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The resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma has been a long time coming. This development in South African leadership doesn’t just symbolise the end of a President, but could potentially mark a shift towards a completely new system of governance in modern South Africa.
The news that Zuma (pictured above) had been replaced as the ANC (African National Congress) leader in December 2017 meant it was only a matter of time before attempts were made to oust him as President. It’s hardly surprising that this move has been made considering his leadership has been marred in scandals, such as using government money to fund his private home and 18 charges of corruption and fraud in relation to a 1999 arms deal. Yet, until now, Zuma had refused to step down, prompting reports that a vote of no confidence would have to take place in Parliament on the 22nd February. While his pre-emptive resignation prevented this humiliation for Zuma, there is still fear among the ANC that they too are in political jeopardy.
Although the ANC has maintained over 60% of the popular vote since the first free elections in 1994, recent trends point to a decline in their support. Indeed, in the 2016 local elections, they faced their poorest share of the votes cast since the release of Nelson Mandela. It may seem unsurprising then, that they sought fresh leadership in the form of Cyril Ramaphosa. However, the ANC needs more than a new leader to turn the party around.
The ANC was ultimately built around an anti-apartheid message. It was a resistance party based on the moral leadership of Nelson Mandela. His ability to appeal to both white and black voters and symbolise unity and forgiveness in the face of oppression ensured the ANC’s continued success after 1994. However, while South Africa still faces numerous economic and social problems (in particular the recent drought), the country is not in the grips of a resistance movement. Its problems are the same as many other African nations – the prosperity of the elite in the face of poverty, the delivery of goods and services to its people and the stability of governance.
Yet, the ANC has continued to frame itself in the shadow of apartheid, using the legacy of Mandela as their greatest electoral asset. The party has continually emphasised loyalty, integrity and humility, adopting the values of Mandela to enhance their moral high ground. Whilst Mandela’s image as the ‘father of a nation’ still garners much reverence, subsequent ANC leaders have faced accusations of autocratic leadership, which means they are unable to emulate this depiction.
Consequently, the party needs to focus further on economic reform and political stability in a modern African state, rather than rely on past accomplishments. This holds particular importance for the upcoming 2019 elections, where a new generation of youths with no personal connection to the ANC liberation struggle could sway the vote. The greatest challenge to the ANC in light of the ousting of Zuma and the declining poll numbers is to rebrand the party. The ANC simply has to re-present itself as capable of leading South Africa in the context of the modern-day challenges the nation faces and no longer rely on its legacy as the victors over apartheid.