I know what you’re thinking — another irritating piece about “white monopoly capital”. This is not about the Economic Freedom Fighters and their policy of redress through wholesale re-disenfranchisement and nationalisation. South Africa is more nuanced than the high politics of the day.

The outcry of the last week is testament to the vibrancy of our democracy
Over the last few days South Africans of all walks of life have mobilised an impressive amount of #tivism. The activists of the social media generation march with their thumbs in 140 character rhythms. Almost as chaotic as a real mass protest, the rallying cries included jokes, pokes and more serious calls for revolution. The twitterati stormed the palace demanding that #ZumaMustFall. When the president didn’t, they cried #ZumaWillFall. There were detractors crying #HandsOffZuma. Their high priest, Jimmy Manyi, called for the congregation to applaud their thoughtful leader for listening to the people.

Beneath this groundswell of popular discontent and divergence lay a more serious debate — a plea about the state of South Africa’s economy. With the rand plummeting to over R16 to the mighty dollar and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) losing billions, people became relatively less wealthy within days. State pensions too were hit hard to the tune of R30 billion in losses. Those in the economic know understood that we have a bigger problem than an ignorant president. We have an economy on its knees, being pushed over the brink.

There is a ray of light within all this doom and gloom — the vibrancy of the South African democratic process. Not only have we conducted multiple national, provincial and local elections. Barring the recent exposure of irregularity by the courts of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) during by-elections in the Tlokwe Municipality in 2013. The mere fact that the courts have critiqued the IEC, that the media has reported on it openly and that ordinary citizens can call for Zuma to fall, are hallmarks of our miracle democracy. Unfortunately, as a dear friend regularly says, “economic growth is the oxygen of our democracy … ” and it is precisely this vital resource that is increasingly scarce and poses the dangerous future of widespread social unrest.

Zuma administration has done untold damage and it’s time for a change
It is not the purpose of this piece to rehash the mess that has been the Zumafication of our presidency. But for the sake of perspective, here’s a taste:

– Shaiky friends.

– Corruption charges.

– Rape charges.

– Questionable chief justices appointed.

– Questionable prosecuting authorities let go.

– Gross misappropriation and maladministration.

– Undisclosed interests in Parliament.

– Gupta landings.

– Golden handshakes.

– More golden handshakes.

– Authoritarianism, majoritarianism.

– Party-first-ism.

– Playing musical chairs in Cabinet.

President Jacob Zuma may singlehandedly have done more damage to the reputation and social climate in South Africa than Radovan Krejcir, Shrien Dewani and Oscar Pistorius combined. And might I say, these are criminals and murderers, except for Dewani of course who was “cleared of all wrongdoing”. So Zuma is a problem, but is he The problem?

The injustice of our socioeconomic order is the real national crisis
Our nation is suffering from an acute form of injustice worsened by a rampant culture of materialism and extractive short-termism. Our illness has infected our state institutions, has tainted our private sector and is slowly eroding the little bit of goodwill left within and between our communities. As tired as the reference is, the legacy of colonialism and apartheid, and I add, increasingly the legacy of inept post-Mandela ANC rule has perpetuated social inequality, disparity and borderline criminal extraction for too long.

If you think the revolutionary hashtags of the Zuma moment came thick and fast, watch the 2018 revolt when 5 million disenfranchised youths decide #EverythingMustFall. The JSE, the banks, the farms houses, the security complexes, the boomed enclaves of capitalist comfort within which the new elite sip lattes and watch DStv.

Personally I think the pundits who describe this problem as “white land” are blinded by their painful experience of the past as the blind racist instigators of that past. Our poverty, inequality and unemployment are symptomatic. The problem is not one thing. It’s not one group. The problem relates to education levels, health levels, spacial arrangements, labour market rigidity, economic structure and many more hard-to-change issues. Issues which, unless we do change them quickly, will keep giving the ANC more power than it deserves. These issues require investment and work, over time. Failing to fix them will deliver us into the hands of worse leaders than Zuma. At least he “listened”.

Leaders who obtain power purely on the back of promises made to lull the pain of social injustice — they don’t need to listen.


Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen

Marius Oosthuizen is a faculty member and researcher at the Gordon Institute of Business Science. He teaches leadership, strategy and ethics, and heads up the Future of Business in SA Project. He is passionate...

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