Zuma's Departure Adds to Hopes for Real Change in AfricaFebruary 15, 18
It took a long time to come about, but the resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma is welcome, nonetheless.
It also completes a trio of removals from office in Africa that have been pleasing to see. It started with a new president in Angola – Joao Lourenco – replacing Jose Eduardo dos Santos, the former head of state who stepped down due to old age and sickness, and who ruled Angola with an iron fist for 38 years. Those years in power did plenty of good for him and his family, but brought mostly misery and hardship for many of the country's 27 million citizens.
The next step was the removal of Zimbabwe's former President Robert Mugabe who was in power for only slightly less time than dos Santos and whose time in office was marked by an extraordinary decline in every aspect of the country's life, particularly its economy.
On Wednesday we saw Zuma stepping down. Not that he thought he should have done, of course, as he made clear in his resignation speech. Rather grandly he said: "No life should be lost in my name and also the ANC should never be divided in my name. I have therefore come to the decision to resign as president of the republic with immediate effect."
This a man whom the country's Supreme Court of Appeal last year ruled should face 18 counts of corruption, fraud, racketeering and money laundering. Not known for his modesty or being connected to events on the ground, Zuma thought he was doing a great job.
He was convicted, in 1963, of conspiring to overthrow the apartheid government and imprisoned on Robben Island, alongside a certain Nelson Mandela, for 10 years. Talk about spot the difference.
Many African National Congress (ANC) loyalists even accused him of having undermined the image and legitimacy of the 105-year-old party that led South Africans to freedom in 1994 and has ruled ever since.
Under his rule, there was also a reported weakening of critical institutions such as the South African Revenue Service, the National Prosecuting Authority and law enforcement bodies due to political meddling for private interests.
Meanwhile, there has also been criticism of Zuma’s economic mismanagement. While South Africa's population grew to 55 million from 50 million during his term in office, economic growth slumped. Indeed, two respected and experienced finance ministers were kicked out by Zuma in moved that created huge uncertainty on the state's financial markets and sent the rand spiraling downwards. An indication of the relief with which has impending departure was greeted can be seen in the 5% rise in the value of the rand since his successor, Cyril Ramaphosa was elected as head of the ANC in December.
And media reports also speak of a big turnaround in investor confidence now that Zuma is out. Given the country's vast mineral wealth, foreign investors are exactly what it needs to unlock that wealth and create much-needed jobs. While bureaucrats and politicians enriched themselves under the rule of Zuma, millions of people are still without basic services after almost 24 years of ANC rule.
As with the situation in Zimbabwe and Angola, it is clearly too soon to say whether the new leaders are going to bring in authentic and widespread change. But the changes give plenty of reason to be upbeat. Of the three countries that have seen dramatic change, it is to South Africa that most people throughout the African continent and the West will be looking to see if a real transformation can be brought about due to the size and sophistication of its economy.