Stiff-necked apartheid high priests had their problems but none of them contemplated the type of weird political culture the ANC and President Zuma are foisting on post-apartheid South Africa!
Few eyebrows would have been raised were Mr. Jacob Zuma the life-president of any of the several banana republics that dot the African continent. But this is Africa’s reputed rainbow nation and the continent’s undisputed economic hub. Hell! This is Steve Biko’s country and this is the South Africa Ruth First and many prominent anti-apartheid fighters died for. Yes, this is the same country Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Cyril Ramaphosa and many others spent decades in jail for! This is the country that reminds you of South West Township, better known as Soweto.
Two decades after it threw off the yoke of apartheid, South Africa is once again under siege. This has less to do with racial malpractices of Dutch settlers since 1650 but more with victims of their 350-year misrule that ended effectively in 1994. The world must not pretend democracy is at work in South Africa. This has nothing to do with democracy and the world must bestir itself to save South Africa from ideological turncoats holding it by the jugular.
The way they are going about it, the ruling African National Congress, ANC, and its poster-boy, President Zuma, have thrown caution to the wind by consistently acting in a manner that suggests South Africa is headed for a second war of liberation. But authentic voices in the anti-apartheid struggle are warning of the dangers ahead. Just before the parliament gave President Zuma his recent clean bill, foundations named in honour of Oliver and Adelaide, Nelson Mandela and Ahmed Kathrada called on parliamentarians “to take urgent corrective action in the best interest of South Africa and its peoples”. The call was simply ignored!
At issue is the scandal that surrounds a controversial security upgrade at the Nkandla country home of the president in 2012. At the time, some opposition political parties and concerned South Africans had lodged a complaint with the Office of the Public Protector alleging misuse of state funds. Those fears were confirmed by the report of the Public Protector that was released in March 2014. A superior court that heard the complaint directed President Zuma to refund part of the $16 million he unduly benefitted from. The amount involved is to be determined by South African Treasury and state security officials.
Unsurprisingly, the ANC voted down an attempt to remove the president from office. This is not the first time the ANC would rise in defence of President Zuma’s excesses and, if history is a good guide, it is not going to be the end. Curiously, the world is playing the bat as the increasingly-bungling ANC pushes the country to the edge by propping up the intolerably-controversial and scandal-prone Zuma presidency. Not even a stiff-necked apartheid high priest like John Vorster could have contemplated the type of twisted political culture the ANC and President Zuma are foisting on post-apartheid South Africa.
The foundation for South Africa’s slide was laid in 2007 when Mr. Zuma clawed his way to the powerful presidency of the ANC. For Mr. Zuma, the ANC presidency was an opportunity to get even with then president, Thabo Mbeki, who tried to clip Mr. Zuma’s wings by dismissing him from his cabinet position in 2005 after Mr. Zuma was implicated in a scandal. Barely one year as ANC president, Mr. Zuma who enlisted in the bush war as a teenager forced Mr. Mbeki to resign from the presidency in September 2008. Eight months later, Mr. Zuma, as presidential candidate of the ANC, led the party to an easy victory. Things have continued to fall apart since Mr. Zuma took over after the May 2009 general elections.
Mr. Zuma is not new to challenges and controversy could as well be his middle name. As a young man with no formal education, the budding anti-apartheid struggle appeared the only way for him. After joining Umkhonto We Sizwe, the military wing of the ANC, Zuma received military training at ANC camps in several southern African countries and occasionally sneaked into South Africa to participate in insurgency against the apartheid regime. It was during one of the operations that Zuma was arrested and jailed for 10 years.
The return of black majority rule in 1994 was all Mr. Zuma needed to advertise his recklessness. As a parliamentarian in 2004, he was fingered in a scandal that involved Schabir Shaik, a businessman and Zuma’s ally who was jailed in 2006 for taking bribes from arms deals which he allegedly channeled to Mr. Zuma. Critics who called on Mr. Zuma to resign as deputy president of ANC were disappointed when the Congress for South Africa Trade Unions, COSATU, joined in the defence of Mr. Zuma who, on the gravity of the offence, resigned his seat in parliament but retained his post as deputy president of ANC.
While the Nkandla scandal raged, President Zuma caused another uproar when he appointed three finance ministers within 72 hours to highlight what critics referred to as the extent of influence-peddling in the government. The drama that came to be known as “four days of long knives” began on December 9, 2015 when die-hard Zuma-loyalist and parliamentarian, David Van Rooyen, replaced Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister. Among Nene’s crimes was his opposition to further subsidy of the national carrier as well as increasing the size of the presidential fleet and his refusal to assent to huge investments in a nuclear facility. More damning revelations came hot in the heels of the drama!
A former ANC member of parliament Ms. Vytjie Mentor revealed that a prominent Indian family known as the Guptas promised her a ministerial post on condition she would drop the India route on the flight schedule of the national carrier when she took office. Within hours, deputy finance minister, Mcebisi Jones, also revealed that he rejected the offer of substantive finance minister by the same Indian family. Then a former cabinet spokesperson, Themba Maseko, also alleged President Zuma requested him to find ways of helping the Gupta family. Naturally, South Africans began to worry that their country was under siege.
South Africa has many indigenous Indian families but the Guptas is not one of them. In fact, the Guptas, probably at the insistence of Mr. Zuma, arrived in South Africa fifteen years ago and has made giant strides only possible with a string-pulling benevolent godfather. The family is involved in IT, media and mining among others. Of course, President Zuma’s family is represented in the octopoid Gupta family business by his 33-year old son, Duduzane, who resigned his non-executive directorship when the latest scandal broke.
If South Africans needed proof of how well connected The Guptas are, they got one in April 2013 when authorities simply turned a blind eye as the Guptas breached state security by landing a private jet, filled with wedding guests, at an Air Force Base near Pretoria! South Africans were aghast and soon, those who pressured government to wield the big stick were silenced and dubbed enemies of state by the normally-vibrant official propaganda machinery.
The way things are, South Africans only need to take another look at the smooth face of their president to appreciate the real danger he represents. At this point in time, what South Africans need is a level-headed, non-controversial and transparent leader and not a man with unrestrained libido, a man who has no scruple when it comes to women and a man who engages in macabre dances in public each time he makes a new catch. Was it not this same Mr. Zuma who, in 2005, confessed to adultery and was accused of raping a woman he knew was HIV positive?
If Mr. Zuma does not know it, he should be told by those who have his ears that his name stands for honey in the Hausa, a language widely spoken in West Africa. It’s a gamble, but the realization may encourage President Zuma to refrain from acts that leave a bitter taste in the mouth.
* Abdurazaq Magaji ([email protected]) writes from Abuja, Nigeria.
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