Change the world


This article appeared in The Conversation of 11 April 2016. It was written by NMMU's Associate Professor of Political Science, Joleen Steyn Kotze

South Africans are mobilising against what they see as an inherently corrupt president. The international community has also joined in the clarion call for his resignation.

Corruptionstate capture, and scandal lie at the core of demands for President Jacob Zuma to go. The dominant narrative is that he has acted in only his self-interest with little regard for the country.

Yet Zuma survived another impeachment motion in parliament with full support from the governing African National Congress, the party he leads.

In the midst of the mounting pressure, Zuma has urged that African problems be dealt with “in an African way”. He told supporters:

I’ll be very happy that we solve the African problems in the African way because if we solve them only legally they become too complicated. Law looks at one side only, they don’t look at any other thing … They [the courts] deal with cold facts and I was complaining [about] that, but they’re dealing with warm bodies. That’s the contradiction.

But, what exactly is the African way?

A cursory glance at the African Union’s Agenda 2063 shows the importance of institutions underpinned by principles of accountability and good governance. This entails transformed institutions and a new way of governance, accountable to the people.

Indeed, the African Union stresses that:

we recognise that a prosperous, integrated, an united Africa, based on good governance, democracy, social inclusion, respect for human rights, justice, and the rule of law are the necessary pre-conditions for a peaceful and conflict-free continent.

This recognition stems from having “learned from our past”. As a result there is a pledge to “take into account the lessons” as Africa embarks on Agenda 2063.

Africa’s seven aspirations

By signing up to Agenda 2063, African countries – including South Africa – commit to advancing socio-political and socio-economic transformation. The agenda captures seven aspirations of the African people:

  • A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development;

  • An integrated continent, politically united. It should be based on the ideals of the Pan-Africanism and the vision of the African Renaissance;

  • An Africa of good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, justice, and the rule of law;

  • A peaceful and secure Africa;

  • An Africa with a strong cultural identity, common heritage, values and ethics;

  • An Africa where development is people-driven, unleashing the potential of the its women and youth; and

  • Africa as a strong, united and influential global player and partner.

Civil society demanding accountability

As civic pressure mounts for him to resign, Zuma’s stance of dealing with African problems in an African way cements notions that constitutional principles of good governance and accountability don’t always apply to African presidents. Or, if they do apply, they only do so in certain instances.

Growing civic mobilisation against Zuma demonstrates the opposite. It shows that Africans will move to hold leaders accountable when they act improperly or undermine their constitutional obligations.

There have been numerous instances of this happening across the continent. We have seen large scale mobilisation of young Africans against presidents-for-life, corruption and stalled development.

The Black Monday Movement mourns the loss of billions through corruption in Uganda. Using rhythm and rhyme Senegal’s hip hop movement, in concert with political parties and other social movements, successfully blocked a presidential third term. They mobilised people when former president Abdoulaye Wade lost touch with Senegalese aspirations.

Undermining South Africa’s leadership

Agenda 2063 commits African leaders to pursue a people-centred and transformational leadership. It demands that leaders be held accountable for failure to abide by constitutional limitations on power or for corrupt activities. It recognises that leaders who act with impunity when breaking the law become a liability to the continent’s aspirations.

If the ANC ignores the calls for Zuma’s resignation it may undermine South Africa’s leadership on the continent. It creates the idea that, if South Africa’s president can undermine the constitution with impunity, accountability and good governance may be ignored for personal political goals.

It raises questions on what basis South Africa will be able to condemn similar behaviour of other African countries. More importantly, it limits South Africa’s moral capital to advance the vision of Agenda 2063.

Contact information
Prof. Joleen Steyn-Kotze
Associate Professor: Political Science
Tel: 041 504 2123