The Pugnacious Political on… the state of the Nation

I often err on the side of vocal caution when it comes to the politico-economic and social state of South Africa. But I herewith break my silence to discuss the state of the Nation.

The trait about South Africans I find most annoying is the ability to complain. South Africans invariably complain about everything, sometimes within reason, other times it is just merely an insufferable display of whiteness and general negativity. With that being said, I think there is a great deal to complain about at present if you understand the complexity, depth and severity of what is at hand. And often, particularly within white camps, valid complaints are shrouded by ignorance and overt racism.

South Africa is an impressive state and many tend to forget this. There are few states in history that have transcended the inevitable violent overthrow, and given the severe racial cleavages in South Africa, I still marvel at the ability of the country to have weathered that storm. In South Africa’s recent past, her infantile democracy has been tested and mostly she has survived. Relatively speaking, democracy has been around since Ancient Greece – very pure forms of democracy at that. Dēmos- the people, and kratia- power/rule both at an etymological level indicate that the power is truly vested within the people. In South Africa, the people have lost their voice due to their own complacency and impartiality. This may sound like a personal affront but run through this with me: we the people have elected and remained fairly quiet on the issue of a ruling party bereft with cronyism, incompetence and large-scale institutionalised corruption.

The African National Congress (ANC) at its core is a very impressive 104 year old political party (I suggest you read Alex Perry’s 2012 TIME article How the ANC lost its way). Initially started by cleric elites, it came to fore in the 1950s and 1960s as the mechanisms of Apartheid were engineered. The ANC charter, decidedly leftist, advocates a very fair and equitable society. This was the backbone, the air in the lungs of the ANC; it is what the ANC stalwarts used to propel the party out of political obscurity.  These stalwarts, few and far in between now due to advanced age or decision to withdraw from the public eye, are highly critical of the ANC as it stands. Among them, Desmond Tutu and Justice Malala who have bemoaned the state of the country. In fact, Malala said in his recent book: “One day you look around and realise that everything is broken, and that your country has been stolen.” In addition to this, academics such as Moeletsi Mbeki, former president Thabo Mbeki’s brother, was so scathing of the ANC that his books brought the ANC into total disrepute. Radically, he accused the ANC of keeping the masses uneducated in order to maintain their stranglehold on uneducated voters.

The ANC has lost its great statesmen: Mandela, a pacifist, was very much focused on human rights and extending South Africa’s reach into the wider world. The unsung hero, Mbeki, a true intellectual, did more for the African continent than the ANC or South Africa cares to recognise. He single handedly pushed for the idea of an African Renaissance, he tried to dwarf South Africa’s regional power status to comfort her neighbours to further encourage regional and continental cooperation.

Yet, he proved too intelligent for the changing face of the ANC. Politics can be a dirty game and the person in South Africa with the dirtiest hands of all is president Jacob Zuma. He and his cronies usurped Mbeki’s position, throwing out one of the great statesmen of our time in favour of populist politics.

Let’s discuss Zuma for a second: he is grossly underqualified to lead South Africa.  A lot of the time when people say “he is under-educated for the position” it evokes a poor reaction mainly because Bantu education purposefully under-educated majority groups so it is most understandable that a good deal of the older generations have substandard education, if anything. However, this is not enough to protect Zuma from the harsh reality that is he grossly underqualified to lead an entire country. In fact, Zuma has adopted a full (incorrect) Marxist approach to economics saying that he believes the price of commodities should depend on “the labour time taken in production.” Although admirably keeping with the leftist theme, the irrefutable fact here is that it is simply incorrect to base value on labour time as Marx would have had it. Rather, prices do actually depend on the forces of supply and demand. How is it, that the head of our country rejects the economic basis that governs the entire world? With that said, do not underestimate him, he is a shrewd political animal who has single-handedly managed to undermine a great deal of the very institutions his own political party fought so hard to have in the first place – it is heartbreakingly ironic.

Beyond this very obvious and severe problem, he is also unethical and immoral. He was charged with rape, a very serious offence and the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) charged him with 783 counts of fraud, corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion. Of what moral calibre, is a president who has that to his name? Centuries ago, Socrates was put to death in Ancient Greece for calling a spade a spade: he called the Greek democrats out on their poor governance, corruption and mismanagement. His teachings were “extreme and treasonous.” Years later, Plato wrote the trial of Socrates and asked some very poignant questions about the rule of people: when a democratic ruler is faced with political dissent, when does he crack down on it and when does he relent to change and calls for the of end his power? These questions haunt democracy today and in South Africa’s case, Zuma’s rape allegations are not the only violation in lieu of the crises here: the violation of democratic principles and institutions is so severe and quite frankly, morally reprehensible that I fear Socrates himself would have chosen the Greek democrats over Zuma’s presidency.

Your president does not respect you. He does not respect the people who elected him, of their own free will to lead them. He does not respect his very own political party that is his political birthplace and he sullies the name of the ANC, the reputation of great predecessors and stalwarts. He does not respect transparency, checks and balances, valid censure or even the very foundations on which our country is based. In June, according to South Africa’s signatory to the International Criminal Court (ICC), South Africa was obliged to extradite a wanted Sudanese war criminal, Omar al-Bashir. Mandela and Mbeki’s commitment to human rights led South Africa to join the ICC in order to reduce the saturation of world politics with demagogues and warlords.

In South Africa, we are lucky enough that our judiciary is separate from parliament and the presidency. This is just one of the very advanced and admirable results of the South African constitution, a setup which can safeguard our fledgling baby bird democracy. A high court ordered the government to extradite al-Bashir to The Hague and the presidency blatantly ignored a court order and flew al-Bashir out on a private jet back to Sudan. If anything, this is a flagrant disregard for international norms to which we have convened, human rights and above all else, the rule of law in the country – directed by none other than our hollow shell of man (to borrow here from Mmusi Maimane) of a president, Mr Zuma.

There are so many worrying events that have occurred in our hollow country in the last year. The economics of it are abysmal and I’ll save it for another time, but Zuma’s sheer disregard for our democracy is by far, the most horrific and underrated event since the end of apartheid. Upon visiting other African countries, Zuma returned and asked why he needed to be questioned by his parliament when his African counterparts are not. Why is he, the president, accountable to a marauding bunch of elected politicians? This is because South Africa’s democracy deserves respect, one of the most advanced constitutions demands it and so does our highly advanced civil society. Yet Zuma laughs off his accusations and censure in parliament as if he were the supreme leader.

Despite all this, we forget our own power. We sit in reverence of Zuma and what seems to be his unrelenting acquisition of political power and ultimately I am here to remind you that power lies vested in you, the people. Plato’s dilemma rings true here: to what extent can the ANC/government suppress political discontent and dissidence? Well, here I remind you – they cannot because constitutionally, we are enshrined with those very rights, lest we forget them.

2015 is a year that will go down in history. An economic commentator Magnus Heystek referred to 2015 as an annus horribilis – a term he borrows from Queen Elizabeth II (and here I suggest you read his article, 2015: SA’s Annus Horribilis, on Moneyweb). However, I disagree; it is the year that has the lit the flame of social discontent and I am so very excited for this year, 2016. In April 2015 Moeletsi Mbeki was quoted saying: “South Africa is bomb waiting to explode, all it needs is a little match to spark it and it will go up in flames.” This is precisely what happened, although the flame is, in my opinion, a catalyst for positive change.

People often criticise students for possessing ideas in line with political idealism but hear me out here: students and the youth in general are the most reflective of a society because they are the ones who need to have forward-looking considerations. Last year, the most beautiful thing happened: the vast student majority woke up, tentatively opened their eyes, some crawled out of sheltered white cages and others stepped out into the beautiful abyss of political radicalism. But what happened is so important because the flame has been lit under the belly of the most influential group in South Africa: the students – those who propel ideas forward, whose spindly idea fingers creep their way into households of every demographic. It is so reminiscent of the Berkeley student protests in the late 1960s and yes, there was confrontation with the police but good because it showed a country buckling under mass pressure. Apartheid’s demise really started when the 1980s became a time of mass protest and slowly but surely, the Platonic question came in: when do you stop suppressing the masses and make concessions? P.W. Botha’s reforms unraveled his own political system just as Gorbachev’s economic and social reforms married socio-political discontent in the 1990s to see the dissolution of a repressive communist regime.

The same is happening now but we just don’t have hindsight to see it, yet 2015 was the genesis of a piecemeal fundamental overhaul of such a government here, in South Africa. Zuma’s bowing to political pressure applied by students (recall Plato here) set a precedent: government will bend to mass protest. And again, when he stupidly removed Nene on the 9th of December 2015, and replaced him with a former Mayor van Rooyen (who was so hated that his house was torched by his own townsfolk), and then embarrassingly four days later reappointed a former, and more capable Gordhan. Once again, all Zuma has told us is that he will bow to our discontent; his stranglehold on power is loosening. The ANC is a party in political crisis: it is facing a leadership crisis so severe that even unguided an organisation like FIFA is thanking all the gods she knows. The ANC is so severely fragmented that it is becoming less and less politically viable. The only way South Africa will work is with a strong, principled, ethical, intelligent ANC and not this sham of a political party that shames and sullies the very face of South African democracy.

Yet now, we still sit, bitterly complaining about what has beset us but it is on us too for the sheer political complacency we have acquiesced. We have the most ripe chance to enrage the flames of discontent and overhaul a leadership of utter disgrace and incompetence but the power is with us, and we have seen that – it is so obvious yet we don’t fully recognise the beauty and strength of democracy.

I urge white South Africa to stop being so embarrassingly white and conjure up the strength to break your stereotype and stop complaining about petty, irrelevant issues and focus your attention on being the supportive aiding force in dismantling awfully repressive structures that dominate and pervade all areas of South African life. The structures of perpetuating white advantage and western narrative continue to mar the face of South Africa’s society yet so many people simply refuse to recognise its mere existence let alone effects and its self-perpetuating cyclical trends.  I also urge black South Africa to fight the battle you are fighting at current in ridding South African of supremacists, racists and all the racist structures that still beset our society (even if whites don’t recognise it yet), whilst still having the necessary and sufficient strength to accept that your guarantors of political freedom have failed you dismally and you need to direct your political discontent at that very leadership which has so bitterly failed you.

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