The economic case for Jacob Zuma’s departure is stronger than ever, writes CURTIS RICHARDSON
On April 1st 2017 President Jacob Zuma made the active decision to make his mark in South African history as a president with very little regard for public approval. By making a reshuffle of the cabinet with very little corresponding logic or reasoning, Zuma has made clear his disregard for governance and stability. In doing so Zuma has drawn a line in the sand and made claim to his territory in South African politics as beyond reproach.
In this context, the nation mulls over the situation in which we might see Zuma leave the presidency, and in 2017 there is a need to reaffirm the corresponding arguments for this. This is why we must inspect Zuma’s legacy, and for one moment place the multitude of scandals facing the president aside and ask: Is economic progress possible under Jacob Zuma?
If the answer is no, then there is no feasible reason why the president should remain in power.
Towards an Equal South Africa
This is the primary objective of the ANC, a party with a policy viewpoint born out of the Freedom Charter (supposedly). But is it actually arguable whether South Africa is a more equal state under Jacob Zuma when the answer is so clearly no? Inequality in South Africa, one of the world’s most unequal nations, is strikingly high and is one of the country’s biggest problems.
This is not to say that the Zuma presidency has no successes. Under Jacob Zuma, the South African government has been able to connect 7 million people to the electricity grid, spend more on education and infrastructure, and create 2.1 million jobs. But the successes of a Zuma presidency have not been lasting, or in some ways, impactful.
Take for example employment. Whilst 2.1 million jobs have been created since his inauguration as president, the population of South Africa has increased by 5 million, actually resulting in a higher unemployment rate. Spending on infrastructure has been dogged by corruption in procurement and tendering processes, and education spending increases have not resulted in a proportional improvement in the state of South African education.
As for the state of the energy grid, slumping demand has ensured that there won’t be any load-shedding until 2023, but the inefficiency in implementation of government policies and mounting issues in Eskom place a future without load-shedding in doubt.
It is actually pretty hard to identify a segment of the economy where Mr Zuma has outright performed in a manner that is largely inclusive. At its height of growth, the economy was at 3.2%, indicating that Zuma has not accumulated enough economic momentum to enact structural change that would see the growth of jobs, and when he had the momentum he proved unable to capitalise on it.
Any cursory study of government’s State Owned Entities (SOE’s), the powerhouses for enacting economic change, finds that there has been an all-around underperformance in governing the nation and its assets effectively.
Even if we are to consider the membership into the BRICS group as an achievement for Zuma, without a functioning government it’s hard to see how this development results in greater benefits at home because foreign partnerships only bring about benefit when you are able to leverage your own capability.
So, with all that considered, why would a public that has seen very little improvements under Jacob Zuma be compelled to believe that he was deserving of seeing the end of his term? What has been stable in Jacob Zuma’s presidency? In what way has he steered the ship, that is South Africa, towards opportunity?
Even if we are to excuse the underperformance of the economy as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, and the consequent destabilisation of the global economy, the South African government has scored too many own-goals under Zuma’s leadership to pretend that all the problems are external.
Take for instance the credit ratings downgrade by Fitch and Standard & Poor’s. The ability for a nation to lend money is pivotal to it being able to create growth through investment. A lower credit rating indicates that the South African government is less capable of achieving economic prosperity than it was at the start of Zuma’s presidency. Amongst this, the dismissal of Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas from Treasury has deteriorated trust between government, the private sector, international investors and labour unions. This places Zuma as not only incapable of bringing about economic change but also unable to orchestrate the economy’s biggest role players towards this goal.
Funny democracies are difficult to run
The most damning reality of Mr Zuma’s leadership failures is how he views the context of South African development as it stands.
As it stands the president chooses his biggest platforms to make easy targets of current issues in the public discourse. This means that he exclaims how black people need to “take back the land” but never gives any indication of how this would be done, or fit into current government policies. A government he runs.
The greatest indicator of leadership is not your ability to grow your capacity to provide for your people but to grow the capacity of your people to provide for themselves. The story of Jacob Zuma’s presidency is one of stagnancy, complacency and division. The lives of everyday South Africans have not greatly improved in the last eight years, whilst the infrastructure within the state that is meant to further developmental objectives is slowly becoming a shell of bureaucracy.
If there is any reason a President should ever be asked to evacuate his post it would be a result of his blatant underperformance and the widely-held belief that improvement is not possible. With the knowledge that the economy will not grow, jobs will not be created, SOE’s will not improve efficiency, and that in hopes of relevance Zuma will adopt any policy that trends, is it beyond logic to call for his removal?
The world as we know it is rapidly changing and South Africa needs to establish a credible path forward. In a world of growing complexity is it beneficial to hang on to a president who tackles problems in an increasingly simple way? I do not think so.
Curtis Richardson is a Business Management student at the University of Pretoria, as well as a commentator on current affairs. His interests are foreign policy, e-commerce, industrial policy, and the business of entertainment.