Over the last several weeks, international extempers have most likely read about the recent political developments in South Africa, arguably the strongest power on the African continent. For those extempers that have not had a chance to catch up on these developments, Thabo Mbeki is no longer president of the country. After a prolonged political struggle between Jacob Zuma, who was Mr. Mbeki’s deputy president (a position most akin to vice-president in the United States) and who deposed Mr. Mbeki as leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in December, it appears that Mr. Zuma has won. This victory came within the span of a month when Mr. Zuma was first acquitted of fraud and corruption charges based on a judicial technicality. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), the body of the South African judiciary who initiates criminal cases for the government, was said in the dismissal of the charges to have been influenced in its prosecution by Mr. Mbeki and his supporters. This finding by the judge overseeing Mr. Zuma’s case gave weight to charges, long echoed by Mr. Zuma’s supporters, that Mr. Mbeki has been an overzealous president who has been intolerant of political opposition and that Mr. Mbeki has been willing to use the instruments of the state to clamp down on this dissent. On September 20th, the ANC decided that Mr. Mbeki should resign his post in order to end the political struggle that has gripped the country for three years.
Having set the background, this brief will give an overview of the structure and history of South Africa’s political system, the current state of the government, and what challenges that government faces in the future.
South Africa’s Political Structure and History
South Africa was first settled by European explorers when the Portuguese set up trading posts shortly after Bartolomeu Dias became the first European explorer to reach the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip of the continent. In the 1600s, Dutch traders would eventually arrive for the Dutch East India Company and the British would make their incursions into the territory just prior to the 1800s in order to gain a geopolitical advantage over the French. The British would solidify their hold on the Cape Town territory in 1806 when the Dutch East India Company went bankrupt. After two conflicts known as the Boer Wars (1880-1881, 1899-1902), which broke out between British forces and the Boers, a name given to farmers of northwest European descent, over diamond, gold, and land resources, the British were able to combine the Boer-held territories, called the Orange Free States and the Transvaal, with colonies they controlled in Cape Town and Natal. This new combination of territories was called the Union of South Africa and it was granted independence in 1934 by the Statute of Westminister.
South Africa is known by most of the public as a place where racial problems still persist. This has origins from the colonial era when black Africans were forced to work in diamond and gold mines and were kept apart from the white population. After World War II, the right-wing National Party bulked up racial segregation laws and created a system known as apartheid. This system stripped black South Africans of their citizenship, deprived them of voting rights, forced black Africans to live in economically unproductive areas, streamlined them into careers that paid low wages, and socially segregated them from white society, which did not allow them to enjoy the same public services as white South Africans. Under the apartheid system, which would last in its complete form until 1990, where it would begin to be abolished, a process that finished in 1994, South Africa was like two different countries where the white dominated area of the country resembled the developed world and black dominated areas resembled the Third World. South Africa was encouraged to abolish its apartheid system through sanctions by the outside world, enforced by Britain and the United States in the 1980s.
Following the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in February 1990, South Africa’s political system began to change. Mandela was an activist for the ANC, an anti-apartheid group with communist ties that was once declared labeled as a terrorist group by the United States government. By 1994, apartheid measures had been abolished from the law books and South Africa held its first elections open to all races. In these elections, the ANC trounced the opposition, not a surprise considering that the ANC was seen as a champion of black rights, Mandela was put in as president, and the ANC has been in power ever since.
South Africa received a new constitution in 1996, which allowed a division of legislative and executive powers on a local, state, and national levels. On a national levels, South Africa has a bicameral parliamentary structure. The lower house is called the National Assembly and has 400 representatives allotted to it. Representatives are selected via proportional representation based on popular vote tallies. The upper house is called the National Council of Provinces, which has 90 representatives selected by the legislatures in South Africa’s nine provinces, with each provincial legislature getting 10 selections. Both bodies members are slated to serve five year terms.
The South African president is the leader of the party that has control of the National Assembly, or in the case of there being a split election result where a coalition government has to emerge, the leader of the coalition government is named as the president. Unlike United States politics, though, the South African president is responsible to parliament, and can be removed by the party they lead. This is why Mr. Mbeki was forced to step down on September 20th when the ANC power brokers turned against him.
Who are the Parties?
Today in South Africa there are four major political factions, but in terms of competitive races there are only two in conflict: the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA).
African National Congress (ANC): The African National Congress received nearly 70% of the vote in the 2004 general election. Its leader is Jacob Zuma, the man who pushed Mr. Mbeki out of power, and is a broad coalition of interests that span the political spectrum. The ANC has backing from the now disbanded New National Party, a conservative party that is a legacy of the apartheid era, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, and the South African Communist Party. For there to be a significant opening in South African politics, the ANC will need to split, much like how Japan needs the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to split to have a fully functioning two party system.
The Democratic Alliance (DA): The Democratic Alliance, created when the Democratic Party and the New National Party briefly merged in 2000, finished in second place behind the ANC in the 2004 general election. However, just to demonstrate the ANC’s dominance, the DA finished with 12% of the vote. The DA was led by Tony Leon, an anti-apartheid advocate, from 2000 to 2007, when he stepped down and allowed Helen Zille, the mayor of Cape Town, to take over. In 2006, the DA took control of Cape Town, which is significant as it is the only metropolitan area not controlled by the ANC. The DA is a party which stands for liberal economic policies, federalism, and human rights protections. Its popularity is growing, especially in urban areas and voter disillusion with the ANC could make it a force in the 2009 elections.
The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP): The IFP finished behind the ANC and DA in the 2004 general election with 7% of the vote. The current leader of the party is Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who founded the party in 1975. The IFP was a supporter of anti-apartheid activism until the 1980s, until it became engulfed in a violent struggle with the ANC for influence in a post-apartheid South Africa. In fact, the IFP hoped this violence would prevent the 1994 election, which did not happen. The IFP’s main support comes from the Zulu people, South Africa’s largest ethnic group, and one of its stated goals is to prevent the ANC from establishing one party rule in the country. The IFP is also concerned with South Africa’s AIDS crisis and high crime and unemployment rates and has currently allied itself with the DA.
The Independent Democrats: The Independent Democrats are new to the South African political scene, having been founded in 2003. They are led by Patricia de Lille and took a mere 2% of the vote in the 2004 election. The Independent Democrats represent a populist brand of politics and favor moderate and pragmatic policies. However, since most of their policies are adopted by the ANC or DA, it is tough for them to establish a foothold.
The Current State of the Government (And What it Means for the Future)
It is not a surprise that the infighting within the ANC has caused massive disruptions for the government, especially since the ANC makes up 70% of the National Assembly. To political observers, the conflict between Mr. Mbeki and Mr. Zuma was dividing the ANC, to the point where one of them needed to go so that the ANC could focus on the next general election, which will most likely be held in April 2009. After Mr. Zuma’s victory over Mr. Mbeki in the ANC leadership election, observers knew it was only a matter of time before Mr. Mbeki faded into the sunset. However, the timing of Mr. Mbeki’s departure, and forcing him out before his term expired in 2009, was alarming.
To look at the influence that Mr. Mbeki had over the government, all one needs to look at is who left with Mr. Mbeki when he was forced out. Upon Mr. Mbeki’s resignation, his deputy president and ten of his ministers left, including the praised finance minister Trevor Manuel. Mr. Mbeki is still supported by loyalists within the ANC, much of whom owe their position in the party to him. While Mr. Mbeki might be riled by extempers as a poor manager of South Africa’s AIDS crisis, which affects over five million people, and as coddling Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, he is credited by experts as assisting in South Africa’s post-apartheid economic recovery. In its briefing on South Africa, The Economist on September 27th credited Mr. Mbeki with presiding over a falling unemployment rate and stabilizing South Africa’s finances.
In Mr. Mbeki’s absence, Kgalema Motlanthe has agreed to lead an interim government. Mr. Zuma chose not to take over the post and instead try to use the time the interim government is in power and the next general election to build his leadership credentials. However, it is no secret that after the 2009 general election Mr. Zuma will take over the South African presidency.
Mr. Zuma is a controversial figure in South African politics, having been acquitted of rape in 2006 and most recently corruption charges. His fights with Mr. Mbeki have bruised many egos in the ANC and have made him enemies within the party’s ranks. Observers worry that Mr. Zuma’s ability to get along with political opponents and negotiate on policy issues will be overshadowed by his willingness to stand on the sidelines while political problems develop. Due to the fact that Mr. Mbeki’s autocratic leadership style kept ministries in line with government policy, pundits worry that Mr. Zuma’s laid back style could lead to turf wars inside of the government, most notably among the ANC’s business and trade unionist wings. To add to this, it is still possible that the NPA could try to prosecute Mr. Zuma again for corruption, which would add a new dynamic to the 2009 general election or to a future Zuma administration.
The most immediate impact of these latest developments that extempers need to take note of is that Mr. Mbeki’s departure has opened a gaping hole in the ANC’s leadership. Supporters of Mr. Mbeki are unhappy and have quietly begun to discuss breaking from the ANC. The only real question if they would have the political nerve to upset party elders or put the ANC’s electoral chances in jeopardy by doing so. The ANC’s demise has long been predicted but never quite occurred. If there is a break within the party it could be over economic issues, as Mr. Zuma gets his main backing from left-wing trade groups would want to scale back some of South Africa’s free market reforms. If Mr. Zuma veers too far left it could alienate free market supporters and either push them into the hands of the DA or lead them to create their own political party. Therefore, one of the major ramifications of Mr. Mbeki’s departure is that it could lurch the ANC back to its far-left basis and open up a power vacuum in South Africa’s political center, a spot the DA could be prime to fill.
Issues Facing South Africa
When extempers are analyzing the political situation in South Africa, it is very important to know what issues could decide the 2009 general election so that their speech can touch the issues that are most relevant to South African voters.
The biggest issue facing South Africa is its crime rate, which the UN has said makes it the second deadliest country in the world in terms of murder rates per capita. Due to high unemployment, which is between 25-40%, depending on which economist you ask and which economic measure you use to define unemployment, South Africans have turned to crime. In fact, a TNS research survey from June revealed that 75% of South Africans believe that the crime wave has been fueled by poverty. South Africa’s high crime rates of murders, rapes, robberies, and carjackings have the potential to damage the nation’s growing economy. For example, the 2010 World Cup is scheduled to be held in South Africa, but may not occur if crime rates are not lowered. Also, South Africa’s well educated and best trained workers are leaving the country due to the fact that conditions are unsafe. Furthermore, wealthier, and predominately white, South Africans are creating more gated communities as they fear their possessions are in danger, prompting a return of de facto segregation that could upset the political and social balance in the country that has been achieved since 1994.
Another major issue in the upcoming election will be the state of the country’s economy. The DA will try to sell to voters the idea that Mr. Zuma will lurch the country’s economy towards state control that existed under the National Party in the apartheid years, which hurt the country’s economic growth. The massive unemployment rate will also likely be on voters minds, especially considering the rising crime rate. Economist argue that for South Africa to continue its economic growth it needs more skilled workers. This is true for two reasons. First, as The Economist reveals on September 27th, up to 500,000 jobs are unfilled in the South African government due to a lack of skilled workers, putting a strain on government operations. Second, ethnic tensions are exploding in the country as low skilled South Africans compete with illegal immigrants from economically depressed areas such as Zimbabwe. Look for both parties to argue at making the education system more adaptive to rising demand, as it admits more students, especially from black backgrounds, while retaining quality. Finally, look for both parties to contest the Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) program that the ANC adopted in 2003. The BEE is meant to transform the South African economy to give black workers a broader voice in the economy and to reduce white control over some economic holdings. The BEE mandates that businesses meet certain compliance targets in hiring and ownership. Businesses also are told to take into consideration a worker’s previous background as opposed to what economic skills they may be able to bring a business. While the ANC admits that the BEE should be revised, it staunchly defends its core precepts to redistribute economic power along racial lines in the country. In contrast, the IFP, in conjunction with the DA, argue that the BEE is a process of reverse discrimination, is leaving unskilled workers in important positions, and is causing a process of “white flight” where South Africa’s best skilled workers are leaving the country.
Logan Scisco competed for four years for Danville High School in Danville, Kentucky where he was coached by Mr. Steve Meadows. He also competed for two and a half years for Western Kentucky University. He was the 2003 NFL United States Extemporaneous Speaking Final Round National Champion, a CFL finalist, a two-time NFA finalist in college, a two-time Kentucky state champion in extemporaneous speaking, a two-time MBA invitee, and was a four-time qualifier to CFL Nationals in extemp and a four-time qualifier to NFL Nationals in U.S. Extemp. He has coached two Kentucky state extemporaneous speaking champions, an MBA invitee, ten extemp national qualifiers, a CFL finalist, and a NFL finalist (IX). He currently teaches social studies at Grant County High School in Dry Ridge, Kentucky.