South African President Jacob Zuma gestures as he delivers a speech during the Fifth Annual Policy Conference in Johannesburg on June 30, 2017. (MUJAHID SAFODIEN/AFP/Getty Images)
South Africa’s embattled president Jacob Zuma, fighting to maintain control of his badly divided party, has launched a scathing attack on the court system that has often blocked his policies and overruled his actions.
Mr. Zuma opened a major policy conference of the ruling African National Congress by vilifying his political opponents and calling for “radical solutions” to redistribute land and boost the level of black ownership in the mining and banking industries.
His populist rhetoric is an attempt to win favour in the party’s grassroots, where there is growing discontent over South Africa’s persistently high unemployment and inequality. “We are not complete without the land and without the wealth of the country,” some ANC delegates sang in Zulu as the conference began on Friday.
South Africa has fallen into a recession this year and its unemployment rate is almost 28 per cent, with an unofficial rate of more than 50 per cent among the youngest job-seekers.
Mr. Zuma faces a non-confidence vote in South Africa’s parliament on Aug. 3, the third he has faced in the past two years. He is expected to survive, but it’s the latest sign of the rising opposition against him.
Newly leaked emails have provided fresh evidence of corruption at the highest levels of Mr. Zuma’s government, including personal benefits for his family. He has already been criticized by a growing number of ANC veterans, and courts have ruled that he violated the constitution in his response to a scandal over state money spent on his palatial village home.
As voters rebel against the corruption scandals, Mr. Zuma has sunk to new lows in the polls and the ANC has lost control of several major cities in local elections. Even the ANC’s national executive has debated whether Mr. Zuma should be forced to resign, although the proposal has so far always been defeated.
The ANC is divided over who should succeed Mr. Zuma at a December conference where he is due to step down from the party leadership. The Zuma faction is lobbying hard for the candidacy of his ex-wife, former African Union leader Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, while his opponents have coalesced around the deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa.
At the opening of the conference on Friday, there was loud applause for Mr. Ramaphosa, but there was equally noisy applause for the ANC women’s league, which strongly supports Ms. Dlamini-Zuma.
Many delegates sang songs of praise for Mr. Zuma, while his opponents made the soccer “substitution” gesture, signalling their desire for a change.
“The ANC is at its weakest point ever,” political analyst Susan Booysen said in a commentary this week. “Factional fallout is pushing the party to the verge of implosion.”
Acutely aware of the growing opposition, Mr. Zuma lashed out at the ANC veterans and at the courts, which have thwarted many of his policies, including his expensive nuclear-energy program and his efforts to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.
In his speech to the ANC conference, Mr. Zuma broke away from his prepared text to criticize the courts, portraying them as a form of minority rule and a threat to democracy.
The growing use of the courts by his opponents “undermines the simple logic of majority,” he said. “Why in a democracy must we spend money to go to court for everything?”
His salvo against the courts, accompanied by recent demands for changes in the constitution, have raised fears that Mr. Zuma wants to weaken any institution that could block his rule.
Mr. Zuma again departed from his text to attack the group of ANC veterans who have petitioned against him. “They think they have power over everything,” he complained, mocking their efforts.
But in the formal text of his speech – a compromise document, drafted by the party itself – Mr. Zuma admitted that the ANC is facing mounting dissatisfaction in the country. The party lost power in several cities last year because of perceptions that “we are soft on corruption, we are self-serving and the ANC is arrogant,” he said.
“The access to state power and resources has led to perceptions and allegations that the ANC is a corrupt organization…. The failure to respond adequately and timeously to allegations, and the length of time that it takes for investigations to be concluded, cause immense damage to the image of the government and the ANC.”