- - Thursday, May 15, 2014

South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) picked up another clear win last week, enabling the party of Nelson Mandela to continue the winning streak that began with the country’s first democratic elections in 1994. What isn’t clear is what the ANC should do with its current leader, President Jacob Zuma.

Under the nation’s parliamentary system, the party can select which of its members serves as president. Mr. Zuma’s tenure as head of state is a record of corruption and failed economic policies. His tone-deaf response to his critics and his unsettling personal life only exacerbates his problems.

Largely because of Mr. Zuma’s failings as president, the ANC’s popularity fell throughout South Africa. The party lost 15 seats in parliament and shed nearly 6 percent of the voters it had in the 2009 elections.

Before taking office, Mr. Zuma faced a rape trial, dodged a very compelling charge of abuse of power related to kickbacks from an arms merchant, was involved in a bribery scandal and was formally charged with corruption. He skated past racketeering, money laundering and fraud charges due to flawed prosecutors.

The presidency has been good to Mr. Zuma. South Africa contributed to a $25 million palace built on his property, and members of his family and close friends have landed plummy jobs. Mr. Zuma faces more than 700 charges of corruption, and the public is paying for his lawyers.

As a socialist, Mr. Zuma has brought South Africa’s once thriving economy to a halt. The value of the currency, the rand, is plummeting. Gross domestic product is growing at less than 2 percent a year and real unemployment is an astonishing 36 percent. A study by Transparency International ranks South Africa at No. 72 out of 175 countries in corruption, a drop of 17 spots since Mr. Zuma became president.

With South Africa working to forget its past and fall in line with First World culture, many South Africans are appalled that their polygamous president has four wives.

Mr. Zuma is living off the good will for the ANC created by Nelson Mandela, who is regarded as South Africa’s George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Mr. Mandela’s fiscally conservative successor, Thabo Mbeki, encouraged wealth and jobs for the poor in Johannesburg slums, the rich in Cape Town oceanfront mansions and those between.

Despite the party’s victory last week, the public seems to be weary of their leader. In the last major rally for the ANC before the election, half of the crowd of 100,000 people walked out during his speech. Six months earlier, at the same Johannesburg soccer stadium, South Africans roundly booed Mr. Zuma at the memorial service broadcast to the world.

The ANC has a chance now to appoint a new head of party and a new head of state. Just as America’s success was an important beacon of freedom and the economic engine for the rest of the world following World War II, South Africa can inspire and instruct the continent with a similar example. Before Mr. Zuma became president, the nation seemed prepared for the task. His record is evidence that he failed and that South Africa needs a new leader.