When South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) convened its national conference in Mangaung in December, the party urgently needed to set a course for calmer waters after a turbulent year. President Jacob Zuma has been accused by the South African media of being a visionless cipher in a country desperate for dynamic and innovative leadership.
Although Zuma’s government is not without achievements, South Africa’s core problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment continue to fester. Corruption, too, has worsened, as measured by Transparency International’s annual index, with South Africa falling five places in 2012. In October, two ratings agencies, Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s, downgraded the country’s credit rating amid chronic policy uncertainty and a series of mining strikes. The latter led to South Africa’s post-1994 nadir in August, when police shot dead 34 miners at Marikana in behavior more akin to that of the apartheid regime than of a modern democratic state.
The sense that things had gone seriously wrong in South Africa was captured in December when the South African Council of Churches (SACC), a pillar of the anti-apartheid struggle, wrote an open letter to Zuma decrying the country’s political leaders for having “largely lost their moral compass.” Against this gloomy backdrop, further bloodletting over policy and leadership at the ANC conference threatened to accelerate the party’s decline.