The ANC’s legacy is on the dock. Once a symbol of moral and political authority, the Zuma era saw the world-renowned liberation movement sink to embarrassing lows. Concern about the ANC’s ability to realize a prosperous post-apartheid South Africa, however, began long before the Zuma era. As poverty persisted and inequality deepened, so did the party’s national reputation, and belief in its promise of a “rainbow nation,” wane.1
Under the ANC’s watch, post-apartheid South Africa been characterized by deindustrialization, rising unemployment (26.7 percent in the third quarter of 20172), financialization and capital flight, wage repression, and growing household debt. South Africa remains the most unequal country in the world, with a Gini coefficient of 0.63 in 2015. The top percentile households hold 70.9 percent of national wealth while the bottom 60 percent holds a mere 7 percent. Today, 76 percent of South Africans face an imminent threat of falling below the poverty line.3 These are the figures behind daily, and increasingly violent, civil unrest.
Revisiting the history of the ANC’s capitulation to local and international business interests, and the devastation it has wracked on the South African economy, has been the subject of serious, contested, and ongoing analysis among scholars and activists. 4 For our purposes, it is only necessary to underscore the mood in the country and the eagerness with which ordinary people are reconsidering the legacy of the struggle. How is it that a liberation movement that promised so much, has fallen so short of its aims, producing a regime defined by corruption and “state capture”?