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Africa

Opinion: South Africa's muted celebrations

South Africa is marking Freedom Day. 22 years ago, Nelson Mandela and the ANC were elected to usher in the new post-apartheid era. The ANC has since lost its moral authority to lead, writes DW's Claus Stäcker.

The leadership of the African National Congress (ANC) still believes that a simple change in tactics will save the day and that it can contain the collateral damage inflicted by party leader President Jacob Zuma. The party still believes that an internal solution within the party can salvage the municipal elections in August and keep the spirit of the liberation movement alive.

Few outside the ANC doubt that the position of Jacob Zuma - the traditionalist, populist, polygamist and manipulator who rode roughshod over the constitution - has become untenable. Inside the ANC, the opportunists are still fighting for their jobs, privileges and seats in the National Assembly which assure them a comfortable income. Zuma has succeeded in weaving around himself an almost mafia-like network which has so far been able to prevent his downfall.

Mandela's party destroying itself

Those outside the party can only rub their eyes in disbelief as the great liberation movement of the Luthulis, Tambos and Mandelas abandons its principles and ideals with such alacrity and destroys itself. Other liberation movements have taken half a century to accomplish that task. A number of upstanding ANC veterans are seeking to revive the old spirit of solidarity and inject new life into it. At closed-door party meetings, they speak candidly about their deep misgivings - the arrogant, disdainful conduct of the ANC leadership which is undermining the party's integrity. They also say it is wrong to allege that critics of Zuma are disloyal and complain that the leadership is jettisoning those values that were once the strength of the ANC such as tolerance, inclusiveness and respect for the opinions of others.

Deutsche Welle Claus Stäcker

Claus Stäcker is the head of Deutsche Welle's Africa service

ANC stalwarts are increasingly disassociating themselves from Zuma. They are veteran anti-apartheid activists, ex-fellow prisoners of Nelson Mandela, former and current government ministers. "Nkandlagate" - the scandal which enveloped Zuma over the state-funded refurbishment of his private residence - ended in a resounding rebuke for the president from the Constitutional Court. He will have to pay back 16 million euros ($14 million) from his private purse. Elsewhere, such an open breach of the constitution would have sufficed for a government leader to step down voluntarily.

Even at this late stage, that would still be the best option and it would enable the ANC to continue to exist as a broad-based popular movement. An even better option would have been for the ANC to oust Zuma, but that is an opportunity they have let slip by. The ANC was once capable of renewing itself, now as the party in power it has lost that ability. The National Executive Committee is split over the issue of Zuma, unfortunately along ethnic lines. Such divisons did not preoccupy the ANC in the past.

The third option is to carry on as before. The ANC's parliamentary majority continues to shield Zuma despite breaches of the constitution and dubious business alliances. The gap between the ANC and the rest of society will grow larger and it will continue to lose sight of its democratic standards, no doubt to the delight of the opposition. They will then have more time to burnish their image and lure civil society and some ANC supporters over to their side.

Democracy is bigger than the ANC

The ANC, hamstrung by its supposed "historic mission" and the arrogance of power, will probably settle for a compromise in which the name Zuma lives on. One possible scenario would involve Jacob Zuma departing relatively unobtrusively and handing over the reins to his ex-wife and ANC heavyweight Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Her term as chair of the African Union Commission ends in July and she has missed the March deadline for a bid for a second term. She would therefore be free in August. Unlike Cyril Ramaphosa, who has the backing of corporate South Africa, Dlamini-Zuma would be acceptable to all ANC factions. She is reputed to be a woman of integrity who gets things done. Her ex-husband's unhappy predicament could persuade her not to see him prosecuted. This could also be in the interests of the four children they share. Zuma would then retire to his scandal-ridden residence of Nkandla surrounded by his four wives, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's successors.

Dlamini Zuma would then face the mammoth task of restoring the ANC's credibility. She would certainly work for the greater good of South Africa's democratic culture, but the country is no longer dependent on just one party. The gaps left by the ANC will be filled and South Africa is at liberty to choose by whom. That's good news this Freedom Day from the Cape of Good Hope.