by Hannes Wessels
Last week cyclone Idai hit central Mozambique and caused the worst natural disaster to hit the sub-continent in living memory. Beira, the country’s second biggest city and port to Zimbabwe and beyond has been obliterated. Roads and bridges have been destroyed. Over half a million people are trapped and thousands have died and many more will perish. The storm has also wreaked havoc in Zimbabwe’s Eastern Highlands.
The Frelimo government has misruled since 1975 and barely maintains Beira’s Portuguese-built infrastructure, let alone improves it. It seems highly unlikely this once bustling city will ever be resuscitated. For economically crippled Zimbabwe (having shot itself in both feet through atrocious governance and the abolition of property rights) the closure of this vital fuel and food lifeline may have terminal consequences.
To the south, South Africa, the continental, industrial and manufacturing powerhouse seems set to follow Venezuela’s road to rack and ruin. In a show of solidarity with the Maduro regime, the ANC recently sent a delegation under Secretary General Ace Magashule, to investigate the ‘particularly alarming’ influence of ‘external interference’ with a veiled reference to the United States. Just what they actually got to see is not known because Venezuela’s electrical power has collapsed, plunging the country into chaos. Ironically, at the same time Magashule and his entourage were sharing their socialist wisdom with the Venezuelans, darkness descended back home in South Africa. The citizenry have been told to hope for the best and expect the worst.
The reasons behind these failures in both Venezuela and South Africa are the same: the forced exodus of skilled personnel, corruption on a gargantuan scale and gross incompetence at every level of operations. The difference is, while South America can survive Venezuela’s total collapse, it’s unlikely southern Africa will survive South Africa’s melt-down.
Reports are confusing and conflicting, but reliable information suggests ESKOM, the monopoly power-utility is presently running at below 50% capacity. The myriad problems are chronic and way beyond any short-term solutions. With the likelihood of a total shut-down of the country’s power-grid, this may be the prelude to total economic collapse and a sub-continental, economic and human catastrophe.
While running out of power, lawlessness is rampant countrywide and the prosecuting authority is paralyzed. The police are outgunned, out-manoeuvred and outnumbered. Land-grabs are set to start soon. President Ramaphosa’s repeated calls to combat crime and curb corruption are sounding increasingly hollow. Institutional looting is everywhere. The announcement of the candidate list for the upcoming general election in May includes virtually all the ‘usual suspects’ from the Zuma era.
This is all so very sad. Having been part of a generation raised in a country imbued with a culture predicated on taking great care to preserve and protect whatever assets we had, to nurture what could grow and build on whatever platforms were available, no matter how flimsy, all this destruction is deeply disheartening.
I saw great schools built out of abandoned aircraft hangars, excellent clinics out of corrugated iron, a low-crime country policed by men and women on bicycles and old Land Rovers and National Parks protected by men who patrolled on foot with donkeys. Then it all changed. What happened to Beira in 1975 was an early shock; a harsh lesson on the disastrous effects of malevolent misrule hiding behind the façade of ‘liberation’.
To be sure the storm that hit Beira is nobody’s fault (except maybe Donald Trump’s who refuses to genuflect before the High Priests of Global Warming) but the fact is the city was in a state of ruin before the storm struck.
I and many of my contemporaries will go to our graves with the fondest childhood memories of terrific times spent on holiday there. It was an exciting architectural and cultural blend of Portugal and Africa. It was a friendly city of flashing lights and leafy boulevards, enormous fun and fabulous food. The Portuguese were warm, welcoming and hospitable and it was peaceful and prosperous. Then the colonists were put to the sword and the place descended into a man-made storm of socialist dictatorship. The new regime instantly slammed the door on free enterprise, introduced forced labour and suffocated the vibrant soul of the city. No opposition was tolerated and dissenters were promptly dispatched to the quickly constructed Stalinist gulags. Within months Samora Machel and Frelimo rendered the city and county derelict.
That was the start and I have been condemned to watch political storms throughout southern Africa and with similar results. Now I find myself struggling with the pain and anguish of watching the final performance roll out in South Africa and I want to weep.