Jacob Zuma, president of South Africa from 2009 to 2018, has received 15 months in prison for contempt of court. Many South Africans, who viewed Zuma and his presidency as corrupt and harmful to their country’s democracy, have long awaited Zuma’s imprisonment and his willingness to serve his sentence. However, there are several factors in Zuma’s life that his supporters point out when contesting his arrest. These include his ties to Nelson Mandela and his role in fighting against apartheid. Those who do not support him accuse him of raising South Africa’s unemployment rates. This has subsequently created an impoverished, undemocratic society that encourages extreme inequalities.
Jacob Zuma’s supporters point to the former president’s role in ending apartheid and the sacrifices he made to do so: being imprisoned for 10 years, going into exile in order to best serve the African National Congress (ANC) and finally becoming his nation’s president, all after he had grown up uneducated and impoverished. However, people are re-examining his efforts now that they have accused him of several heinous acts:
- Many have alleged that Zuma “looted the state’s wealth on a grand scale.”
- He transformed the ANC into “a vehicle of self-enrichment for many officials.”
- Furthermore, people have accused him of assassinating rivals who threatened his then newly acquired power and money.
- Finally, he evaded the South African authorities for years before finally giving himself up.
These acts help explain many public reactions to Zuma’s imprisonment.
Unemployment in South Africa
One of the major criticisms of Jacob Zuma was his unwillingness to address unemployment in South Africa. In 2017, towards the end of Zuma’s presidential term, the unemployment rate in South Africa was 27.7%, an increase from 24.9% since the start of his term. Debt was at an all-time high and businesses were failing. Zuma was unable to lift his country out of the recession that the global financial crash of 2008 spurred. The unemployment rates during his presidency show the push into poverty that many South Africans suffered under his governance. They also exemplify the stark inequalities between the South African public and those in power. Those in power ultimately grew wealthy through investing the country’s money into their own business ventures and lifestyles.
The Aftermath in South Africa
In terms of Zuma’s imprisonment, some South Africans have gone so far as to say that the nine years Zuma was president were “wasted years.” Magnus Heystek, a director and investment strategist, recognized the damage Zuma inflicted, saying that “it will take a stupendous effort by government and private sector to reverse the damage.” He provided a comprehensive list of things South Africa lost between 2009 and 2018 and he included per capita GDP which declined from “8,066 USD per annum in 2011 to 6,268 USD per annum in 2017.” He also includes South Africa’s total debt which stands at approximately 3 trillion rands or around $211 billion. Even more startling is the fact that “Poverty is increasingly visible on every street-corner, in declining car and retail sales, in empty rugby and soccer stadiums, in dwindling golf and bowling memberships. The list is almost endless,” Heystek says.
The Call for Imprisonment
Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment represents a victory for South Africans who believe in democracy and obeying their country’s rule of law. Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s successor, has vowed to “clean up the ANC and the government” while he is in office. His next steps will include building the South African economy back up to where it was before Zuma’s presidency. This is especially important after the COVID-19 further weakened the country’s economy. He will also be working to hold Zuma accountable for bribery and corruption, as well as upholding the notion that South Africa thrives thanks to the rule of law, not because of power and wealth-hungry presidents.
– Grace Manning