By George E. Curry
PRETORIA, South Africa – It’s not easy walking in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, the nation’s first democratically elected president. No one knows that better than the two men who succeeded him as president of South Africa.
A larger-than-life figure, Mandela was elected president of the formerly White minority-ruled country in 1994, an accomplishment made even more remarkable by his having served 27 years in prison for his struggle to win equal rights for the violently oppressed Black majority. After serving one term and still at the apex of his popularity, the former lawyer decided to forgo a second 5-year term, clearing the way for his chief deputy and African National Congress (ANC) colleague Thabo Mbeki to assume the top office in 1999.
But after serving eight years in office, Mbeki was recalled by the ANC in 2007 after losing an elective conference to Jacob Zuma at a party gathering in Polokwane, Limpopo, just north of Johannesburg. He resigned in September 2008. Zuma succeeded Mbeki and there appears to be growing disenchantment with the country’s third Black president’s performance.
Zuma’s presidency has been tarnished by repeated reports of scandals, including charges that he used state funds on his private residence in Nkandla, a rural town in KwaZulu-Natal province. Improvements include the addition of a swimming pool, visitors’ center and amphitheater. The Zuma administration said the expenses, estimated at approximately $2 million (U.S.), are for security reasons.
Photographs of the sprawling home have reminded South Africans of the contrast between the lavish lifestyles enjoyed by the elites and the millions of residents mired in poverty. The allegations of corruption are taking a political toll on Zuma, who is in his second term.
According to the Sunday Times, Mbeki told a UK television network that Zuma should resign if recalled by the ANC.
“So when they look at some of the things that are happening…when they see this corruption in the country, which seems to be increasing at all levels of government, the people are aggrieved. They are saying that this is not what freedom was for.”
With nearly 100 international leaders in South Africa to memorialize the beloved Nelson Mandela, Zuma was loudly booed by some participants at the main memorial service. At a send-off from Pretoria the day before Mandela’s funeral, Zuma seemed to be answering his critics when he said, “I’ll be very happy if, as we mourn and celebrate Madiba, we do not abuse his name. Mandela never abused his membership and his leadership in the ANC. We should not think that Madiba’s passing on is a time for us to indirectly settle scores.”
Mbeki is not the only Mandela loyalist to believe that Zuma is not the leader the nation needs at this time.
In an interview earlier this year with the Mail & Guardian, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said: “I have over the years voted for the ANC, but I would very sadly not be able to vote for them after the way things have gone.” Tutu explained, “We really need a change. The ANC was very good at leading us in the struggle to be free from oppression. They were a good freedom-fighting unit. But it doesn’t seem to me now that a freedom-fighting unit can easily make the transition to becoming a political party.”
Last week, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, the country’s largest trade union and a traditional ally of the ANC, called for Zuma to resign and announced that it will not support the ruling ANC in next year’s election.
The pressure for Zuma’s resignation continues to build.
According to a poll released Dec. 15 by the Sunday Times, slightly more than half (51 percent) of registered ANC members believe Zuma should resign from office as a result of a scandal involving his home in Nkandla.
Zuma’s critics acknowledge that the dissatisfaction with the president has as much to do with disappointment at the slow rate of progress over nearly 20 years of freedom, including the Mandela years, than Zuma individually.
A report last year by Statistics South Africa showed that over the past decade, annual earnings of Black households increased by 169 percent to 60,613 rand (approximately U.S. $6,644) while White household earnings over that same period rose by 88 percent to 365,134 rand (about U.S. $40,927).
Official unemployment is nearly 25 percent. If you add discouraged workers no longer actively seeking work, the figure is 33 percent.
The Economist noted, “… the gap between rich and poor is now wider than under apartheid.”
South Africa is learning the lesson that other countries around the world, including the U.S., are being forced to accept. It’s one thing to criticize government as an outsider, It’s quite another to assume power and make fundamental changes.
George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine, is editor-in-chief of the National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service (NNPA.) He is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. Curry can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge and George E. Curry Fan Page on Facebook.