by Hannes Wessels
As South Africa gathers steam and speed on the road to ruin a sense of hopelessness is taking grip.
Where is the opposition the country so desperately needs? I feel terribly sorry for John Steenhuisen who speaks little but sense and is trying so hard to rally his troops, but I fear he is pushing water up a mountain. I also feel very sorry for Helen Zille who gave her all to provide her country with a very attractive political option and received so little credit for it. Mistakes she may have made, but unlike virtually every other politician in this country, and indeed much of the world, she was never in it for selfish reasons; she tried to find a way to bring the ruling party to heel and also saved the Western Cape, but this seems lost on most. So distressing that some of her most vociferous critics were the crop of woke, white, pseudo-liberal journalists and columnists who have joined the world-wide-web of white-people-haters and constantly need to update their credentials. The fact that she finds a place in a book as one of ‘Fifty People Who F….d Up South Africa’ tells me the authors had to take a low blow at someone with a white skin to ward off charges of ‘racism’ and so they went for her.
With the DA marginalised, many of us have looked to the press to stop the rot by exposing the alleged crimes of the people in power by providing the evidence needed for them to be called to account and thereby curb the bad behaviour. Well, in my view, some very brave men and women have risen to that challenge. Almost since the ‘new dawn’ in 1994, with the ‘arms deal’ revelations, they have worked assiduously to bring to the public attention, the malfeasance of the people elected to govern. Unfortunately, their efforts have been largely in vain.
The most obvious reason is the almost total lack of response from those charged with enforcing the law of the land. In the 26 years of ANC rule, hundreds of billions, maybe trillions have been stolen, politically motivated murders have been committed, thousands of lives have been ruined and nary a prosecution despite an abundance of compelling evidence. As I write, we are witness to Ace Magashule and Jacob Zuma making it abundantly clear that they and the people they govern with, along with their associates, are above the law and not even a ruling from the highest court in the land, appears enforceable, when it does not suit the agenda of the former president. But the other reason is that, unlike their despised predecessors, the incumbents appear to have no shame. I remember, arguably the most serious financial scandal of the Nationalist Party rule was the ‘Infogate’ affair where the press revealed money was being channelled illicitly from one government department to another. It appears that no politician involved was accused of personal enrichment out of abuse of the public purse, but tax-payers money was being used for purposes not approved by parliament. In today’s South Africa, such behaviour is so trifling by comparison with what is happening, it would not turn a hair; but then it bought about the end of the John Vorster premiership and convulsed the government of the day. The big difference is Vorster and those involved with the misappropriation of the funds, were embarrassed, acknowledged their wrongdoing and did what was considered right and honourable, and resigned. Sadly, this mindset does not afflict any of our rulers who seem immune to any sense of shame or remorse.
With lawlessness, a ruling culture that excludes good conscience, and an opposition that can’t get traction almost all the ingredients are in place for failure, but the kicker that pushes us over the edge is the mindset of the majority which makes meaningful political change almost impossible to envisage.
As we have seen throughout the continent, old traditions realities and cultures are not easily, if ever erased, and South Africa is no exception. While Mr. Steenhuisen speaks sensibly and eruditely, and the press make all the gory details easily available to all, these messages fall upon the ears of an almost powerless minority. Amongst them the ongoing revelations cause anger and outrage but it is all lost on the empowered majority. For most of them, even if they do read and listen to the reports, the problem is they react, not with anger and demands for punishment to be meted out, but with quiet acquiescence and even some grudging respect. Unfortunately, this is the ‘African Way’, where there is general acceptance that ‘might is right’, and to the political ‘big-men’ go all the spoils of conquest with no conditions or obligations attached. This is the price paid for trying to impose ‘Western Democracy’ with its alien values, protocols and laws on people who do not accept the merits of the system and therefore cannot be expected to conform to its strictures.
So with all the organs of government collapsing at national, provincial and municipal level, the state coffers being emptied, strong signals being sent that the rule of law will no longer apply and poverty rapidly escalating we must expect no relief. If a general election were held today and Jacob Zuma was reinstated as the head of the ANC, I have no doubt he would storm back to power.
So … what’s new in post-colonial Africa?