dismissively giggle at each accusation he has been challenged with, to the heart of the once revolutionary and radical ANC, which offered hope to many but like many modern democratic societies South Africa finds it is now long overdue for a change.