It’s been 25 years since South Africa’s first democratic elections of the 27th of April 1994. These elections ushered in a wave of euphoria and sanguine that South Africa could finally step out of the shadows of Apartheid, and into a brighter future. Since 1994, there have been five national elections, in which the African National Congress (ANC) have dominated. Subsequently, in these 25 years, South Africa has delivered five different leaders with their own various leadership styles and objectives for the nation. Included are the iconic and charismatic Nelson Mandela, the articulate Pan-Africanist Thabo Mbeki, the wise Kgalema Motlanthe, the most controversial president so far, Jacob Zuma and the current prospective saviour of the nation, Cyril Ramaphosa. As much as this may sound clichéd, the recent 2019 elections represent a major crossroad in South Africa’s future.
The ANC won a majority of the national vote at 57.5%. While this may sound like a success, it is actually a cause for concern, as for the first time in 25 years, their success has dipped below 60% in elections. This result however is representative of broader challenges that the ANC and South Africa face. The weakening of ANC power in the election is partially down to the failures of the previous administration, led by President Zuma. Zuma’s term, to put it mildly, was eventful. His administration was often criticized with various allegations of corruption, poor policy implementation and weak leadership. Of the most notable scandals, the alleged use of public funds to improve his opulent Nkandla homestead and his relationship with allegedly corrupt Indian businessmen stand out. In addition to this, South Africa has faced the harsh realities of growing socioeconomic challenges such as inequality, unemployment, service delivery and a demand for housing. Coupled with the growing presence of radical opposition the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the slow but steady growth of the traditional opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), topped off with a low voter turnout has led to an erosion of ANC support.
Despite these setbacks, the ANC has made significant improvements to the lives of South Africans. There has been an improvement in areas of access to water, housing and education yet South African’s are eager for more. The task of fixing South Africa is challenging and complex. Writing as a South African, it is irritating to hear fellow South Africans critiquing the ANC for not fixing issues 25 years since the end of Apartheid, and similarly irritating to hear members of the ANC blaming Apartheid for the lack of progress in South Africa. Passing the buck in such a manner stunts meaningful dialogue around South Africa’s problems. Yes, it has been 25 years since Apartheid but the ANC has had the Herculean task of fixing up the consequences of 46 years of Apartheid, as well as over 250 years of Dutch and British colonialism which resulted in various socioeconomic challenges, as well as the dehumanizing effect it has had on people of colour. However, their problems such as the failing basic education system, are a result of contemporary ANC policies. Thus, this black and white view that especially South African’s take on our problems needs to be viewed with more caution.
So, what does President Ramaphosa need to do in light of the 2019 elections? Most obviously would be addressing the socio-economic challenges. South Africa has unstably high levels of inequality, with its Gini coefficient ranking it within the top 10 most unequal societies in the world. Indeed, a 5-minute drive from Africa’s Richest Square mile, Sandton, to one of the poorest suburbs in South Africa, Alexandra Township, it is absolutely heartbreaking to see the inhumane living conditions of people versus that of the super-wealthy in Sandton. To address such problems, there needs to be innovative and creative policy solutions which need to have an element of influence from the grassroots level of the people which are most affected.
Additionally, President Ramaphosa needs to capitalize on his current positive image within the local and international investor markets to stimulate economic growth and investment in South Africa which has been lethargic in the last few years. However, there are more pressing issues such as corruption and disunity that need attention. Corruption is a cancer of the developing world which wreaks havoc on economies and societies, with South Africa loses millions of Rands yearly through corruption. South Africa is a signatory of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and needs to stay committed to this and fight corruption, as it is damaging the moral fibre of South African society and the integrity of its institutions. In terms of disunity, firstly, the ANC is a shadow of its former self and its image is fractured. This needs to be restored by President Ramaphosa. Growing up myself on the mythos of ANC stalwarts like Chief Albert Luthuli and Oliver Tambo, South Africans need that kind of leadership and the infighting must stop for the sake of our people. Furthermore, the ANC has not built on the nation-building process started by the Mandela administration. In the last few years, there have been increasing amounts of publicized racist events and fractures in South African society. Nation building is an important tool in a post-conflict society, it's the ability to create a national identity and unify people, which in turn helps societal progress and helps address structural challenges in society. South Africa and the ANC should seek inspiration from the ongoing nation-building process in Rwanda in the aftermath of the 1994 genocide.
South Africa, the ANC and President Ramaphosa need to address these matters in the next 5 years or it could face dire consequences. Whilst South Africa faces such challenges, it has faced worse in its history, and a determined country such as South Africa can still prosper.