Hannes Wessels

A fortnight ago, Helen Zille, former Democratic Alliance Leader and Western Cape Premier, published an article that was an intriguing, some might say patronising, defence of disgraced former president Jacob Zuma following his recent imprisonment.

While reminding readers she had been a fervent political foe of Zuma’s and spent years pressing for his prosecution, she explained his plight, and the country’s from a different perspective and made a crucial point that I well remember former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith trying to make.

As leader of a pariah nation, Smith repeatedly pointed out that liberal democracy was a sophisticated political process that could not be simply foisted upon a native people steeped in a totally different culture that accepted of a form of rule where the king, or chief was unelected, unaccountable and where there were no written laws. He rejected the accusation that he was a ‘racist supremacist’ driven by a desire to protect ‘while privilege’ and tried to explain that all that was needed was time for Africans to be absorbed willingly into a system that they would support once it was better understood. His pleas for patience and understanding fell on resolutely deaf ears and the rest is history.

Of interest to me, Mrs. Zille made precisely the same point in her defence of Jacob Zuma. He, and his leadership, she insists, had never understood, nor fully embraced the constitutional democracy they undertook to uphold. Zuma, in his mind and in the minds of many he governed, was a king in the Zulu tradition and all the spoils that accrue with the acquisition of power were his for the taking. The suggestion that he was ‘corrupt’ was an entirely European, ‘white supremacist’, colonialist view of his conduct. The transition from one form of governance to another had been too rapid leading to the rejection of the new in favour of the old.

Unfortunately, in the post-colonial world, the supposition has prevailed that Western democracy, with its proven success in Europe and North America is the best system that fits all polities, and it has been forbidden to suggest that any race or ethnic group might be, in any way challenged by adopting it. This fundamental falsehood has scuppered any meaningful debate of the question and has proved a calamitous mistake in Africa, and it is proving thus in South Africa. There is no escaping the fact that the reaction to the forced introduction of European systems of governance on the continent has set the stage for more than 100 coups and entrenched a period of catastrophic misrule that may go down in history as the greatest man-made political disaster in history.

What cannot be ignored is tribal conflicts and rampant slavery predate the arrival of European settlers and the introduction of alien forms of governance has been done in the face of entrenched hostility that can be suppressed but not eliminated. As a result, South Africa, like most other African countries, is inherently unstable.  It is the ultimate battleground for two utterly opposed systems of governance – democracy vs the absolute power of tyranny.  To understand the nature of the African model of tyranny the example of Shaka the Zulu King stands out as enlightening.

It is against this backdrop one must ponder the recent riots and looting that have wreaked havoc in the country. For years, concerned South African across all spectrums and racial groups have been warning that the country’s pursuit of obsolete socialist doctrines that suffocate the vibrancy needed for economic growth, egregious misuse of the public purse, tolerance of endemic corruption, useless municipalities, were all leading to growing poverty and putting the country on a trajectory to trouble. The ANC ignored its critics preferring to blame Jan van Riebeek and a succession of ‘imperialist’ forces that have worked diligently to undermine the efforts of the formerly oppressed.

With the country in state of volatility, an undoubted catalyst, has been the hardship wrought by the harsh and occasionally nonsensical ‘lockdowns’ introduced by a delinquent government that having stolen most of the national wealth, suddenly declares itself dedicated to the health and safety of the populace.

Seizing the opportunity to appear benevolent and sensitive to the needs of the governed, our rulers have followed the lead offered by governments of rich, relatively well-run countries that can probably afford to inflict some damage on their economies in the perceived belief that protecting people from the harmful effects of the Corona virus is the most pressing issue of the day. This was never the case in South Africa, or Africa for that matter, where, for the vast majority of the people, finding enough food and simply staying alive, is of far more concern than Covid-19. 

While growing poverty lies at the root of the problem it does not tell all the story. Lawlessness breeds opportunism and not all the looters were thin and starving, many were well fed louts looting luxury goods; indeed, one eyewitness recognised an Old Boy of Kearsney College (the most expensive private school in SA) loading electronic equipment into the boot of his Mercedes Benz.

What is deeply troubling is the speed with which the violence spread and the obvious impotence of the law enforcement authorities in the face of angry mobs looking to liberate booze, food and televisions rather than Jacob Zuma. As the authorities busy themselves with disarming a law-abiding populace that could be a force for good, it looks like this government’s actual ability to control events on the ground is highly questionable. This tells us it could be overthrown, leading to a reversion to inter-tribal violence, anarchy and the advent of yet another African failed state. 

Some people did predict this but of course they were all ‘racists’ and therefore undeserving of a fair hearing.


9 thoughts on “South Africa On the Edge; the Root of the Problem.”
  1. Khannoorpuri: You are wrong. Smith was a reasonable man. Mugabe was backed by communist China and Nkomo by communist Russia. Smith was really up against it. Rhodesia was deliberately betrayed and destroyed by the British and communists.

    Ntabenende: Refers to Britain’s spectacular errors. wrong. It was deliberate and intentional.

    The communists were behind and advising the ANC

    I now learn that Nationalist Apartheid South Africa had military ties with Israel and shared arms manufacturing.
    The Zionists creating a Homeland in Israel and the Boors creating a Homeland in South Africa and that they both supported a superiority over the people they conquered. Any wonder there is strife.

  2. The chiefs of Southern Africa were not true autocrats. Since land was communally owned they could not hand it out at will and such an issue was more often than not a local democratic manner.
    Smith was not a reasonable man who was dealing with an impatient outside world. In his 15 years as PM he did little to improve the atrocious state of education for black people to prepare them for the “complexities” of liberal democracy.. He also did nothing to expand local democracy. He himself stated in a speech that he no desire for their to be democracy in his country for “a hundred years. Black majority rule was never an unreasonable short term prospect since it has worked in Botswana and Sao Tome.
    Before Rhodesia declared independence in 1965 the UK government never set a deadline for majority rule. It did say that there could be no independence before majority rule was achieved. Had the Smith set a deadline for democracy to be achieved in 1970 and had his government improved education and worked with the black community to expand democracy then civil war would have been avoided and it it highly unlikely that Mugabe and his colleagues would ever have come to power.
    Smith does not deserve they sympathy which this article grants him, he was in fact a white supremacist whose legacy is the Mugabe regime and all the destruction that that regime has brought on Zimbabwe.

    1. The real tragedy seems to be the fact that both the Governor of Rhodesia and the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee appear to have cautioned Ian Smith to not take UDI – but rather to follow the procedures laid out and simply ask for “extra time” where required. Regrettably it would also appear that the Chairman of the Rhodesian Front wielded considerable power in the RF. Clinically speaking – it would now appear that whilst the Prime Minster and the RF Chairman might have thought that they were acting in the best interests of the country – they actually created a fertile germination field for nationalism driven civil war and international isolation. Both the Governor (Sir Humphrey Gibbs) and the Constitutional Committee Chairman were completely dedicated to the country and its people, and saw this all coming. Nothing can detract from Ian Smith and Boss Lilford being judged as very good managers – as in, making sure that things were carried out according to the management plan. It is in the field of leadership that they were found wanting – and they may well have naively thought that those Civil Servant Elder Statesmen who had cautioned them could not see the big picture. Even Smuts and Brook struggled with Winston Churchill at times – the two Generals being big picture leaders of immense imagination, vision and experience. Rhodesia was probably a classic failure in leadership under good management! Now – 56 years later we are still paying the price and in the rhythm of Johnny Clegg we may now sing – “we are the scatterlings of Africa.”

    2. ‘Khannoorpuri’ I have a suspicion that you never lived in Rhodesia, nevertheless your comments regarding educating the black population of Rhodesia are completely without foundation. I personally lived and worked in the rural areas including the Tribal Trust Lands and African Purchase Areas for man years and can assure you that wherever one went there was always a well run primary school with well educated and proficient teachers. These were government schools and were free and compulsory and ensured a good grounding for further studies. The black African population of Rhodesia was always one of the most educated on the continent. To Mugabe’s credit he continued with, and built on the good education system. The level of education of the average Zimbabwean today is evidence of this.

    3. Amazing, isn’t it? The whole of Africa is now ‘Independent’ (the world’s greatest oxymoron -African Independence -never has so much (money, good will etc.) been owed by so many (African peoples) to so few (gullible donors ) Thanks W.S.C..and the 2 examples -yes,2, are 1/. A country with vast acreages of empty land still recovering from the passage of the Zulu off-shoots (Matabele, Shangaan etc.) and a tiny -may I stress tiny, island off the West African coast! How does this writer explain Bokassa, Amin, Taylor and Mobutu, pray? Oh, and anyone who thinks Shaka, Mzilikazi and Dingaan were not ‘true autocrats’ has a very different view of history, or interpretation of the term, than most.

  3. The insatiable demand for humankind in the quest for wealth and power knows no bounds unfortunately.

    Hannes has covered all the aspects leading to the high and low road, and everything in between scenarios in another thought provoking article.

    Good governance in reducing the inequality gap needs serious consideration and the ANC needs to stop this rampant corruption that is consuming South Africa fast.

    The trillion dollar question is, “Cyril deliver?”

  4. A smattering of the French Civil war comes in to play, hungry people don’t like rules of law, and employment is more important as a means of providing such food. The SA government has switched off employment for covid reasons, creating hungry people, it would have been better in many countries to vaccinate the healthcare workers first, the old, sick and frail, and the aged. They have had 7 months to do it. Wearing masks and hand hygiene is of course good to follow and to be honest helps. Australia has gone the lock down route and the govt can afford it, but we also have our protests. And next year and the year after there is still going to be covid. And still no one has yet condemned China for waging a WW3 very successfully.

  5. Right on the money but this comment, as considered and accurate as it is, will never, never be understood by anyone who has not lived in Africa!

    I am a white African and we, unfortunately, will be consigned to far-flung off-Africa scrapheats to wile our days saying “we told you!” to conveniently deaf ears.

  6. Some 20 years ago some of us were persecuted for taking the Zimbabwe Govt. to court for Zanu’s personal looting programme of farms in Zimbabwe. In time, similar court actions were taken to the SADCC Tribunal and then International Courts – because Mr. Zuma saw fit to close the SADCC Tribunal! Not satisfied with closing the Tribunal the ANC even sent Mbeki to rubber stamp rigged elections in Zimbabwe! So, the ANC extended their Zuma-Jambanja influence into Zimbabwe. Tens of thousands of farmers and their families have been murdered, mainly in Matabeleland since 1981 and then Zanu had the arrogance to appoint the ex commander of the Fifth Brigade Perrence Shiri (who committed the genocide) to be Minister of Agriculture. After Britain’s spectacular errors of judgement around Mugabe and ED – we hope that Prime Minister Johnson will give due to thought to Harold Mac Millan’s Winds of Change speech from about 60 years ago – but instead acknowledge that the wind needs to blow the other way – the Winds of ANC/Zanu Jambanjas need to be reversed back to the Winds of the Rule of Law with an Independent Judiciary. We all remember Justice Gubbay being jambanja’d in the Highest Court of Zimbabwe by “war veterans” and Mugabe thinking that it was a big joke? Sadly Mugabe was strutting around with ANC endorsement when he should have been in jail for the Gukuruhundi. If history is repeating itself – what next?

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