South Africans are learning that they are not that exceptional at all


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This while condoning corruption and sacrificing policy for patronage.

As a result, the party’s patrimonial tendencies have been sent into overdrive.

In addition to major corruption scandals over the upgrade to his Nkandla home and a multi-billion dollar arms deal, Zuma has drawn fire for his close relationship to the Gupta family.

He allegedly allows the family to influence major policy decisions in return for its financial support.

More recently, the president plunged the ANC into a full-blown crisis by removing many of the most competent members of the cabinet and replacing them with loyalists.

As a result, South Africa’s credit rating has been downgraded.

For many, this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In the days that followed, a number of prominent political figures and the ANC’s partners in the triple alliance, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), called on Zuma to go.

Putting this process in its historical context is important: it makes it clear that while Zuma has been a disaster, it would be naïve to think that he is the sole source of the ANC’s problems – or that his removal will solve them.

It also shows that South Africa is not exceptional, and instead faces similar problems to many other countries on the continent.

One small silver lining to this cloud is that we can use the experience of other states to better understand the prospects for South Africa.

One thing we know from Kenya and Nigeria is that the kind of politics practised by the president quickly embeds clientelism within key parts of the government and bureaucracy.

When this happens, it’s not enough to change just the president.

Meaningful reform requires the removal, or at the very least retraining, of an entire tranche of figures put in place during the president’s tenure.

Otherwise, patterns of patronage and clientelism have a way of reasserting themselves.

The experience of other states also tells us that some of the solutions that have been promoted as silver bullet solutions for South Africa’s predicament are unlikely to work.

Continued next page

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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