Why South Africa Is Wary Of State Corruption, Economic Deficiency And Energy Crisis – OpEd


South Africa, as stipulated by its constitution, is holding May 29 its next general elections. The country has a long chequered political history, but the importance of the elections seemingly connected with sustaining the balance between historical legacies and contemporary economic exigencies. Never mind that South Africa is a strong public advocate for the emerging multipolar world. It simply means adhering to political plurality and allowing inclusive voices of the opposition.

The fight for fundamental democratic principles to serve as the cornerstone of South African society has been the primary reason for the African National Congress (ANC) since its establishment as a political party in 1994, transitioning from its initial stage of liberation movement (uMkhonto we Sizwe), and through the fight against apartheid and to the presidency of Nelson Mandela and continued upto Jacob Zuma. Remember the ‘state capture’ that opened a different chapter in the political history of ANC, and followed by the appearance of President Cyril Ramaphosa whose illuminating speeches laced across uplifting the economy to sweeping away corruptible attitudes in government and in the state institutions. 

Under the ANC constitution, at least, Cyril Ramaphosa keeps on renewing the pledge to keep up the political, economic and social ideals, as contained in the first address-to-the-nation after election as president of the Republic of South Africa. Corruption is, of course, wide-spread across Africa. But today, economic giant South Africa, for that matter, the African National Congress (ANC), faces deep-seated colossal corruption combined with an acute energy crisis and, at the top, diverse economic headaches including rising youth unemployment.

South Africa scored 41 points out of 100 on the 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index. South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa made an honest promise of fighting graft, among others, in a powerful speech during his inaugural ceremony, but what is the situation now. Corruption has become an unerasable characteristic feature of today’s politics. South Africa boasts of an excellent reputation on global stage and yet suffers from high youth unemployment, grappling with energy supply deficits and many other economic obstacles. According to local African and foreign critics, despite its widened bilateral relations many foreign countries, Ramaphosa still consistently attributes weak economic performance on external factors.

Long ago, in January 2018, as elected president of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa raised skylined-hopes that he would stamp out corruption. “Corruption must be fought with the same intensity and purpose that we fight poverty, unemployment and inequality. We must also act fearlessly against alleged corruption and abuse of office within our ranks,” Ramaphosa declared in his maiden speech after his election. “We must investigate without fear or favour the so-called ‘accounting irregularities’ that caused turmoil in the markets and wiped billions off the investments of ordinary South Africans.”

Further to that, in May 2021, the South African commission investigating corruption and graft, Ramaphosa acknowledged that the ruling ANC party did little to prevent corruption, including by his predecessor Jacob Zuma. “State capture and corruption have taken a great toll on our society and indeed on our economy as well,” Ramaphosa said. “They have eroded the values of our constitution and undermined the rule of law. If allowed to continue they would threaten the achievement of growth, development and transformation of our country.”

Ramaphosa unswervingly promised to embark on a swift and vigorous economic resuscitation of South Africa. That proposed radical economic transformation has been crippled by energy shortage/crisis across the country, which is often rated as the best economic power in Africa. Ramaphosa and his administration have pioneered platforms, within the new geopolitical context ending up only with an impressive prestige on global stage, while serious internal problems have currently turned complicated. The political approach and slow attempts in finding long-term solution to energy crisis are combined factors, raking the leaves, towards an anarchical hollowed society. It is, in practical reality, creating prospects for progressive political forces for democratic revolution. Ramaphosa’s return to head South Africa remains fraught with challenges and looms large for opposition coalition to solidarize in the pursuit of genuine democratic and economic reforms.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded its Article IV assessment on South Africa, warning that the country faces near-zero economic growth in 2023 and beyond, and conditions are likely to deteriorate further without much-needed reforms. In addition, the IMF noted in its assessment that South Africa’s economy faces mounting economic and social challenges.

That report concretized the position that South Africa could dramatically boost economic growth if the country fixed its fraying transport network and public electricity utility among important economic stabilization measures. It explicitly noted that electricity outages at troubled state utility Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd. and rail and port bottlenecks take their toll, industrialization slowed, while social discontent dominates across the country. Given the public finance restraints faced by South Africa, the goal should be to remove obstacles to mobilize private sector capital, and in addition solicit external funding for consolidating investment in South Africa.

South Africa fragmented opposition jostles for visibility, party activists (such as the coalition of 11 South African opposition parties including the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters) have to pass on the clear single message, to eligible voters across the country, the urgent need to open a new political chapter with new leaders who are committed to introducing adequate measures toward the emergency economic rehabilitation.

Ahead of South Africa’s general elections on May 29, experts and academics told this author, in seperate interviews, that there is a nation-wide, down-to-earth broad disillusionment with the African National Congress (ANC) and its three decades of political rule and performance. South Africa remains the world’s most unequal nation suffering from high unemployment, rampant crime, widespread corruption and mismanagement, and noticeably resulting in a stagnanting economy.

Undoubtedly from above discussion, it has diverse implications for May elections. The ANC really needed to transform and change, the party does not have to retain its power in its current form. It appears voter apathy has already encouraged further factionalism within the ANC. Reports also pointed that the previous 2021 local government elections in South Africa bore witness to a landscape marred by political violence, assassinations and chronic instability. The ANC’s reluctance for a change earlier than this time, makes South Africa to continue to have persistently high levels of violence. These are simply due to widespread social discontent and disatisfaction across the country.

In early April 2024, Bloomberg reported that support for South Africa’s ruling ANC plunged to an unexpected low level and a party backed by former President Jacob Zuma may become the country’s third-biggest. Zuma ruled from 2009 to 2018, when the ANC forced him from office after a series of corruption scandals started to erode electoral support.

The ANC, which has ruled South Africa since the end of apartheid, may garner just 37% of the vote on May 29, while Zuma’s uMkhonto weSizwe Party, or MKP, may get 13%, the Social Research Foundation said in comments sent to Bloomberg, citing a poll it carried out this month. In the 2019 election, the ANC won 57.5% of the vote, its lowest share since taking power in 1994.

According to that Bloomberg report, the ruling party may force President Cyril Ramaphosa from office before he completes another five-year term — a prospect that has caused angst among investors. South Africa’s leader is elected by the National Assembly, which also has the power to dismiss him.

Opinion polls suggest support for the ANC hovers below 50% for the first time since it came to power in 1994, a backlash over its complete failure to drastically tackle high levels of widespread poverty and persistent growing unemployment, according several reports monitored by this author in South Africa. Furthermore, this situation could see the ANC vote share drop below 50 percent for the first time since 1994. Short of a parliamentary majority, the party would be forced to seek coalition partners to remain in power.

The logic behind the forthcoming elections is for the electorate, the people’s power to determine the next leader for South Africa. The opposition groups represent the convergence of impoverished citizens’ interests between the past and the future. Nonetheless, the past was difficult time, so the voters must now decide on the only strategic option of voting for a leader who could facilitate the pleasant future -especially a saviour ready to adopt radical measures in dealing with the existing economic deficiencies in South Africa. Choose wisely the economic progress and sovereignty, the bright future as stipulated within the constitution of South Africa.

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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