John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Remarks on Morning in South Africa

by John Campbell
Wild flowers bloom on Cape Town's Table Mountain heralding the coming southern hemisphere spring, August 19, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings) Wild flowers bloom on Cape Town's Table Mountain heralding the coming southern hemisphere spring, August 19, 2015. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

The following text is the entirety of John Campbell’s speech delivered as part of the Department of State’s Ralph J Bunche Library Series, on June 8, 2016. 

From a certain perspective, South Africa is a mess. Many South Africans are disappointed by the way the country has seemingly squandered its promise as the ‘Rainbow Nation.’ Under the Jacob Zuma presidential administration, the country is treading water with respect to poverty and addressing the lasting consequences of apartheid. Corruption is rife. You can read all about it in the Mail and Guardian or the Daily Maverick. Read more »

U.S. Congressional Delegation Visits South Africa

by John Campbell
Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) smiles after being ceremonially sworn in at the US Capitol in Washington, November 15, 2010. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst) Senator Christopher Coons (D-DE) smiles after being ceremonially sworn in at the US Capitol in Washington, November 15, 2010. (Reuters/Jonathan Ernst)

To commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of Robert F. Kennedy’s “Ripples of Hope” speech at the University of Cape Town, a congressional delegation (codel) visited South Africa the last week of May. It was led by Representative John Lewis, Democrat of Georgia and an icon of the American civil rights movement; Senator Chris Coons, Democrat of Delaware; and Kerry Kennedy, daughter of the late Senator Kennedy and the president of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, a U.S. based non-profit organization. Read more »

South Africa’s Land “Expropriation Bill”

by John Campbell
A Muslim man stands next to iftar (breaking fast) meal plates on the first day of Ramadan in India, at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi, India July 7, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko) A Muslim man stands next to iftar (breaking fast) meal plates on the first day of Ramadan in India, at the Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) in the old quarters of Delhi, India July 7, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

There is less than meets the eye to the South African parliament’s passage at the end of May of a land reform bill, called the “Expropriation Bill.” Ostensibly, the new legislation has some similarity to law of eminent domain in the United States. The new legislation would permit the government to take land for a “public purpose,” but (as in the United States) South African landowners would be compensated with an amount determined by a new ‘valuer general.’ The new legislation replaces the “willing buyer, willing seller” principle of land reform. Read more »

Rugby, Race, and South Africa

by John Campbell
Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula (2nd R) gestures after the appointment of the new Springboks rugby coach Allister Coetzee (2nd L) as the president of South African Rugby Union Oregan Hoskins (L) and the CEO of South African Rugby Union Jurie Roux look on in Randburg, outside Johannesburg, April 12, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko) Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula (2nd R) gestures after the appointment of the new Springboks rugby coach Allister Coetzee (2nd L) as the president of South African Rugby Union Oregan Hoskins (L) and the CEO of South African Rugby Union Jurie Roux look on in Randburg, outside Johannesburg, April 12, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

South Africa’s sporting record is outstanding. The country regularly produces world-class performances in golf, tennis, cricket, rugby, and soccer (‘football’). As with much else, sports in South Africa are shaped by race. Under apartheid, like everything else, sports were strictly segregated by race. White South Africans, especially, were ‘sports mad,’ and felt keenly the imposition of sporting sanctions as part of the world wide anti-apartheid campaign. Of the two mass spectator sports, rugby was ‘white’ while soccer was ‘black.’ Other sports, such as tennis and golf, were almost exclusively play by white South Africans. Read more »

Morning in South Africa

by John Campbell
From the cover of Morning in South Africa, a book written by John Campbell. From the cover of Morning in South Africa, a book written by John Campbell.

My new book on South Africa is now available in hardcover and Kindle. The book’s core argument is that despite the corruption and incompetency of the Zuma administration combined with slow economic growth, the country’s democratic institutions are strong enough to weather the current period of poor governance. Read more »

South Africa’s Currency Falls Again on Rumors of Finance Minister’s Arrest

by John Campbell
South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan gestures during a media briefing in Sandton near Johannesburg, March 14, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko) South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan gestures during a media briefing in Sandton near Johannesburg, March 14, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

On May 15, the Sunday Times (English, Johannesburg) published rumors of the impending arrest of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan over alleged revenue service irregularities. However, on May 16, Beeld (Afrikaans, Johannesburg) reported that President Zuma denied the Sunday Times report. Nevertheless, the South African national currency, the rand (ZAR), fell the following two days, reaching its weakest level in two months; it has fallen 2.1 percent against the U.S. dollar since March 15. Read more »

South Africa and Iran Aim to Resume Strong Trade Relationship

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 26, 2016. (Reuters/Faisal Mahmood) Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Islamabad, Pakistan, March 26, 2016. (Reuters/Faisal Mahmood)

Tyler Falish is an intern for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program, and a student in Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy & Development.

South African President Jacob Zuma was in Iran for a two-day state visit on April 24 and 25. While in Tehran, Zuma and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed eight bilateral trade agreements as part of a commitment to increase non-oil trade between the two countries. Trade between the two nations plummeted after the imposition of expanded sanctions on Iran by the U.S., EU, and UN. According to UN Comtrade, in 2012—the most recent year of significant trade between the two countries—trade was valued at approximately $1.3 billion. By comparison, bilateral trade in 2015 totaled only $30 million. Read more »

South African President Zuma’s Legal Problems Unlikely to Drive Him From Office

by John Campbell
Protesters call for the removal of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma as the country commemorates the anniversary the country's first democratic elections in Cape Town, April 27, 2016. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings) Protesters call for the removal of South Africa's President Jacob Zuma as the country commemorates the anniversary the country's first democratic elections in Cape Town, April 27, 2016. (Reuters/Mike Hutchings)

South Africa’s High Court has ruled against the president yet again. It has determined that the prosecutor’s decision to drop 783 charges of corruption against Zuma should be reviewed. According to the BBC, Judge Aubrey Ledwaba characterized the 2009 decision to drop the charges as “irrational.” The ruling allows the National Prosecuting Authority to reinstate the charges, though it is unclear whether it will do so. Nevertheless, once again, South Africa’s judiciary has demonstrated its independence from the executive. Read more »

The Likelihood of Instability in Zimbabwe

by Guest Blogger for John Campbell
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures as he arrives to address Zimbabwe's Independence Day celebrations in Harare, April 18, 2016.(Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo) Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures as he arrives to address Zimbabwe's Independence Day celebrations in Harare, April 18, 2016.(Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo)

Tyler Falish is an intern for the Council on Foreign Relations Africa Studies program, and a student in Fordham University’s Graduate Program in International Political Economy & Development.

Last spring, the Council on Foreign Relations published a Contingency Planning Memorandum (CPM) by Ambassador George F. Ward that described the potential for political instability and violence in Zimbabwe. Amb. Ward detailed three paths to instability in Zimbabwe: President Robert Mugabe’s death before an appointed successor is installed; a serious challenge to Mugabe’s control driven by increased factionalism; and an economic crisis triggering demand for political change. He also offered three corresponding “warning indicators”: any sign that Mugabe’s health is in decline; indication of increased dissent or infighting within the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF); and public unrest. Read more »

Fissures Within South Africa’s Governing Party

by John Campbell
Supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) wave a party flag during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg, South Africa, January 9, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko) Supporters of the African National Congress (ANC) wave a party flag during the party's 104th anniversary celebrations in Rustenburg, South Africa, January 9, 2016. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)

South Africa’s governing African National Congress (ANC) has long been a big tent, with its membership united by opposition to apartheid and, less salient, support for “nonracial” democracy. Conventional wisdom has seen the ANC membership, policy, and electoral support as revolving around four poles or tendencies:  the “democrats,” devoted to Nelson Mandela’s vision of nonracial democracy and the protection of human rights; the South African Communist Party (SACP), in many ways a Marxist party of a generation ago in Western Europe, but also devoted to a nonracial state; the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), which promotes the interests of the country’s “labor aristocracy” rather than the unskilled unemployed; and the “Africanists,”  those who want a redistribution of wealth from whites to blacks and an assertion of black identity that recalls the Black Power movement in the United States. (Many of them would drop the nonracial modifiers of democracy.) Depending on the issue, support varies for each of these “tendencies,” and there is substantial overlap. In any event, however sliced and diced, the ANC is likely to remain intact to contest the August provincial and local government elections. Read more »