The 'wasted Zuma years' narrative is misleading

It is important to critically analyse the tenures of the South African presidents since 1994 and what their contributions have bequeathed the people of SA, instead of singling out the Jacob Zuma years for all our current ills, the writer says.
It is important to critically analyse the tenures of the South African presidents since 1994 and what their contributions have bequeathed the people of SA, instead of singling out the Jacob Zuma years for all our current ills, the writer says.
Image: File

The time has come to interrogate the "Zuma nine wasted years" narrative, which seeks to suggest that the other years under different ANC presidents had been fruitful, and is at odds with the collective leadership mantra peddled by the same ANC.

This narrative gained traction since President Cyril Ramaphosa and finance minister Tito Mboweni publicly accused former president Jacob Zuma of overseeing nine wasted years of governance that brought about economic decline.

Zuma himself has countered this narrative by pointing out what he regards as successes of his presidency.

It is, however, important to critically analyse the tenures of the South African presidents since 1994 and what their contributions have bequeathed the people of SA.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela was inaugurated on May 10 1994 as the first black South African president.

Despite the ANC winning the elections with an outright majority, he formed the government of national unity with opposition parties .

From the outset, Mandela worked hard to protect the South African economy from collapse, following the crisis precipitated by apartheid.

In the first year of his presidency, the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP), was introduced as a socio-economic policy framework which aimed to address the socio-economic problems brought about by apartheid.

Initially, the government through the RDP, managed to fund job creation, housing and basic health care.

In 1996, Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) macroeconomic policy was introduced, aimed at the rapid liberalisation of the South African economy.

Central to Gear was economic growth of 6% by the year 2000 and employment growth above the increase in economically active population, among other economic goals. In 1998, the government announced that it intended to purchase arms and artillery with the aim to modernise its defence equipment.

The Strategic Defence Procurement Packages or the Arms Deal, as it came to be known, would be at an initial cost of R10,9bn of South African tax-payers' money.

With the ANC having become synonymous with corruption, the Arms Deal represents a milestone and a blot on Mandela's presidency.

Mandela retired from active politics in 1999 and was succeeded by Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki. During Mbeki's presidency, the economy grew at an average of 4.5% per annum and the middle class was expanded through the implementation of black economic empowerment. However, this failed to address unemployment among the unskilled bulk of the population.

Mbeki drew international opprobrium for his stance on Aids by questioning the link between HIV and AiDS. It is reported that his ban of anti-retroviral drugs in public hospitals is estimated to be responsible for the premature deaths of between 330,000 and 365,000 people.

When he was forced out of the presidency on 20 September 2008, Mbeki left a factionalised ANC, leading to the formation of COPE.

This unfortunately paved the way for the most disastrous experiment in leadership through the election of the uninspiring Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma first as ANC and subsequently the president of the republic.

The jury is still out on Ramaphosa's presidency, but it would be naïve to expect him to bring about organisational renewal to the 108-year-old ANC.

With the country still mired in myriad crises, including unemployment, poverty, violent crime and general lawlessness among others, it becomes clear that it is disingenuous to single out the Zuma years for all our current ills.

*Lee is a Sowetan reader

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