South Africa Economy Needs Radical Transformation, Zuma Says

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  • Scandals implicating Zuma erode support for ruling party
  • ANC says fight against corruption must be intensified

South Africa’s ruling party pledged to ensure the country’s black majority secures a bigger stake in the economy and do more to create jobs, as it seeks to claw back support lost in the wake of a succession of scandals implicating its leader, President Jacob Zuma.

The African National Congress, which has led the country since white-minority rule ended in 1994, marked the 105th anniversary of its founding at a rally on Sunday at the Orlando stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, where it outlined its policy priorities for the year. The party packed out the 40,000-seat venue.

Zuma in Soweto on Jan. 8.

Photographer: Mujahid Safodien/AFP via Getty Images

“Radical economic transformation remains at the core of our economic strategy,” Zuma said in his keynote address. “More decisive steps must and will be taken to promote greater economic inclusion and to advance ownership and control and real leadership of the economy by black people.”

The ANC’s support slipped more than 8 percentage points to a record low of 54.5 percent in local government elections in August, with the party ceding control of Johannesburg, the capital Pretoria and the southern port city of Port Elizabeth to opposition coalitions. Voter disenchantment has centered around Zuma, a 74-year-old former intelligence operative whose second five-year term as ANC leader is due to end in December this year.

Resignation Calls

“The ANC has heard the message that the people have delivered at the Aug. 3 local government election,” Zuma said. “We accepted that we have made mistakes and shall correct these mistakes. The ANC must be a listening and humble organization.”

Zuma has faced calls to resign since the Constitutional Court ruled in March that he violated his oath of office by refusing to repay taxpayer money spent on his private home. A campaign to remove him gained impetus on Nov. 2, when the graft ombudsman released a report suggesting that he may have breached the code of ethics in his relationship with members of the wealthy Gupta family, who are his friends. It detailed allegations that the Guptas may have influenced the appointment of cabinet members and received special treatment for a coal business linked to the family and Zuma’s son, Duduzane.

While Zuma has denied ever intentionally breaking the law, disgruntlement with his leadership is rife within the ANC. In November, a number of members of the party’s National Executive Committee, its top leadership structure, joined scores of party veterans in calling for his ouster.

Land Redistribution

Zuma didn’t directly refer to his travails in his speech, saying only that the media should report fairly and factually and that ANC members should show integrity. He also highlighted plans to implement a national minimum wage, improve working conditions in the nation’s mines and improve access to land, education and health services.

“Too many of our people continue to suffer from the historic injustice perpetrated by the horrendous land dispossession,” Zuma said. “This year we shall begin to utilize the expropriation of land act to pursue land reform and land redistribution with greater speed and urgency, following the prescripts of our constitution.”

The ANC acknowledged that internal divisions are hindering its ability to provide decisive leadership.

‘The people have told us that we are too busy fighting each other and we do not pay sufficient attention to their needs,” the party said in a statement on its website. “People abhor the apparent preoccupation with personal gain. People are clear, their main priorities are jobs, fighting crime and corruption.”

The Democratic Alliance, the main opposition party, said Zuma’s speech showed the ANC was out of touch and incapable of addressing its internal problems.

“The people of South Africa do not trust the ANC anymore, and last year’s election results showed just that,” DA leader Mmusi Maimane said in an e-mailed statement. “After almost 23 years of democracy, words and empty rhetoric are simply not enough. While the ANC celebrates in lavish style today, we live in a country where 9 million of our people are without work and have given up any hope of finding a job.”