It’s been a topsy-turvy quarter of a century for South Africa.
The country, which celebrated its 24th Freedom Day anniversary last April 27, marking the end of apartheid and the birth of universal democracy, has suffered a series of political ups and downs since the retirement and subsequent death of its first black president, Nelson Mandela.
And the administration of Mandela’s latest successor, Jacob Zuma, who first took office in 2009, has recently been feeling the pinch of an antsy constituency, both politically and economically.
In late March, the controversial Zulu leader, who has been embroiled in a series of serious legal allegations, including rape and corruption, reshuffled his cabinet in an effort to divert attention away from his falling popularity, leading to an almost immediate devaluation of the rand and a downgrading to junk of South Africa’s credit rating by Standard & Poor and Fitch.
Exacerbated with the playboy, polygamist president, the South Africa people took to the streets several times in the last month to voice their disapproval of his fiscal mismanagement of the country and its rapidly declining economy.
Unemployment in South Africa is at an all-time high, about 25 percent, and the country’s GDP growth stands at just a smidgen above zero.
But low ratings aside, Zuma doesn’t seem likely to be leaving power any time soon.
His grip over the Africa National Congress (ANC) is firm, and he is even expected to maneuver his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, into the position of ANC head later this year.
To say that South Africa’s current political landscape is flawed is an understatement.
But it is important to understand that we are talking about a nation that has not yet reached its 25th birthday, and which has a tainted history of radial persecution and human rights abuses to overcome, a country that, as South African Ambassador to Mexico Sandile Nogxina put it during his national day speech last month, has “been torn asunder” by a titanic battle “when the stronger appropriated to themselves the prerogative even to annul the injunction that God created all men and women in His image.”
Yes, it’s been a topsy-turvy quarter of a century for South Africa.
And the young country is still in the process of rewriting its history and defining its national identity.
No doubt, Zuma and his band of political parasites will eventually be replaced by someone more in tune with the dream and example set by Mandela.
For now, the rest of the world needs to be patient, and chalk up the follies of Zuma and his administration as the mistakes of youth.
South Africa’s rainbow image may have been temporarily tarnished by Zuma’s latest blunders, but, be assured, the vibrant splendor of its multiethnic and diverse society will inevitably shine through once again.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]