South African Crossroads

South African Crossroads

South Africa reaches a crossroads this weekend as the ruling African National Congress elects a new party leader. This is the person who will lead the ruling ANC into the next presidential election in 2019.


A quarter century from the end of apartheid, this country is in rough shape.

  • More than one-third of South Africans aged 15–35 are unemployed.
  • Unemployment is four times higher for black youth (40 percent) than for white youth (11 percent).
  • Just 30 percent of South African households qualify as “middle income.”
  • The average annual number of violent protests climbed from 21 between 2004 and 2008 to 164 from 2014 to 2016.

Why has this happened? Falling global demand for the gold, platinum, diamonds, and coal the country produces leaves its government with less money to invest in development, exacerbating problems created by the physical legacy of apartheid: the distance between the townships and rural areas where many black South Africans still live, on the one hand, and the schools and jobs that could help them escape poverty on the other. But the ANC must accept blame for corruption and lousy leadership. Jacob Zuma, president since 2009, faces 783 charges of corruption and racketeering.

ANC delegates will vote this weekend. The contenders are Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. Ramaphosa is a former trade unionist turned successful businessman. He leads an ANC faction that recognizes the need to balance moves to transfer more of the country’s economy and land into black hands with a consistent effort to maintain investor confidence. Dlamini-Zuma is former chair of the African Union Commission, former health minister, former foreign minister, and Zuma’s former wife. She heads a faction of the ANC that wants to protect its privileges and keep Jacob Zuma out of jail.

Keep in mind that South Africans under 30 are too young to remember apartheid. For them, the ANC is not the party of liberation but the party of power. It’s not the party that brought change; it’s the party that resists change. That’s part of why it’s not clear that either candidate can lead the ANC to victory in 2019, leaving the Democratic Alliance in position to lead the first non-ANC government since the end of apartheid.

The ANC’s credibility and future are on the line this weekend. The vote will be close. By Monday, we should know who won.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here from sunny Nantucket and going to be here for a little bit. Thought we would talk about the latest on COVID. Certainly, we had hoped we'd be talking less about it at this point, at least in terms of the developed world. A combination of the transmissibility of Delta variant and the extraordinary misinformation around vaccines and COVID treatment means that we are not in the position that many certainly had hoped we would be today.

The United States is the biggest problem on this front. We are awash in vaccines. Operation Warp Speed was an enormous success. The best vaccines in the world, the most effective mRNA, the United States doing everything it can to get secure doses for the entire country quick, more quickly than any other major economy in the world, and now we're having a hard time convincing people to take them. The politics around this are nasty and as divided as the country, absolutely not what you want to see in response to a health crisis.

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Alcohol. It's a dangerous drug that has ruined countless lives and derailed many a global summit. But it's also humanity's oldest social lubricant, a magical elixir that can fuel diplomatic breakthroughs, well into the wee hours of the night. As Winston Churchill once quipped, "I've taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me." On GZERO World, we take a deep dive down the bottle and examine the role alcohol has played in society, politics, and global summitry—from the earliest hunter-gatherer days to that memorable Obama Beer Summit in 2009. Joining Ian Bremmer is philosopher Edward Slingerland, whose new book Drunk: How We Sipped, Danced, and Stumbled Our Way Into Civilization makes a compelling, if nuanced, case for alcohol's place in the world.

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GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

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Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal