Op-ed

The Lame Duck President

By Ryan Brunette

South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, is a lame duck. On December 18 2017, Cyril Ramaphosa, Zuma’s deputy, was elected president of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), placing him on a trajectory toward the state presidency. Zuma, clearly unable to threaten this eventuality, has lost support, as erstwhile allies jockey for position around his successor. Seizing the initiative, Ramaphosa has instead activated political and legal processes that will remove Zuma before the end of his term in mid-2019 and purge the more visible of his illicit networks from the state. This moment prompts reflection upon the Zuma presidency, and the prospects of Ramaphosa. It should however be recognized that though much is made of differences in personal qualities between these two figures, presidencies are defined by the possibilities of the broader political regimes that constitute them. And in this respect Ramaphosa, much like Zuma before him, finds himself in the unenviable position of presiding over a regime that is in crisis and terminal decline.

Political regimes involve obdurate commitments of ideology and interest. The ANC articulates an ongoing “national democratic revolution,” which posits black South Africans as the motive forces undoing the negative legacies of white colonialism, while establishing a liberal democratic society, reconciling through restitution with the country’s white minority.

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