It seems South Africa’s ruling ANC has taken a pro-tobacco stance. The government’s stance on tobacco is very clear: tobacco causes cancer, and it’s bad for you. Smoking kills. It’s time we all take smoking seriously. If you smoke, there is help. Quit smoking. Every day. The South African government has become the first government in the world to ban the advertising of cigarettes. No one will tell you how to smoke or how to buy cigarettes. There is no place to buy cigarettes or smoke in South Africa now.

The ANC held its elective conference in Mangaung over the weekend and the results are in. The ANC is in disarray and unravelling. The growing pains of a new democracy are beginning to show as the ANC must now choose which of its members to throw under the bus in order to save itself.

The ANC’s traditional supporters have been hoping that the party will finally manage to find the right path to success. But the question is, can the ANC transition from an activist-movement to a government, and one that is able to deliver the goods? It’s a big challenge.

Will-South-Africas-ANC-Get-the-Message

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa visits looted neighborhoods in Durban, South Africa, on July 16.

baba jiyane/gcis handout/Shutterstock baba jiyane/gcis handout

In South Africa, a week of severe violence and looting has come to an end. The cost of the chaos is still being calculated, but at least 276 people died, some of them were crushed to death in stampedes, and the economic loss is expected to be in the billions of millions. Looting and arson devastated the country’s health system, which was already stumbling under the weight of the Covid-19 epidemic. For days, major roads and a train connection were closed.

Because the riots are just a few days old, identifying their “what” and “why” is challenging. The detention of the country’s former President Jacob Zuma, who had been summoned to testify before a committee probing corruption, was the catalyst. He has reason to be concerned about an investigation. According to his successor, President Cyril Ramaphosa, the nation may have lost more than $34 billion to corruption during his nine-year rule. One of the most well-known scandals included accusations that members of the rich Gupta family bought so much power in Mr. Zuma’s administration that they bartered cabinet posts.

The root reasons of the disturbance remain unknown. Mr. Zuma, like all other South African presidents since apartheid ended in 1994, was also the leader of the governing African National Congress. He became a political liability as a result of the corruption scandals that engulfed him and the recession-prone economy that he ruled over, and the ANC pushed him out in 2018. However, a group of Zuma supporters has continued to fight Mr. Ramaphosa for power. Mr. Zuma’s arrest, as well as the suspension from the party of one of Mr. Zuma’s strongest supporters, was a win for Mr. Ramaphosa.

The administration of President Cyril Ramaphosa blames Zuma loyalists for the unrest. Authorities claimed last week that they had identified 12 ringleaders in a “deliberate, organized, and well-planned assault” on South Africa’s democracy, which Mr. Ramaphosa described as “deliberate, coordinated, and well-planned.” There’s a smidgeon of truth in it. Certain pro-Zuma speakers openly advocated for violence, and some infrastructure assaults seemed to be planned.

However, the magnitude and severity of the disturbance point to a larger issue. Without the tinder supplied by the ANC’s decades-long mismanagement of the nation, Mr. Ramaphosa’s political opponents would not have been able to light portions of South Africa on fire. During the HIV pandemic in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the ANC-led government’s incompetence cost more than 330,000 South African lives. Black Economic Empowerment, the government’s aggressive affirmative action policy, has benefited a tiny group of affluent black South Africans while discouraging investment. The unemployment rate of 30% has remained virtually constant since 1994, but young unemployment has risen to an alarming 74 percent. Blackouts are frequent in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

Some of the country’s economic difficulties are linked to the ANC’s corruption. Mr. Zuma’s detention was notable in part because top ANC leaders are seldom prosecuted for the large-scale stealing that some of them engage in. Mr. Zuma’s alleged theft of $34 billion amounted to roughly a tenth of South Africa’s gross domestic product, a catastrophic loss in a nation where many people remain poor. Officials have plundered and mishandled state-owned businesses to the point that their debt has engulfed the whole economy. Even the Covid-19 relief money have been subject to government officials’ embezzlement.

It’s conceivable that the ANC will take a hard look at itself in the wake of last week’s outpouring of rage and crime. Mr. Ramaphosa promises to fight corruption and make his nation more investment-friendly, despite the fact that he has supervised few major changes. If his agenda has been hampered by a lack of authority over his party so far, his chance may have finally come. He may emerge from this crisis with more support from South Africans horrified by the violence and his ANC opponents humiliated, providing him political capital to attempt to root out corruption. If he pushes for changes that require the ANC to surrender some influence over the economy, like as splitting up and privatizing state-owned businesses, that would be a significant indication of his ambitions.

There is a risk that the ANC chooses a different path and uses the crisis as an excuse to engage even more heavily in the economy. The ANC has a strong statist current—its 2015 policy document declared that the Chinese Communist Party’s economic policy should be viewed as a “guiding lodestar”—and it is currently considering controversial policies that could erode property rights and scare off investment at a time when it is most needed. Expect further upheaval if it does, and if it continues to defend its corrupt members.

Mr. Meservey is the senior policy analyst for Africa and the Middle East at the Heritage Foundation.

Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson, Mary O’Grady, and Dan Henninger provide their picks for the best and worst of the week in the Journal Editorial Report. Virgin Galactic/EPA/Shutterstock/Getty Images/Virgin Galactic/EPA/Shutterstock/Getty Images Mark Kelly’s composite

Copyright ©2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

The print version of the July 22, 2021, was published.

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