On Zuma’s Exit in South Africa

Sisonke Msimang has a nice take over at FP:

Zuma was elected president of the ANC in December 2007 in a bitter and bruising battle against Mbeki, the man who had sacked him just a few years earlier. The following year, the ANC recalled Mbeki, triggering his resignation as president of the country.

Zuma bested his opponent in 2007 by gathering a coalition of the wounded. At the time, there were various factions within the ANC that felt aggrieved by Mbeki’s leadership style and by his economic conservatism. Many on the left within the party believed that in their haste to appease the markets and encourage international investment, the ANC’s leaders had conceded too much terrain to big business in the years following apartheid.

Zuma was known as an affable but flawed man. Union leaders and young radicals opposed to Mbeki — men such as Julius Malema, who was then the head of the ANC’s Youth League, and Zwelinzima Vavi, who headed the Congress of South African Trade Unions at the time — saw the man they were installing as malleable. They hoped Zuma would promote pro-labor and pro-poor policies, so they struck a Faustian bargain. Despite his obvious personal shortcomings, and the significant political liabilities he carried, they agreed to put him in power if he allowed them to run economic policy.

Being an economic conservative, albeit without Mbeki’s professorial demeanor, I am curious to see how President Cyril Ramaphosa will navigate popular demands for a renegotiation of the post-apartheid settlement which he helped midwife. Also, as corruption in South Africa did not begin with Zuma (or the end of apartheid), it will likely not end with his departure. Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead for the ANC will be to temper expectations. If Ramaphosa is seen to be too close to South Africa’s economic elite, it might elicit a populist backlash with dire economic and social consequences for South Africans. 

Here’s is Zuma’s resignation letter.

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