After 3204 days, South Africa finally saw the back of Jacob Zuma. Whilst this has come as an enormous relief for most, our celebrations will be short-lived as the reality of his corrupt legacy sinks in. Zuma has undoubtedly been our worst president since the dawn of democracy and the damage he has presided over will haunt us for years to come.
Under the Zuma years, SA has experienced its highest levels of unemployment, predominantly amongst our youth who have become largely despondent as their future hopes and aspirations were crushed under the weight of rampant looting. Zuma and his cronies stole not only countless millions of rands, but also the prosperity of the next generation. More South Africans are now living in poverty, our education system has deteriorated significantly, SOEs are a mess and will continue draining the fiscus, and the economic destruction caused by his poor leadership will take decades to rectify.
The ANC itself has not been spared either, and what was once a proud liberation movement has been reduced to a national embarrassment. Even though Zuma has been removed, the tentacles of corrupt state capture run deep throughout the ruling party and key government institutions. Even the social fabric has been ripped to shreds as we’ve seen a significant deterioration in race relations under a president determined to divide and conquer his own people.
Thankfully, our young democracy has stood firm and we can look forward to a period of renewed hope and optimism. Civil society organisations have mobilised and grown impressively, business has worked toward greater unity, and opposition politics has increased its support base to potentially provide a more balanced democracy following the next national election. At very least, hopefully now we will also see an end to the constant annoying SMSes from Mmusi Maimane.
Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of the Republic of South Africa, certainly has a lot of work to do. He will not have the luxury of basking in the warm glow of victory as he needs to urgently get our economy back on track and do whatever necessary to avoid a further sovereign ratings downgrade. In order to achieve that, he will need to tackle rampant corruption head-on. The first order of business should be to strengthen key state institutions such as the Constitutional Court, NPA and Public Protector. These institutions will be critical to unravelling the tangled web of state capture and will need to be bolstered by sound leadership and sufficient resources if we hope to put this mess behind us quickly.
The deep-rooted decay at SOEs will also need to be stopped in its tracks. The extent to which SOEs were used as weapons of mass looting is now well documented, and Ramaphosa will face the enormous task of halting their collapse and cleaning up an unethical culture that has permeated these organisations for years.
The business community will also be looking for greater policy certainty – particularly in sectors such as mining, energy, and education – if the ruling party hopes to win back investor confidence. In order to achieve this, it may be necessary to purge all Zuma cronies from the portfolios they were given in support of the state capture project. The prospect of a refreshed Cabinet, to include erstwhile stalwarts like Pravin Gordhan, Ngoako Ramatlhodi, and even Trevor Manuel, is an exciting one indeed. Just imagine a fully-resourced NPA headed by Thuli Madonsela, and what that might mean for cleaning up our political realm, driving higher levels of accountability, and resetting our moral compass.
The future is starting to look bright again for South Africans. We should not lose sight of the fact that we are a young democracy and were bound to experience significant growing pains at some point as we emerged from hundreds of years of oppression. Jacob Zuma’s presidency, whilst destructive and painful, also serves as a valuable lesson for our future leaders. We now have a renewed respect for our Constitution, we have a very clear understanding of the importance of state institutions, and the entire populace has been sensitised to the importance of casting our hard-earned votes sensibly when given the chance to elect national leadership. Never again can we tolerate the widespread incompetence and arrogance that defined Zuma’s term in office. Never again can we allow someone of such low moral and ethical fibre to lead our country.
Welcome, President Ramaphosa! May your days be many, your allies abundant, and your resolve strong as you lead this great country to prosperity.