World Politics & Affairs

A Power Struggle in the Rainbow Nation: Political Turmoil in South Africa

South Africa was thrown into political turmoil after the ruling ANC (African National Congress) party admitted that President Jacob Zuma had defied orders to resign. Moreover, the party had little idea of when the president would respond to the demand. The highest decision making body of the ANC decided to dismiss Zuma in an emergency meeting, late on February 12th. This message was conveyed to president around midnight. Many claim that the failure to immediately force Zuma out of office is evidence of divisions within the ANC. In fact, analysts have described the crisis as “a battle for the soul of the ANC.” Zuma’s opponent in this power struggle is Cyril Ramaphosa, the leader of the ANC, who is set to become South Africa’s president after Zuma resigns. Richard Calland, expert in South African politics at the University of Cape Town, claims that divisions within the ANC are between the populist nationalism of Zuma against the centrist politics of Ramaphosa. The ANC party is especially concerned with wrestling power away from Zuma as the 2019 election appears on the horizon. Many top officials are anxious that the ANC, which has dominated South African politics since 1994, will be unable to maintain their majority under Zuma’s leadership.

According to South Africa’s constitution, the parliament elects the president. Given that the ANC dominates the legislative body, the party has two options if they want to recall Zuma. The ANC could order him to step down and avoid the involvement of the Parliament or anti-Zuma ANC members would join forces with the opposition to impeach the president. Despite the numerous allegations of corruption, Ramaphosa aims to make Zuma’s exit from office as peaceful and as cordial as possible. He told the South African news media that Zuma’s departure should be approached with “maturity” and “decorum”.

Political protesters demand Zuma’s resignation – via VOA News

Disillusionment with Zuma’s reign had reached a tipping point among the ANC and the public. At the beginning of his political career Zuma was able to garner public support from his poor roots, charisma and strength in adversity. He was born into poverty and fought as an anti-apartheid activist. He was seen as “the people’s president”.

His reputation, however, is slowly unfurled by the constant scandals and allegations. Zuma is currently facing 18 charges of money laundering, racketeering and fraud. These charges are based on allegations connecting to 700 payments between 1995 and the 2000s. Notably, Zuma is being charged with corruption over a five billion-dollar arms deal in 1999. All the charges were dropped before Zuma became president in 2009, but they were reinstated in 2016. At the moment, he is appealing against that decision, and denies any misdeeds. The corruption that had plagued Zuma’s regime have damaged South Africa’s economy and reputation in the international community.

Zuma’s administration has also failed to make significant progress in alleviating the afflictions that the country faces. Many people live without electricity and sanitation. Schooling and healthcare are often primitive. The total number of people living with HIV increased from 4.72 million in 2002 to 7.03 million by 2016. The economy hasn’t fared well under Zuma’s leadership either. Among the general population, unemployment reaches historic highs of 27.7%. Among young people, unemployment is as high as 68%. To make matters worse for the reputation of the ANC, the party can no longer rely on its history as the leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle. More than thirty per cent of the South African population is under 15, and for them, the end of the apartheid Is ancient history.

It is essential for the continuation ANC domniance that Ramaphosa mend the divisions within the party before the campaign for the 2019 elections. This means appealing to or marginalizing Zuma’s supporters once Ramaphosa is firmly in power. Otherwise, it could mean the ANC will be forced into a coalition government. However, the question remains, will Zuma willingly step down, or will he be impeached?

Works Cited

Burke, Jason. “Jacob Zuma’s Defiance Deepens the Political Crisis in South Africa | Jason Burke.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 13 Feb. 2018,

Burke, Jason. “Reports That President Zuma Has Resigned Dismissed by ANC.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Feb. 2018,

Burke, Jason. “Who Is Cyril Ramaphosa? South Africa’s next Leader Faces Huge Challenges.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 14 Feb. 2018,

“Jacob Zuma – the Survivor Whose Nine Lives Ran Out.” BBC News, BBC, 14 Feb. 2018,

Onishi, Norimitsu. “A.N.C. Tells Jacob Zuma to Step Down as South Africa’s President.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2018,

Onishi, Norimitsu. “In South Africa, One Question Dominates: How Much Longer Should Zuma Stay?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Feb. 2018,

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