A true lightning rod for controversy, South African President Jacob Zuma closed out 2015 with yet another scandal. From polygamy to questionable wealth distribution to extravagant home upgrades using taxpayer money, Zuma’s reign as President of the African National Congress (ANC) has brought deep criticism from all sides of South African life. Recent moves by Zuma brought protests from the middle class, as well as a stern warning from Archbishop Desmond Tutu over Zuma’s handling of religious leaders.
Tutu’s words fiercely condemned the administration and its propensity for falling into controversial subjects at such an alarming rate. In his April press conference, the former Archbishop who rose to fame in the 80s for opposing Apartheid stated that “This government (ANC), our government, is worse than the Apartheid government because at least you were expecting it with the Apartheid government.”
Hyperbolic as the statement may be, recent sentiment appears to show the nation is turning on Zuma as a whole.
While Zuma skirts most of his controversies that include a rape acquittal and corruption charges, the latest issue could finally be the blow to a presidency that runs rife with what some have called “indecision and incompetence.”
Three Finance Ministers in December
This past December, South Africans were shocked to see the ouster of former Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene after just 18 months in his position. The move shocked many, as Nene served as a fierce opponent to many of the Zuma administration’s spending–including potentially corrupt business deals with a rumored Zuma mistress and a trillion-rand nuclear deal with Russia.
Controversial enough that is on its own, Zuma doubled down by appointing a relative unknown, Des van Rooyen, to the position. van Rooyen’s appointment stoked public anger as many publicly voiced concerns that the relatively unproven new Finance Minister would bend to Zuma’s demands. Across South African cities, large groups took out to protest the removal of the President under the #ZumaMustFall movement. The largely middle class protests claim that the President’s interest don’t serve the middle class and his string of corruption woes must be stopped.
Those with fears of van Rooyen’s appointment didn’t need to fret much. After just five days, van Rooyen was replaced by former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan. Gordhan’s appointment helped put a halt to protests and the nation’s slide towards “junk” credit status. However, this served as yet another example of the administration’s evidence of corruption and/or incompetence.
Up until recently, the idea of seeing Zuma actually step down seemed like an improbable happening. However, the latest incident damaged Zuma’s approval rating in a staggering way. The President’s approval fell from a comfortable 64% down to just 36% in a recent poll. A further sign of the condemnation, South Africans of all races disapprove of Zuma’s actions–indicating a united disdain. Current sentiment appears that Zuma may not see out his full final five-year term, but that may not be the case. He still has supporters that place the blame more on an overall struggle in South Africa. Rather than focusing solely on Zuma’s wealth distribution misdeeds, the nation should focus on larger issues.
The debate is sure to rage on. Zuma has a knack for taking on controversy and coming out the other side with his career intact. Will this be the one that sends the public overboard? Some have wondered if these actions could prompt the ANC to lose its government control as the ruling party it has held since the days of Nelson Mandela. At this stage, all bets are off as more and more South Africans appear to voice their concerns and frustrations.
Be sure to keep your eyes on the news wires. There’s sure to be a few twists and turns before this saga concludes.