Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela V Zuma

Tainted: President Jacob Zuma is the embodiment of how the African National Congress, the oldest liberation movement in the world, has rotted from within 



Yesterday, I telephoned an old friend in Johannesburg to commiserate with her about the death of Nelson Mandela. What depressed her, she said, was not so much the passing of her 95-year-old political hero, but having to watch his successor announce it to the world.

‘To see Jacob Zuma standing there in front of the TV cameras made me feel sick,’ she said. ‘He is the absolute opposite of everything Mandela believed in and lived for.’

 As the world watches the Mandela obsequies being played out, a preening President Zuma will be the awful spectre at the wake, escorting presidents, prime ministers and princes around the ceremonies.

He is the embodiment of how the African National Congress, the oldest liberation movement in the world, has rotted from within and abandoned its founding principles as the defender of the poor and powerless black majority. 
Tainted: President Jacob Zuma is the embodiment 
of how the African National Congress, 
the oldest liberation movement in the 
world, has rotted from within.

On the very day that Mandela died, a crisis was approaching in a long-running scandal about £14.5 million of state money used to upgrade Zuma’s private home in a dirt-poor part of rural Zululand.

 Nkandla - before.

 Nkandla - after.

After colluding with Zuma in keeping an official report into the project secret, the ANC this week gave in to pressure and said South Africans do indeed have the right to know how their money was spent.

It is likely that the opposition in Parliament will make token efforts to impeach Zuma, but equally certain that because the public is so inured to corruption, he will be re-elected president in next year’s elections.

Not that Zuma is alone in funnelling state money for his own benefit. Today in South Africa, no road is built, no hole dug, no airport terminal extended without the payment of kickbacks to the politically well-connected.

In life, Mandela — who, as a foreign correspondent, I watched walk free from prison near Cape Town on February 11, 1990 — held his nation together. 

Today the country faces uncertainty. 

As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said this week: ‘What is going to happen to us now our father has died?’

True, Mandela was scarcely well for the past five years or so, but that did not matter, for his very presence — weak as he was — served as a restraining force against those who might push too far against the ideals of the transition to democracy.

When he lived, he was a symbol of hope, and a warning of what might have been had the last white President F.W. de Klerk not had the courage to free him, and had Mandela lacked the grace to reciprocate with peace and reconciliation.

In a conscious disavowal of Mandela’s pleas for non-violence and non-racialism, Zuma peppers political rallies with performances of an old ANC guerrilla song, Bring Me My Machine Gun. 

This is a man who was acquitted on rape charges after explaining to the judge that the alleged victim was wearing a short skirt: ‘In Zulu culture, you cannot leave a woman if she is ready.’
When it was pointed out that the woman was known to be HIV positive and that Zuma had not used a condom, he famously explained that he had taken the precaution of showering after the act.

Since Mandela retired as president in 1999, South Africa has plunged down the international rankings of good governance. 

A recent survey found that very nearly half the South Africans who required a service from a government official in the past year had been required to pay a bribe. If township dwellers want a water pipe extended to their home, they have to grease palms. 

In the Johannesburg suburbs, the police set up road blocks next to cashpoint machines so motorists can readily get money for the bribes to avoid having to waste hours at the police station on trumped-up driving charges.

These hazards may seem relatively trivial. We are talking about Africa, after all, not some immaculately democratic Swiss canton. 

And, for sure, most South Africans still feel an overpowering sense of relief that their just departed leader steered the ship of state away from racial warfare when he was released from prison nearly 24 years ago. 

Yet still, the downward trajectory is disturbing. And the great fear, now that Mandela is no longer there, is that South Africa could spiral ever more rapidly  into decline. 

We in Europe must take our share of blame for the country’s embedded corruption. Much of it was established as far back as 1998, when our defence companies offered tens of millions of pounds in bribes to secure contracts as the South African government under Mandela sought to upgrade its weapons capacity.

The foreign arms companies polluted the South African political well, and ever since it has been getting more and more toxic. The result of this rampant corruption is that South Africans — especially the young — are increasingly rejecting the political process. 
Matters are not helped by the fact that there are no jobs for millions of young South Africans who complain the ANC now entrenches for the black elite what apartheid did for whites. It is true that the old apartheid state was corrupt. Sanctions, and the secrecy they impose on all manner of trading deals, are always a great boon to the corrupt officials looking for a backhander.

It was also, as we know, brutally repressive. I lived in South Africa for much of the Eighties, and I’ll never forget the police commander who was asked by a foreign journalist whether it was strictly necessary for his men to fire live rounds at  protesting school children who were hurling bricks.

‘When they throw rubber rocks at us, my men will fire rubber bullets at them,’ the commander replied, as though the journalist was just a little bit dim.

What is so depressing today is how much of that abhorrent apartheid mind-set has survived the transition to black majority rule. The South African police always used to be brutal in apartheid days. 

Today, they are not only brutal — they are corrupt from top to bottom.

Compelling evidence is now emerging that 34 striking miners killed last year at the Marikana platinum mine in the north of the country were actually the victims of a pre-planned police ambush. 

In the worst traditions of South Africa in the apartheid era, this grotesque police massacre was obscured from public view as long as possible by the authorities. 

According to a recent survey, the two least respected groups in South Africa are the police and the judiciary. 

When criminals are caught and charged, the wealthy can find a way to bribe the police and prosecutors to ensure they never go to court.

For years, South Africans have fretted about their country after Mandela, and worried what the future will bring. 

When Mandela walked free from jail, white South Africans worried the country could be convulsed by mayhem. They thought, or at least they claimed to think, that black South Africans would indulge themselves in an orgy of tribal violence, pitching tribes such as the Zulu and Xhosa against each other.

It did not happen then, and will not happen now. South Africa will not descend into total chaos; it will not ‘collapse’. 

But even under a man with the skill, charm, and steel of Mandela, the country came perilously close to disaster. 

And it is impossible to see how it can do anything but become more dangerous, more corrupt, and more impoverished under the shabby leadership of a ‘100 per cent Zulu boy’.

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