South Africa’s Zuma Leaves Behind a Broken Democracy
Jacob Zuma finally succumbed to growing pressure from the African National Congress and resigned as South Africa’s president on Wednesday. Once a hero of the resistance to apartheid, Mr. Zuma became increasingly embroiled in sordid corruption scandals, prompting the A.N.C. to elect another leader and to effectively force Mr. Zuma out of office.
That done, the question now is whether the A.N.C., the party of Nelson Mandela, which has had a near-monopoly on South African politics since the end of minority rule, can cleanse and revive itself under Cyril Ramaphosa, its new leader, who is now all but certain of being elected the nation’s president by Parliament.
Mr. Ramaphosa, a one-time labor leader and protégé of Mr. Mandela who made a fortune in business and leads the party’s reformist wing, was elected president of the A.N.C. in a hotly contested election in December. Since Parliament chooses the president in South Africa and the A.N.C. controls Parliament, the expectation was that Mr. Zuma would step down. But he refused, until the party this week threatened a vote of no confidence to force him out.
There is nothing to regret in Mr. Zuma’s fall. Though he spent time in prison with Mr. Mandela and in exile, on coming to power he succumbed to the sordid lure of power’s perks and now faces multiple accusations of corruption and other unethical behavior. He also came to be identified with a nation economically adrift and unable to achieve the economic equality promised at the end of white rule. But the A.N.C. continued to prop up Mr. Zuma, at least until the party itself began losing its once unassailable popularity and Mr. Zuma became a liability ahead of national elections in 2019.
On winning the leadership of the A.N.C. in December, Mr. Ramaphosa vowed to “act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks.” Yet his victory over Mr. Zuma’s ally (and former wife) in the A.N.C. race was slim, and many Zuma loyalists retain senior posts.
That leaves an uphill battle as Mr. Ramaphosa takes on a deeply divided party in which too many years of unchallenged power have nurtured lethargy and a culture of corruption. He will need to act quickly and decisively to convince dubious voters that the A.N.C. can clean its soiled house and deserves another chance.