South African New Dawn. What next after the elections?

View of Pretoria

30 years after the first elections in which Black South Africans were allowed to participate, according to Afrobarometer research, as many as 70 per cent of South Africans feel entirely or partially dissatisfied with the democratic system. Only 25 per cent express satisfaction. The country is plagued by chronic power shortages, pervasive insecurity and fear of tomorrow. Or, in fact, a fear for life: there were 27,494 murders in South Africa in 2022 and 2023, compared to 15,554 in 2011-2012.

Yet despite the violent crime crisis, the government has not publicly acknowledged the need for a focused response to a problem that is destroying lives, families and communities, writes the Institute for Security Studies. The alarming number of murders is accompanied by an unusually high number of rapes, with 43,037 recorded in 2023/2033 alone, all in a country where one in three people are unemployed and 78 per cent of children completing the first three grades of education have reading comprehension difficulties.

What will happen to South Africa after the May 29 elections?

“What does ANC stand for? It means African National Corruption. Jacob Zuma and his fellow puppets, like Ramaphosa, have ruined this country by putting it straight into the hands of some Gupta family, by capturing the state as it is to profit from it,” a black tour guide tells tourists as he leads them into one of the apartheid museums, just before introducing them to one of the anti-apartheid activists. A day later, I hear some Afrikaners speaking in the halls of the Voortrekker Monument, a gigantic relic of the whites-only past. “I know we can’t say it out loud, but things were much better under apartheid. Even blacks can admit that! Mandela was just too good to run this country on pure corruption, it was those who came after him who ruined this country” – they say.

The Voortrekker Monument commemorating those who left the Cape Colony and founded the Boer Republics afterwards. Today it is also an unquestioned symbol of the country’s white-dominated past. Photo by Wojciech Albert Łobodziński.

All this only reflects the crisis the young democracy is in after the presidency of Jacob Zuma and his vice president, Cyril Ramaphosa. It was when Jacob Zuma came to power in 2007-9 that the decline of the Rainbow Nation began. Jacob Zuma, President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 2007 to 2017, he was elected president of South Africa with 67% of the vote in the 2009 general elections. More than a third of the leadership brought to the top of the ANC by Zuma in 2007 had already been charged or convicted in corruption scandals, the scale of which, however, was largely covered up by the future state capture conducted by the Zuma-Gupta-ANC corruption triangle. 

Undoubtedly, South Africa is now on the precipice, over which it can either build a bridge to a new democracy or fall back into the hands of corrupt politicians and gangsters. 

Arms Deal

During the apartheid era, Zuma was the head of the intelligence units of uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK), an underground democratic guerrilla led by Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani. Most of his main collaborators come from the former resistance movement or organizations operating in the gray zone between guerrilla warfare and criminal activity. It was these connections that allowed Zuma to be part of a corruption scheme called as Arms Deal, that which preceded his presidency, and which, if thoroughly resolved and investigated on time, could have saved South Africa from the disaster that turned out to be his presidency.

The Strategic Defence Package, popularly known as the Arms Deal, was a major defence procurement programme undertaken to re-equip the South African armed forces for the post-apartheid era. It has been widely associated with allegations that there has been large-scale corruption during and after the procurement process. 

Some critics have said that the arms deal was a defining moment or turning point for the African National Congress (ANC) government. It was less than five years into its term of office. At least three former cabinet ministers — Joe Modise, Siphiwe Nyanda and Stella Sigcau — and two former presidents — Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma — have been accused of improperly benefiting from the contracts. Few of the allegations have been proven or prosecuted, and most were dismissed by the Seriti Commission, a judicial inquiry that ran from 2011 to 2016 and whose findings were overturned in 2019 – thanks to Jacob Zuma’s influence over the commission. 

When it comes exclusively to Zuma, on September 12, 2008, Pietermaritzburg High Court judge Chris Nicholson ruled in his favour, dismissing allegations of his involvement in the corruption scandal known as the Arms Deal as unlawful because the NPA, the National Prosecuting Authority, had failed to give Zuma opportunity to provide explanations before a decision is made to charge him. This made it possible for him and his comrades to take the power over South Africa a year later. 

State Capture 

“Central to the Guptas’ scheme of state capture was President Zuma, who the Guptas must have identified at a very early stage as somebody whose character was such that they could use him against the people of South Africa, his own country, and his government to advance their own business interests, and President Zuma readily opened the door for Guptas to go into the State-Owned Enterprises and help themselves to the money and assets of the people of South Africa,” tells us the final report on the State Capture written by the Zondo commission.

Practically, the whole country was in the hands of the Gupta family. Energy companies such as Eskom. Coal mines supply raw materials to Eskom’s power plants. Small and large organizations intended to implement the so-called Black Economic Empowerment policy. At the end of the chain, there was always president Zuma, his comrades – and the Gupta family. I hear such stories again and again, when I ask middle-class Pretoria residents, both white and black, whom are they going to support in the upcoming election.

What was the nature of the aforementioned state capture that has brought South Africa to its worst crisis since apartheid? The most striking symptom of this practice was the situation when, on 30 April 2013, a plane full of Indian citizens who had come to attend the wedding of the Gupta family landed at the Waterkloof military air base. The grand ceremonial display of the Gupta family’s true attributes of power brought public scrutiny. 

The Gupta family moved to South Africa from the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh in 1993. They set up Sahara Computers, the family was based at the luxurious Sahara Estate in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, which was a villa compound of combined four houses. Soon after Jacob Zuma came to power, the family began running several companies in various industries, including information and communications technology, mining, engineering, media, property, and leisure. 

The Guptas and then-President Zuma first met at a Gupta-hosted event at their Sahara estate in 2003. Since then, the family has been involved in numerous events involving Zuma and his family. The family is also known for supporting Zuma during his power struggle for the ANC leadership with then-President Thabo Mbeki in 2005.

Zwelinzima Vavi, former general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, described the Guptas’ influence on the presidency as a “shadow government”. Donwald Pressly of the South African business publication Biznews has said that then deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa’s remarks about state capture of public enterprises by politically connected people were a reference to the close relationship between Zuma and the Guptas. One of South Africa’s opposition parties, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), has declared the Guptas had “effectively colonised South Africa, with Zuma being the colonial administrator in chief”. The Guptas have, of course, denied the allegation, saying they have never profited from their relationship with Zuma.

Jacob Zuma. Photo by World Economic Forum.


So what were the main chapters of the so-called state capture? The following are just a few examples out of the multitude of examples of Indian moguls’ influence on the entire state body, its legislation, executive and judiciary, and furthermore decision-making influence in state-owned companies, among others. 

Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas confirmed media reports that he had been offered the ministerial post by the Guptas shortly before the disastrous dismissal of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015, but that he had rejected the offer out of hand because “it makes a mockery of our hard-earned democracy”, the trust of our people, and that no one appoints ministers except the President of the Republic.

The Sunday Times reported that Mosebenzi Zwane, minister of mineral resources, and David van Rooyen, then minister of co-operative governance and tradition (who was appointed finance minister by Zuma in December 2015 amid controversy), met with members of the Gupta family in Dubai. Van Rooyen allegedly met with them just days after his unsuccessful appointment as Finance Minister on 20 December 2015. Minister Zwane assisted in the sale of a large coal mine to a Gupta-owned company. 

Former Gupta family bodyguards have testified that they often saw important government officials, such as SABC COO Hlaudi Motsoeneng, and large sums of cash leaving the Guptas’ Saxonwold estate. Bodyguards also said Ajay Gupta would visit President Zuma up to three times a week at the Pretoria presidential guesthouse until 2015. A spokesperson for President Zuma denied the visits ever took place.

Ranjeni Munusamy columnist of the Daily Maverick said the party’s ability to independently and legitimately select senior ministers and executives in government and state-owned enterprises had been undermined by the ‘Gupta family effectively usurping the function of the ANC’s placement committee’.

A formal complaint filed in March 2016 by a Catholic priest named Stanlaus Muyibe prompted the then- departing Public Prosecutor Thuli Madonsela to launch a “state capture” probe into the Guptas’ alleged involvement. To stop the report from being published, President Zuma and Minister Des van Rooyen requested an interdict on October 14, 2016, Madonsela’s last day of office. The report was released on November 2nd as a result of Van Rooyen’s application being denied and the President withdrawing his own. One of the report’s suggestions was to form a judicial panel to look into the relevant matters.

On 25 November 2016, Zuma announced that the presidential office would review the contents of the state capture report. He claimed that he had not been given enough time to respond to the public protector, saying it had been done “in a funny way” and “not at all fair”.

New Dawn

In February 2018, Zuma was forced to resign by his own party and media pressure, all because of his cooperation with the Guptas, which became more and more obvious week after week. He was replaced as president by his current vice president, Cyril Ramaphosa. He was faced with a devilishly difficult task, reunifying the country and eradicating the influence of corruption on the apart state, while not dismantling the ANC.

Zuma’s successor, was thus forced to deal not only with the scale of corruption but also with the institutional imposibilism, since the state captured apparatus was unwilling to evaluate any reforms and choices which frequently involved itself. On February 15, 2018, Cyril Ramaphosa, the vice president in office, secured the presidential mandate; nevertheless, he had to confirm it a year later with a 62 percent ANC result in the general election. By being generous with Jacob Zuma, who still retains spiritual authority over a significant portion of the populace, especially the Zulus tribe, the nation’s authorities were able to prevent what they feared most—a violent outbreak that would have severely divided the nation. 

When the new president took office, there was a concomitant surge of political exultation, or Ramaphoria. This was made possible by the African National Congress’s skilful campaign to portray President Ramaphosa as the antidote to all the wrongdoings and corruption of the outgoing administration. But it didn’t take long to see that relying on one individual to handle the practical and symbolic legacy of his predecessor was more of a need than a wise decision.

A sizable portion of the ANC started to undermine the president’s initiatives. These members were mostly connected to the Zuma faction or the Radical Economic Transformation (RET) grouping, which is best defined as a cross-party coalition of radical black nationalists. Ramaphosa began looking into the issues facing the SSA, the secret service that oversees tax collection, as well as SARS, the South African Revenue Service. Additionally, Ramaphosa has named new officials to the National Prosecuting Authority, which is the counterpart of the National Prosecuting Authority. However, what was more significant for the fledgling South African democracy was that he was able to draw in international investment following years of combined recession or 1% economic growth. All announced the rainbow democracy’s new dawn in South Africa, announced by Ramaphosa.

But ultimately, the opposition from the old team, of which he was in some ways a part, and the cross-party opposition within the RET that was pushing for radical political and economic change—backed by both ANC internal politicians and nationalist extremists from the opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party—had to pay off. 

“In 2021, Zuma was sentenced to 15 months in prison. However, he was conditionally pardoned in 2023 by Ramaphosa, who came after him in 2018. The former president spent only three months in prison, after which he received the pardon while on medical leave from serving his sentence. Now the courts have also found that he can run for president under the banner of the newly formed uMkhonto we Sizwe party, with the same name as the democratic resistance movement from the apartheid era. The court has now ruled that he has some kind of immunity for things he did while in power; thus he can run for president again. This country is a joke. This person is destroying not only our current country, but also our heritage as a society,”

Clive, a black businessman from Johannesburg, tells me. 

In the’meanwhile,’ it has come to light that Ramaphosa’s political rivals as well as himself could be undermining the ANC’s new dawn, which was heralded in 2018.

On June 1, 2022, Arthur Fraser, a close associate of former president Jacob Zuma and the former chief of the State Security Agency (SSA), filed a criminal complaint against Cyril Ramaphosa for breaking the Prevention of Corrupt Activities Act of 2004 and the Anti-Organised Crime Act. According to Fraser’s complaint, on or about February 9, 2020, a total of US$4 million (about R62 million) that was concealed in a couch at Ramaphosa’s residence at Phala Phala farm in the Waterberg was taken. To put it briefly, it became out that the man who was meant to be combating corruption was instead concealing millions of dollars that weren’t supposed to be there in his own couch. 

Ramaphosa’s downfall was precipitated by the Phala Phala Case, Zuma’s conditional amnesty, and the inconsistent handling of corruption cases—some were successfully prosecuted, others were blatantly disregarded. 

Ramaphosa has little to be proud of apart from its opposition record during the freedom struggle and the restoration of foreign investment, along with 3–4% economic growth after years of recession. The Gupta family is still at large, with members seen in Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Vanuatu. The New Dawn turned out to be a dismal sequel in many respects. 

Cyril Ramaphosa. Source: official Twitter account.

Who will rule South Africa? 

The seventh democratic elections of the South African Republic will take place on 29 May. Nearly 28 million registered voters have the chance to elect representatives to the national and provincial parliaments. All the above-mentioned problems summed up are putting enormous pressure on the ANC. Thus, the elections could bring momentous change, with polls suggesting the ruling African National Congress is likely to lose its majority after 30 years in power. 

Many Black South Africans, particularly those who are older, have a strong sense of devotion to the African National Congress (ANC) because of its glorious history as a liberation organization led by Nelson Mandela that helped bring an end to apartheid and usher in multiracial democracy. Although it has maintained a majority in the five-year national elections since 1994, the party’s support has declined recently as a result of ongoing poverty and inequality, high unemployment, scandals involving corruption, unstable electricity supplies, and a high crime rate.

If the polls are accurate, the ANC is expected to lose the majority for the first time since taking office, but it should still be the largest party by a significant amount, which might lead to negotiations for a coalition. What’s more, of the party loses, President Cyril Ramaphosa could face an internal leadership challenge if the party is perceived to have performed poorly.

In an attempt to increase its appeal, the pro-business Democratic Alliance (DA), which received the second-highest percentage of votes in the previous election, has partnered with numerous smaller parties. Actually, DA is the party that has always worked with intellectuals and patriotic middle-class business class against Jacob Zuma’s state capture efforts. Most of the affairs have seen media scrutiny thanks to the work of DA’s MPs. 

The DA is the main campaigner against the massive economic revolution proposed by Jacob Zuma’s party, known as MK, after uMkhonto we Sizwe guerilla organisation, which split from the ANC, and Julius of the Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF. The main slogan of DA is to save South Africa from the crisis and from the fires of the economic revolution proposed by the black majority nationalist groups.

The EFF was founded in 2013 by Julius Malema, a fiery former leader of the ANC’s youth wing who left the party. Young, Black, and impoverished voters constitute the majority of the party’s supporters.

Presenting itself as Marxist, the party supports policies that are controversial with South Africa’s corporate community, such as nationalizing enterprises and redistributing land to alleviate racial inequality. It shares its voters with a newcomer, right from the political cuisine of Jacob Zuma. The MK party was founded in September 2023, but it gained significant traction when former president Jacob Zuma, with whom the ANC has had disagreements, declared in December that he would be supporting it.

Because of Malema’s longstanding relationship with the ruling party, the EFF is viewed as a possible coalition partner for the ANC. However, at the same time, Malema of the EFF, who has a contentious past with Zuma, has stated that his organisation is amenable to an alliance with MK following the election.

A survey conducted by IPSOS in April 2024 presents 40.2% of support for ANC, 21.9% for DA, 8.4% for MK and 11.5% belonging to EFF.  Thus, the future de facto belongs to the internal dynamics in the ANC, which will determine whether to form a coalition with the liberal DA or create an exotic coalition with Zuma and/or Malema. The latter will certainly not please business, both global and domestic, which may lead the country to return to recession and deepen the current social crisis.

Subscribe to Cross-border Talks’ YouTube channel! Follow the project’s Facebook and Twitter page! And here are the podcast’s Telegram channel and its Substack newsletter!

Like our work? Donate to Cross-Border Talks or buy us a coffee!

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content