These two excellent books provide some clues about the prospects for South African democracy. Chipkin and his co-authors analyze the corruption scandals that helped bring down President Jacob Zuma in early 2018. They provide meticulous evidence that Zuma and his associates, most notably the Gupta family and its business empire, captured state institutions for personal gain. The book documents the influence peddling, rent seeking, insider trading, and corruption that helped turn the Guptas’ business into one of South Africa’s largest corporate empires. In the end, the justice system, key elements of the ruling African National Congress, and the press resisted capture and exposed the scandal. The book describes an alarming level of corruption inside the anc and the state bureaucracy, but that such a book could be published at all in South Africa is a cause for optimism.
If reform is going to happen, it will come from Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced Zuma as president in 2018. In this fascinating portrait of Ramaphosa, Hartley, a veteran South African journalist, describes the new president’s early years as a radical labor leader and then as the anc wunderkind who led the negotiations that ended apartheid. After the party prevented him from becoming Nelson Mandela’s heir, in favor of Thabo Mbeki, Ramaphosa left politics for a successful business career, taking advantage of policies that favored new black entrepreneurs. He returned to politics in 2014 as deputy president. Ramaphosa is no ideologue; Hartley describes him as a ruthless pragmatist. But he does seem genuinely animated by the original objectives of the anc: to create a modern and effective state dedicated to democracy and the fight against poverty. As president, Ramaphosa has moved to strengthen anticorruption institutions and ensure that Zuma cannot engineer a comeback. Hartley is more circumspect about Ramaphosa’s ability to reverse South Africa’s long economic decline, worrying that the party bosses will sabotage any reforms that attack their power and limit their graft.