South Africa went to the polls this week to elect its fifth parliament since the end of white minority rule in 1994. President Jacob Zuma’s African National Congress (ANC), which has governed for the past 20 years, remains the dominant political force, but a struggling economy and several corruption scandals have loosened its grip on power.
This has bolstered the main opposition party, the liberal Democratic Alliance, and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), a breakaway faction of the ANC.
What the commentators said
The ANC “has etched a proud record in history”, said The Times. It ended apartheid, resisted forces that might have dragged the country into civil war and has improved the lives of millions by providing access to electricity, drinking water and decent housing.
Sound macroeconomic management underpinned steady, albeit unspectacular, growth. GDP expanded by an annual average of 3.3% in 1994-2014.
But recently things have begun to go wrong. “Rigid labour laws” and a business climate “increasingly unfriendly to much-needed foreign investment” are taking an ever-bigger toll on unemployment, already at 24%, noted The Economist.
In the corporate sector, for instance, councils comprising big businesses and unions agree wage levels and working conditions, and such agreements are extended to all businesses in the industry. Many small enterprises simply find this too expensive.
The ANC has also “spent more time thinking about how to share the spoils from sunset industries, such as mining”, than working on new sources of growth. The education system is poor. Corruption and anti-business rhetoric also help explain why foreign investment is low.
It hardly helps that the ANC’s agenda is being pulled to the left by the “nationalising fervour” of the EFF, said The Times. South Africa is in danger of losing its optimism.