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Zuma's ouster offers sobering lessons to Africa, its leaders

By The Standard | Published Fri, February 16th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 15th 2018 at 23:34 GMT +3
Embattled former South Africa President Jacob Zuma. [Photo: Courtesy]

This week’s toppling of Jacob Zuma-the much maligned South African President didn’t come as a surprise to many South Africans. As he got mired deeper in scandal after scandal, it was a matter of when not if he would let go of the Rainbow Nation.

But Mr Zuma was defiant to the end. Despite being found guilty of misusing public funds to put up an expansive residence in his Nkandla village and a 2016 indictment for "failing to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution" Mr Zuma stayed put.

Lately, it had been claimed that he allowed an Asian family, the Guptas, to hijack state machinery, deciding who serves as a minister and generally scooping all the lucrative deals from the government.

Yet this was not the first time ANC, the venerable anti-apartheid party was rising to the occasion to defend the ideals those who fought against the reppressive apartheid regime hold dear. In 2008, the party forced out Mr Zuma's predecessor Thabo Mbeki. Ironically, Mr Mbeki was forced out after a judge ruled that there had been "political meddling" in the decision to press ahead with corruption and fraud charges against Mr Zuma. In Mr Zuma's South Africa is afflicted by corruption, unemployment, violence and a worse form of exclusionism.

When Mr Zuma finally threw in the towel on Wednesday following months of intense pressure and negotiation, he was leaving behind a hollowed out nation. His successor and Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa has an ardous task of making the country that gave the world so much hope when it held its first multi-racial elections in 1994 working again.

There have been too many corruption scandals in South Africa, a web in which Zuma was caught up in. Anti-corruption crusaders will celebrate that he has been jettisoned.

He has survived several no-confidence votes in Parliament, a torrent of corruption allegations and street protests against his rule. Corruption and bad governance has tested South Africa's institution and consequently, precipitated an economic slowdown that has, since 2016, hurt South Africa’s economy. Once a beacon of hope on the continent, South Africa cannot claim its pride today.

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Clearly, it is not the South Africa that those who stood up against apartheid like its iconic leader Nelson Mandela envisaged. He must be turning in his grave today. Tellingly, Nigeria ($453 billion) overtook South Africa ($384 billion) as Africa's biggest economy in 2014.

Yet the story of misrule, corruption, mismanagement and economic meltdown in South Africa is not an isolated case. In fact, it is symptomatic of what ails most countries on the continent, more so those once considered the beacons of Africa’s renaissance. At independence 50 or so years ago, Nigeria, Egypt and Kenya held great promise. Sadly, corruption which breeds off bad governance and mismanagement has eroded those hopes. For example, corruption has brought Nigeria, Africa’s biggest economy to its knees.

It is quite tragic that an oil rich country, Nigeria experiences serious fuel shortages that lead to riots almost every year. Poverty levels also remain alarmingly high giving rise to such groups as Boko Haram that thrive on disillusionment and lawlessness. South Africa's case on the other hand has an echo in Kenya where State-capture is slowly taking root with the rise of a tender-preneur; a cabal of suave 'businessmen' who have their way in government offices and steal from the state through inflated tenders and doing substandard work.

Perpetrators of corruption are the high and mighty, the who-is-who in society, the seemingly untouchable political players with connections in the highest places within government.

The tragedy of Africa is that its leaders are preoccupied with get-rich quick schemes  yet millions of their people remain enslaved by poverty, disease and illiteracy. Indeed, most of them exist in worse conditions than those they faced when they fought off the colonists.

Yet there is a silver lining in Mr Zuma’s removal; that the continent can build and nurture strong parties that outlive their leaders and sponsors; that the people can demand accountability from their leaders, and where dissatisfied with their performance, they will waste no time in recalling them.

And most importantly; that democracy is taking hold on the continent.

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