SA's rot starts at the top - The Economist

President Jacob Zuma addresses party delegates during the ANC policy conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)
President Jacob Zuma addresses party delegates during the ANC policy conference in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe, AP)

Cape Town – The ruin of South Africa starts at the top, and to clear the rot the snake's head needs to be severed.

This is clear from the cover of this week's Economist magazine, which depicts the "Corruption of South Africa" as a snake draped in the South African flag.

Its lead story  - on how President Jacob Zuma's "clan" captured South Africa and how he might lose control - comes just days before the long-awaited ANC elective conference, where the ruling party will choose a new leader to succeed Zuma.

The magazine makes its preference of a candidate clear: Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.   

“Under President Jacob Zuma, the State is failing. Contracts are awarded through bribes and connections,” an editor from the Economist states in a podcast that goes with its lead article. 

But Zuma, in an interview with news station ANN7 on November 13, denied the proliferation of state capture in SA, particularly by the controversial Gupta family, who have allegedly influenced the appointment of Cabinet ministers and had a hand in looting state-owned enterprises. 

Then again, according to former finance minister Pravin Gordhan, state capture has possibly cost the economy as much as R200bn or 5% of GDP.

Zuma labelled former Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on state capture as a political tool. He has also challenged Madonsela’s demand that a judicial inquiry be appointed by the chief justice to investigate allegations of corruption at state-owned entities. 

The Economist magazine's cover dated December 7. (Picture: Twitter)

Given the credible allegations of corruption, which the magazine notes have been exposed by sections of SA's independent press, The Economist states that the choice of Zuma’s successor is easy. 

“For South Africa and the for the whole African continent, Mr [Cyril] Ramaphosa needs to win.”

Elective conference 

The Economist further noted that the upcoming ANC elective conference, set to kick off on December 16, was the moment that would determine if South Africa would slip further into the mire, or start to recover.

A victory for Ramaphosa's challenger and what the magazine calls Zuma's "protégée" Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, states the magazine, could keep Zuma from going to court over the 783 counts of corruption he is facing. 

"The best way for the next leader to boost the party’s chances in 2019 would be to put Mr Zuma on trial. That raises the stakes for the president. To avoid that outcome, he needs to do his utmost to make sure things go his way next week," it states. 

Dlamini-Zuma's victory would “jeopardise social harmony” and “entrench state capture”, according to The Economist's podcast. 

But a win for Ramaphosa alone will not ensure a “swift return” to clean government, it warned. The Economist pointed out that pre-Zuma, the ANC had a policy to enrich black tycoons through the transference of ownership from white-owned firms.

“It set a precedent that politics in a new South Africa is a short cut to vast wealth.”

As Ramaphosa is one of the beneficiaries, this means his campaign to “purge the party of rent seeking” is complicated. But there is no evidence that Ramaphosa broke laws and he has been outspoken against those who have.

“[Ramaphosa] is pragmatic of plans to boost economic growth and provide South Africans with jobs and education.”

Based on preliminary numbers, Ramaphosa appears to be in the lead, but a victory against the Zuma faction will be tight as the “stakes are high” for the president. “Those who bet against him tend to lose,” The Economist observed.

It also unpacked different scenarios following the outcome of the conference.

If Dlamini-Zuma wins the ANC elective conference, this could mean that the ANC would lose the national elections in 2019.

However, with both the DA and EFF waiting in the wings as alternative options, Dlamini-Zuma could indeed win the national elections, further cementing the “Zuma-clan's” grip on the levers of power.

“South Africa would start to look uncomfortably like a hereditary kleptocracy.”

The Economist emphasised that the “rainbow nation” still has the potential to be a beacon of hope for prosperity and good governance in Africa. But the best chance of a recovery is if Ramaphosa wins.

Read the full article here.

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