South Africa: A Country At Odds? – Analysis


By Thabani Mdlongwa, Azwifaneli Managa, Lwazi Apleni and Bertha Chiroro

As the African National Congress (ANC) prepared for its 53rd elective conference at Mangaung starting this week, at which President Jacob Zuma won a second term as the country’s president amidst high levels of social discontent, a number of questions came to the fore. Whilst this was a party congress, the whole of South Africa and Africa watched the event carefully and posed several questions that ranged from leadership issues, the evaluation of the Zuma administration to a balance sheet of the ANC’s performance. One of the persistent questions was whether the ANC was experiencing a leadership crisis as evidenced by the internal fissures and upheavals or whether these were part and parcel of the general discontent because of the neoliberal system. Has Zuma’s first term in office delivered the goods in terms of policy decisions in health, education, job creation and the general well being of the people of South Africa? What has been Zuma’s performance record. Has the leadership team laid the foundations for economic progress and, above all, will the set of new ANC leaders be in a position to rule the country “until Jesus comes again”, as stated by President Jacob Zuma himself?

South Africa
South Africa

The ANC conference was held in a context which allows for a number of pertinent issues surrounding socio-economic transformation, especially the Eurozone economic crisis, a region that consumes 17 percent of South Africa’s exports. This has an impact of productivity and job losses within a globalised environment which South Africa and other African countries are a part of. The internal tragic events such as the Marikana Mining killings as well as the wildcat strikes in the farming areas of De Doorns, Ceres and Robertsons, which almost brought the agricultural industry in the Western Cape to a standstill, also paint a picture of instability and unrest that calls for urgent discussion and attention.

This paper discusses the violence that has accompanied expressions of social discontent that has become endemic among South Africans and raises the issues of leadership as pertinent in forging a transformative agenda for the country. The paper argues that among other issues discussed at the ANC congress, inequalities and poverty are a ticking time bomb. It further highlights the fact that the recent wildcat strikes in the mining and farming sectors that have spiralled out of hand are evidence that the socio-economic conditions of the majority of South Africans are untenable and therefore require the urgent attention of all stakeholders (Government, political parties, civil society, NGOs and the private sector). Thus, the leadership that emerged from the Mangaung elective conference should be able to lead the country through the turbulent global political environment and the social economic and environmental uncertainties that the country continues to face.


Post-liberation ANC elective conferences are usually defined by the context in which they occur. The very first one, the 49th ANC conference, was held in Bloemfontein in 1994. The context was celebrating the party’s defeat of apartheid and mapping the way forward for the new government. There was indeed a sense of excitement and high expectations for changing the lives and the dignity of South Africans. However, whilst the ANC’s congress raises a picture of a country at odds, succession politics is usually carried out through party procedures, nevertheless without ruling out ethnic, religious, corruption and intraparty and divisive conflict. [1] The importance of the ANC leadership conference lies in the fact that whoever is elected as the party president is most likely to lead the country as president in 2014. Although Mangaung was not a national election it provided the opportunity for those who are interested to see a successful, stable and democratic South Africa selecting a leadership that has a vision and viable strategies and policies to solve the country’s problems of joblessness, inequality and poverty, rather than allegiance to certain factions.

South Africa’s proportional representation electoral system although admired by most African countries as conducive for inclusiveness and a more accurate representation of parties, better representation of political and racial minorities, better representation of women and above all little opportunity for gerrymandering, one of its major weaknesses is its lack of accountability of the MP to the electorate as the party list electoral system leaves the power to appoint and remove an MP to the political parties. Mangaung should have been used to practically select leaders who are credible and capable of solving the complex problems of a democratic South Africa. Anarchy should not be the preferred choice for a country that seeks to uphold human dignity after the end of apartheid.

Whilst all political systems experience leadership change, the process of leadership change varies according to the extent that it is governed by established procedures and accepted rules and the ANC as an institutionalised party has rules and regulations in the selection of its party leaders. However, crises often impact on succession debates and the process by which a country’s leader is selected.

In most countries leaders acquire their positions through ascription, succession, nomination, appointment and self-appointment. [2] This involves issues of legitimacy, authority, influence and above all power. Basically, leadership is about power, how it is maintained, distributed, exercised and legitimised. Political leaders are the primary holders and controllers and distributors of power and resources in a particular institution. [3] Most often liberation credentials determine access to power and resources and followers usually judge their leaders on the basis of where they were during the liberation struggle. Some leaders are loved and revered because of what they stand for. South Africa’s former President Mandela is regarded as a patriarchal, charismatic and reconciliatory leader. [4] Leaderism also refers to leaders who set themselves up as the champions of the people. [5] While leaders agree on issues and problems what stands out more is how they deal with the issues and problems at hand. Leadership style is also important for South Africa as a nation and on the continent. Leadership style is about how the leader carries out decisions, methods and ways of dealing with others. This may involve the desire to influence, control and dominate other groups or an agenda. [5] This may involve other attributes such as silencing decent, or operating a system of clientelism and patronage which leads to corruption. However, when a nation seeks to elect a leader hopefully it seeks a leader who can produce results such as improved standards of living, basic development indicators, abundant new sources of personal opportunities, educational opportunities, medical care, freedom from crime, a strengthened infrastructure [7]; or simply “ a better life for all”.

In other words leadership and the quality of leadership is important for South Africa not only for the country to deal with its internal problems but to assume and carry with it the mantle and responsibilities of its fractured nation and the continent as a whole. Indeed the country has provided this leadership role in climate change talks, trade talks, reform of multilateral institutions and the IMF and World Bank. Issues of equity, inclusiveness are central to South Africa’s foreign policy, as such its leaders should be able to “walk the talk” internally and abroad in order to produce results for the peoples. Such is the burden that the South African leadership carries at home and abroad. Thus, as a recommendation the leaders of South Africa when chosen should be able to lead with the cognisance of a heavy burden and should be prepared to do things differently and challenge the status quo in order to address the challenges of poverty and inequality in an inclusive and pragmatic way.

Thus the background for the 53rd ANC elective conference in Mangaung, held every five years, and in which succession sagas play themselves out could not be more challenging. Furthermore, the conference was of great magnitude not only because of the 100th year of the ANC but because of the burning issues such as the mining crisis, which brings in debates about nationalisation, the image of the police, corruption in government circles, as well as the high levels of social discontent about poverty and inequality that are clearly evidenced by the Marikana tragedy, the violence on the farms among other issues and the issue of a capable leadership that can redistribute wealth and deliver services to the predominantly blacks living in poverty.

The leadership that has emerged from Mangaung have to grapple with a number of challenges that include the turbulent global financial market and social economic and environmental uncertainties that the country continues to face. The anarchy that prevailed at the ANC’s Polokwane conference in 2007 set a bad precedent which has continued to engulf Africa’s oldest liberation movement. The aftermath of Polokwane is remembered for the factionalism and the defeat of former President Thabo Mbeki who was seeking an unprecedented third term. The run up to the 2007 Polokwane elective conference was also infested with a series of violent protests from different communities on the issues of service delivery, unemployment and seasonal wage disputes. Although the gross domestic product had jumped from 3 to 5 percent by 2004 and unemployment dropped from 31.2 percent in 2003 to 23 in 2007 [8], there was still massive discontent about inequalities and people’s voices not being listened to in the public discourse and a sense of alienation of society by the political elite. [9]

Elective conferences and leadership changes are important in the country’s political structures and policies. Some change in leadership might lead to policy change. An elective conference allows a window of opportunity during which policies and objectives come into question and some leadership change may be a way of adapting to a new political and social environment [10]. Did Mangaung provide South Africa with the set of leaders it deserves? One that can steer the country through uncertainties, define or redefine a set of policies, and bring a new epoch different from Polokwane in 2007?

This remains to be seen. While all political systems experience leadership change the process of leadership change varies according to the extent that it is governed by established procedures and accepted rules [11]. However, in Africa succession and change is often regarded as bringing very little change without changing major policies. [12] Crises often impact on succession debates and the Marikana massacre has set in motion the context of a troubled nation that requires effective leadership at every level.


The recent Marikana mining tragedy and the ongoing strike action in various industries coupled with service delivery protests have sent two clear messages. First, that the majority working class people of South Africa are fed up with the current government not meeting their basic needs. Second, the huge social inequalities (gap between the rich and poor) that currently exist in the country will not be tolerated by people anymore. SA has reached a breaking point and will never be the same again in the aftermath of the Marikana mining tragedy. The mining tragedy, in which 46 people lost their lives, was not just a coincidence or an event that occurred out of the blue. There were early signs of violence early in the year with the violent illegal strike at Impala Platinum mines in Rustenburg where three people died fighting for a decent living wage [13]. Despite these warning signs, authorities did not take them seriously and just looked at them as isolated incidents. [14] When the strike at Marikana started, there were signs that the strike would be violent and protracted and needed strong policing to prevent it from disintegrating into chaos.

A common characteristic of all the wildcat strikes and protests in the mining sector has been the violent nature of these illegal strikes. The real issue though is social inequality .According to inequality measures such as the gini-coefficent, which measures the inequality among values of a frequency distribution (for example levels of income) South Africa ranks as one of the most unequal countries in the world. [15] According to the household survey of 2010, 10 percent of earners in South Africa take away 101 times the earnings of the bottom 10 percent of the population. [16] The gap between the rich and poor people in South Africa is fast increasing and poor people are fed up that they live in deep poverty yet the bosses for whom they work live in luxury. Recent reports have shown that Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of most of these large mining firms like Anglo Platinum and Goldfields earn in the excess of R20million a year yet their workers receive meagre wages and the social conditions that they live in resemble a squatter camp [17]. Growing anger over lack of service delivery, coupled with the huge inequalities, has been simmering for some time and one could argue that the Marikana mining tragedy is just a tip of the iceberg.

Recent developments such as the revival of the Democratic Social Movement (DSM) are signs that there is a certain level of disillusionment. The DSM emerged as an alternative force of the working class out of the crisis in Marikana and other mines across the country. [18] The DSM is said to be a splinter group that broke away from the ANC in 1996 after the ruling party adopted what it calls “neo-liberal policies”. [19] The DSM is not linked to Julius Malema, who has also been calling for the nationalisation of the mines. [20] According to the, spokesperson for the Marxist orientated movement, Mametlwe Sebei, they are “calling for the nationalisation of mines under the control of management by workers”. [21] The long-term goal of DSM is to have the country’s mines nationalised. [22] One can see that these new developments in the socio-political framework of the country cannot be taken lightly.


Whilst the Marikana tragedy attracted domestic and international attention with comparisons to the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 [23], government’s reaction to the tragedy was characterised by denialism and ignorance. Although the president left the 32nd SADC summit in Mozambique due to the crisis back at home he failed to show empathy by not attending the memorial service. [24] President Zuma’s non-show at the memorial service gave an opportunity to the embattled former youth league firebrand, Julius Malema, to try and score cheap political points based on the mining victims’ families’ fragility. This shows the total misjudgement of handling critical situations by the leadership. All these issues show government’s ignorance and lack of a deliberate strategy in dealing with the critical issues that affect the poor and vulnerable members of society. The only apology for such a catastrophe happening in South Africa after 18 years of democracy came from the Minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. This has left analysts such as Grynberg questioning why South Africa after 18 years of democracy has not changed [25].

The lack of government urgent response to the situation baffled many, leaving analysts asking why government did not intervene prior to the incident and why ministers of labour, police and mineral resources were silent weeks before the incident and not resolving the problem as a labour dispute weeks preceding the massacre. [26] The only apology that the public got after the tragedy was a half hearted gesture by two ministers that are heading the major ministries that were involved, which are in fact beside the focal point. The minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, claimed after two days of the shooting that she was not aware that Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) operates in the mining industry which is beside the point; and Riah Phiyega commending police not to feel sorry about what happened, as they acted in self defence. [27]

The Marikana tragedy drew international headlines and domestic scrutiny on how could this be possible in a constitutional and democratic country such as South Africa (RSA) that is supposed to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness. [28] The judicial commission of enquiry inot the tragedy will not solve the underlining issues of socio-economic inequalities that society face on a daily basis. Furthermore, one wonders whether the commission will unpack the real truth of what led to the shooting as it remains mysterious and suspicious. [29] This has raised emotions as people feel pessimistic about the Farlam Commission that has been setup by the Presidency while the same government now fails to provide financial assistance for the family members of the miners and policemen who died to attend the commission hearings. [30] Although the inquiry might be a genuine concern and commitment to getting to the bottom of what caused the violence, [31] analysts argue that the commission was set up as a way to pacify the public ahead of the Mangaung electoral race.

This has also led the public to question government’s interest in the mining industry and whether the nationalisation agenda that the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) is pursuing is of relevance. Although nationalisation has been a contentious issue amongst most prominent politicians who have shares in the mining sector, could it be the possible way to wealth redistribution? [32] The implication of one of South Africa’s richest men and chairperson of Lonmin mine, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected ANC deputy president, has raised a lot of emotions. Some argued that the man who was once a general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in the 1980s showed no sympathy for the cause he once fought for. While some showed their disappointment on the man that most thought could take up a position of the President, some still argue that he can still contest the position. During the Commission, it emerged that Ramaphosa had a hand in the massacre that he described as a criminal act, that needs “concomitant action”. It is therefore permissible to argue that Ramaphosa’s emails with Lonmin management show how they conspire to influence the outcome of that fateful day. [33]

The government’s intervention and role in the mining industry need to be properly interrogated. Since the 2007 Polokwane conference, the state’s intervention in the mining sector has been to drive the growth, development and transformation of the economy to benefit the masses; however, only few people have been benefiting as the sector is full of corruption. [34] It is therefore arguable that the Marikana protest is permissible looking at the living conditions of the mining communities as well as the working conditions of the miners. This is further exacerbated by poor service delivery as most municipalities where the wealth of mines is located fail to provide basic services. This is also despite President Zuma’s promise to enhance socio-economic conditions of the people who live in abject poverty. [35] On the other side of the coin, mines export stacks of minerals but do not benefit the local people that are most affected by the horrible conditions of the mines. This has forced commentators to blame the country’s socio-economic conditions (poverty and inequality) as the main reason for Marikana. Furthermore, resource rich countries such as South Africa need to ensure that sustainable growth strategies are pursued that really benefit the people so that “Africa’s natural resources can be a blessing and not an economic curse” [36].

The Bench Marks Foundation [37] argues that the benefits of mining are not reaching the workers or the surrounding communities. Lack of employment opportunities for local youth, squalid living conditions and growing inequalities contributed to the mess. The Foundation claims that the workers are exploited and this was motivation for the violence. It criticised high profits when compared with the low wages of the workers. AMCU’s Jeffrey Mathunjwa said that the protests were in response to poor pay. “As long as bosses and senior management are getting fat cheques that is good for them and these workers are subjected to poverty for life. 18 years of democracy, the miner is still earning R3000 under those harsh conditions underground”. This is totally unacceptable and can only lead to crisis and instability such as the one witnessed at Marikana.

High levels of inequality are unacceptable especially in a context of plenty. There are a number of issues where the Zuma administration has been seen to have done well in, especially an increase in foreign direct investment, more people are being tested for HIV and treatment is available. However, social discontent as highlighted by the Marikana tragedy reflect the slow redistribution of wealth that is marked by high unemployment rate currently at 25 percent, abject poverty and poor living conditions within a democratic country. [38] Grynbeg [39] suggested that Marikana signifies the inequality within the country that the poor and young and unemployed have lost patience with the political process that is inadequate, corrupt and cannot deliver services to the poor.


Mangaung should have been a platform to elect transformational leaders with a moral component that emphasises changing the lives of the people. Servant leadership is what is required as it is more genuinely concerned with the needs of its followers as defined by Greenleaf, who defined a servant leader as a leader governed by creating opportunities for followers to help them grow. . The servant leaders does not just depend on their power to have things done but they also use persuasion to convince their people. Furthermore what South Africa needs is a set of leaders who holds and plays the role of stewards meaning, holding the country in trust. Basically the characteristics of servant leadership has essential attributes such as listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualisation, foresight , stewardship, commitment and building a community. These are important attributes which our leaders should strive to uphold.


• The tragic memories of Marikana cannot just go away like a whiff when it had such a profound impact on the communalities, the mining companies and the country as a whole. Although government’s response to the mining tragedy was found wanting and lacked a credible response especially around Lonmin and Marikana by the benchmarks foundation, the root causes of the of discontent need to be thoroughly investigated and set the stage for a new social compact that addresses concerns. Government needs to take the responsibility of ensuring compliance with the series of regulations, legislation and waste management standards and the enforcement of fines, to actively pursue corporations that are not adhering to the laws. Furthermore, the role of politicians deployed on boards and are share holders needs to be thoroughly examined So that South Africans will know exactly when they are answering the question “in whose interests was government response to Marikana directed to?” The people will know if the government was acting in the people’s interest and such questions can be avoided. Curbing social discontent is not the responsibility of government alone but the government has to take the lead in designing and implementing a social compact together with mining companies, parliament, civil society and the communities at large. The government and stakeholders should ensure that a regulative environment is imposed and strict measures to ensure the implementation of Social and labour plan of action as well as ensure mining accountability so that resources benefit the communities in addressing the scourge of poverty and inequality.

• Consultation between government, businesses and labour and all concerned stakeholders in the spirit of servant leadership is required so that the resources are not a curse but a blessing and save the well being of society at large as well as maintain the environment that is conducive to a healthy, productive and peaceful sustainable environment.

This paper was a result of a discussion of the Sustainable Development Program at the Africa Institute of South Africa. The authors are staff of the institute.


[i] RM Govea, and JD Holm ‘ Violence and Political Succession in Africa’ Third world Quarterly, Vol, 19, No 1 pp 129-148 (1998)

[ii] Jo-Ansie van Wyk Political Leaders: Presidents, Patrons or profiteers? Occassional Paper series: Vol 2 Number 1 2007
[iii] ibid

[iv] ibid

[v] ibid

[vi] ibid

[vii] ibid

[viii] Nelana, B, The ANC Polokwane Conference and its Aftermath’ AISA Policy Brief Number 11- February 2010, p. 7

[ix] ibid

[x] Govea RM and John D Holm p 130 Crisis Violence and Political Succession in Africa Third World Quaterly Vol 19 No 1 1998 pp 129-148

[xi] Rodger M Govea and John D Holm (1998) Crisis Violence and Political Succession in Africa. Third World Quarterly, Vol 19 No 1 pp 129-148

[xii] R M Govea and JD Holm p131

[xiii] Leon, P. 2012. Marikana, Mangaung and the South African Mining industry. Address to the South African Institute of International Affairs.

[xiv] Ibid.

[xv] Molefe.O. 2012.The State of Income Inequality in South Africa.The Daily Maverick, 23 May 2012.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Ibid.

[xviii] Mkentane, L.2012. New Movement Threatens Mines. The New Age, 16 October, 2012.Johannesburg.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Ibid.

[xxi] Ibid.

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Grynberg, R. 2012. The Marikana massacre: What does it mean for Botswana. Mmegionline. 06 November 2012: Vol 29(165).

[xxv] Smith, D. 26 August 2012. Jacob Zuma risks removal over handling of Marikana mine killings: Political rivals and press blame South African president for ‘string of errors’ over police shooting of striking mine workers.

[xxvi] Grynberg, R. 2012. The Marikana massacre: What does it mean for Botswana. Mmegionline. 06 November 2012: Vol 29(165).

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Ibid

[xxix] Leon, P. 2012. Marikana, Mangaung and the South African Mining industry. Address to the South African Institute of International Affairs. Webber Wentzel: Cape Town

[xxx] Munusamy, R. 27 August 2012. Marikana: What price will Zuma pay?

[xxxi] Germaner, S. October 2012. Government must continue funding marikana families.

[xxxii] Munusamy, R. 27 August 2012. Marikana: What price will Zuma pay?

[xxxiii] Leon, P. 2012. Marikana, Mangaung and the South African Mining industry. Address to the South African Institute of International Affairs. Webber Wentzel: Cape Town

[xxxiv] Hlongwane, S. 2012. Cyril Ramaphosa’s Marikana email batters ANC heavyweight’s reputation: Lawyer tells commission investigating deaths of 34 striking miners of explosive email from struggle stalwart. Daily Maverick. ttp://

[xxxv] Leon, P. 2012. Marikana, Mangaung and the South African Mining industry. Address to the South African Institute of International Affairs. Webber Wentzel: Cape Town

[xxxvi] Ibid

[xxxvii] Joseph Stiglitz “Africa’s natural resources can be a blessing not an economic curse”. Accessed 5 August 2012

[xxxviii] The Bench Marks Foundation. 2012. Marikana Miners’ strike. Johannesburg

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Grynberg, R. 2012.

[xli] Leon, P. 2012.

[xlii] Leon, P. 2012.

[xliii] Munusamy, R. 27 August 2012. Marikana: What price will Zuma pay?

[xliv] Rk Greenleaf Servant Leadership: A journey into the nature of legitimate power and greatness. New York Paulist Press

[xlv] D van Dierendonck and I Nuitjen ‘ The Servant Leadership Survey: Development and Validation of a multidimensional measure’ Journal of Business Psychology 2011 26: 249-267 p 250

[xlvi] D Van Dierendonck and 1 Nuijten p 250

[xlvii] R F Russel and Stone AG , (2002) A review of servant Leadership attributes: Developing a practical Model. Leadership and Organisation Development Journal, 23 145-157.

[xlviii] W Kumuyi WF The New African February 2008 p 58

[xlix] W F Kumuyi P 58

[l] W F Kumuyi p 58

[li] Statement by the benchmarks foundation “ What Government needs to do to prevent another Marikana” Thursday 4 October 2012

[lii] Statement by the benchmarks foundation

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