Ramaphosa powerless to stem SA unrest, study finds

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa lacks the authority within the ruling African National Congress to contain growing civil unrest as its competing factions vie for influence, positions, state contracts and dwindling resources, a new study has found.

The number of protests staged annually in the country has doubled to more than 1,000 since Ramaphosa took office in early 2018, two months after he secured the leadership of the ANC by a razor-thin margin, according to the study by the Institute for Security Studies and the Government and Public Policy think tank.

Violence reached a pinnacle in July last year, when former President Jacob Zuma’s arrest on contempt of court charges triggered rioting that claimed 354 lives.

The increase in instability suggests Ramaphosa does not wield as much control over the ANC as Zuma did, and is unable or unprepared to use violence and patronage to the same extent to enforce his authority, according to Ivor Chipkin, Jelena Vidojević, Laurence Rau and Daniel Saksenberg, who authored the study.

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The party’s slipping stranglehold over South African politics has also deprived it of the means to dispense state resources – the ANC yielded control of several key towns to the opposition in last year’s municipal elections as its share of the vote slipped to below 50% for the first time since it took power in 1994.

“South Africa is likely to have entered a phase of ongoing, violent instability.” The ANC “has fewer resources for patronage politics,” said the authors, who also attributed the unrest to worsening unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Competition for municipal councilor posts in towns where few other jobs are available has frequently degenerated into violence, while scores of ANC officials have been gunned down in intra-party disputes, especially in the eastern KwaZulu-Natal province and northeastern Mpumalanga region.

Read: Police and intelligence services failed to foresee, disrupt July riots, report says

The ANC is due to hold another internal vote in December, when Ramaphosa is widely expected to seek another five-year term as leader.

That also does not bode well for restoring stability, with the study identifying a correlation between its staging of elections and periods of intense protests.

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