Flirting with Dictatorship – On the road to South Africa's next president

Ronald Suresh Roberts, sycophantic biographer of Thabo Mbeki

Jacob Zuma, some-time rapist, multi-million dollar arms-deal fraudster, populist, and permanently in search of his machine gun, declares that he is ready to “rule” South Africa.

This man is likely to be South Africa’s next president.

This is quite a departure for the African National Congress, the ANC, the party of Albert Luthuli and Nelson Mandela; both Nobel Peace Prize winners.

The noble ideal of setting aside the politics of race in search of a new, unified, representative nation has given way to the politics of race, nepotism, corruption and dictatorship.

As Kent Durr, South Africa’s one-time ambassador to the UK put it, “The ANC appears to have gone from struggle to corruption without an intervening period of service to the nation.”

A history of corruption

There is someone to blame for all of this. Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s current president.

Think of him as Africa’s Vladimir Putin, but without the gumption to shed blood publicly. Mbeki prefers smoke-filled backrooms and innuendo rather than outright assertiveness.

In 1999, shortly after Mbeki became president, he did two things that have left a legacy of corruption and despair:

1) He approved a $ 16.2 billion arms deal
2) He stood up before the World Aids Conference in Durban and declared that HIV does not cause AIDS

Mbeki’s deputy in these machinations was Jacob Zuma. Both ideals have had consequences.

The arms deal first

Jacob Zuma’s rape trial revealed that he believes HIV can be “showered off”

South Africa is not under any international threat and appears loath to engage in even basic peace-keeping (the little that has been done has been chequered by accusations of rape, the theft of caches of weapons and ammunition, and – just recently – losing control of weapons on firing ranges). That which we do need to defend – our coastal fishing resources – is entirely undefended.

Despite this a rather large refit of the military was ordered. There are plenty of local companies that supply a wide variety of military hardware and software. Most were ignored in favour of significantly more expensive European providers.

Accusations of corruption turned up early and were ignored. A magnificent new book by Andrew Feinstein, the former deputy chair of Parliament’s prime watchdog, the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), which tried in vain to launch a full-scale investigation into allegations of arms deal graft, has just been published.

Feinstein narrates, in painstaking detail, how pressure was brought to bear against every independent office designed to prevent exactly this type of corruption. He names names. Both Zuma and Mbeki were in it up to their fetid breath.

Zuma’s “accountant” Schabir Shaik is currently in jail for facilitating a bribe for Zuma. Zuma has yet to appear in court on these charges. Mbeki fired Zuma soon after Shaik’s incarceration.

This has simply strengthened Zuma’s popularity.

Then comes AIDS

Zuma, head of the Moral Regeneration Commission

Zuma is hardly a paragon of virtue when it comes to HIV. A friend of his daughter, who stayed over one weekend at Zuma’s compound, found herself being raped by South Africa’s next president. He declared, during the subsequent trial, that she had been wearing a skirt, what did she expect.

The woman, placed on the stand, fell apart and a history of self-abuse came out. It was sufficient evidence to cast doubt on her story of being an unwilling participant. Yet this woman has another attribute: she is HIV positive.

Zuma both knew she was HIV positive and admits to having unprotected sex with her. When asked how he explains this, he answered that he took a shower to wash off the virus.

Despite this Zuma has managed to gain the high-ground over Mbeki who flat-out denies that HIV even exists.

Last weekend the ANC women’s league cast their nomination for the presidency of the ANC. They chose Jacob Zuma.

Which is which; ANC or Government

This weekend a leaked report declares that the ANC is planning to oust the president and call an early election. Zuma is behind moves that would see parliament being answerable to the ANC.

For the Americans in the room, this is equivalent to Congress and the Senate having to go and visit the Republican Party headquarters to ask their opinion on how to run government. I realise that many of you believe that this is already true, but I’m fairly sure that no party in the US would seriously present an election manifesto declaring that the objectives of the party supersede the objectives of government.

This is precisely what they ANC has declared.

More importantly, the electorate are not invited to participate in the direction the ANC takes.

You really elected this guy? Twice?

The US has been treated to a lengthy spectacle of the various candidates for Republican and Democratic Party nominations to become US president making nice with the public. Each candidate is expected to present detailed plans of what they plan to do should they win.

These plans are endlessly debated by public groups (including Scholars and Rogues) and the pro’s and con’s of the candidates evaluated.

Says Mbeki of the people wanting to be next president of the ANC: “Any attempt to campaign and promote ones-self will be rejected by the party.” In other words, campaigning is out. This tends to leave incumbents and populists in good positions; i.e. Mbeki and Zuma.

Neither person has been expected to present their credentials or proposals and so neither has. No-one has any idea what a Zuma presidency would be like.

But we do know that he is in hoc to both the trades union and the communists.

The justification for expelling Mbeki and calling for a new election is that it would be better for the country if both national and ANC elections proceeded at the same time. That there should be no difference between the ANC and government.

Yet the choice of head of the ANC is given over to only 3,000-odd accredited ANC members.

A nation of 47 million people is to be run through the obscure and shadowy criteria of 3,000 people.

So what are the rest of us doing

Pieter Dirk Uys, best satirist in the country, is delighted to discover the health minister’s cure for HIV: garlic, olive oil, lemons, beetroot, and African potatos!

The Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the largest in Africa, is at its highest point ever. Property prices have risen dramatically. Economic growth has managed a good (but not outstanding) 4 – 5% for the last three years. Investment is booming.

Despite this unemployment (by government estimates) is stuck at 26%. There are plenty of reasons for this, most having to do with Black Economic Empowerment policies that have shut down the bulk of the nation’s manufacturing businesses, leaving unskilled people with no recourse for finding work.

The point of good economic policy is encouraging business investment. Promote protectionist policies that have strict employment criteria about minimum wages, racial demographics, regular strikes, and an impossibility to fire incompetent staff, and investors put their money in businesses without a high staff overhead.

South Africa’s economy is now almost 70% service based which makes us look like a developed country. Why build a bicycle factory when it’s easier to simply import the bicycles and not employ anyone.

An economy based on 70% services is very fragile. Factories, mines and farms can be nationalised. Skilled people can only be nationalised if they are enslaved. And slaves don’t produce to their best advantage. With so much of the economy dependent on so very few highly skilled people, and on little infrastructure, a small jolt will have a large impact.

Jonathon Shapiro – aka Zapiro – whose cartoons dot this article, has done a sterling job jabbing the ANC where it hurts. Other comedians and satirists have followed suit. Belatedly many black writers and journalists are starting to do the same.

At the recent launch of Zapiro’s new book, “Take two veg and call me in the morning,” numerous stalwarts of the message that HIV is dangerous voiced their opinions about the future of the government and the danger of dictatorship.

It probably won’t change anything. Africa’s most recent best hope for turning the continent into something that doesn’t spell “basket case” appears intent on committing suicide.

Over the next few weeks watch the currency and the stock-exchange. If they plunge, then future risk is being priced in. At which point, can I come sleep on your sofa?

10 replies »

  1. Congrats. Again you’ve made me feel a little less depressed about the state of American politics.

    Question – do you ever consider getting the hell out of there?

  2. One of the consulting contracts I recently completed was to write an implementation strategy for black-based affirmative action in the Western Cape. The rules have all been written, lots of policy documents as well … all I had to do was aggregate the lot into a single document.

    Probably the most soul-destroying thing I’ve ever done. It’s evil in that “good intentions” kind of way that you just know will end in tears.

    Yes, I do think about leaving. All the time.

    Yet Cape Town is the most awesome place to live. I went kayaking this morning off the coast, dolphins joined me and I was the only one out there. And I get to do this whenever I want.

    At the same time I have spent all of my professional life learning how informal markets work, how poverty happens, and how to create investment in these markets. It’s what I know how to do and what I enjoy.

    What exactly would I do, with this skill-set, in the US or Europe or Australia (the few choices that come to mind)?

    Everyone likes to get to the end of the movie and imagine that the happy-ending stays in place. Nelson Mandela was elected, married his sweetheart and we all lived happily ever after.

    Democracy, as you’re well aware, can be perverted. Idiots (and dangerous centrists) can get elected and damage things for everyone.

    But it hasn’t ended yet and I haven’t had to think of where else I’d like to live just yet. The burning remains inside me, though, an insidious feeling that – one day – I may have to live this place that I love.

    Until that day I’ll use my talents to build wealth and push for a distribution of power away from the centre.

  3. I haven’t concluded that I leave to leave my native country, but I have been living a sort of lesser exile for some years. In the US, the South is almost like another country, and I’ve had to accept that as much as I love it, I can’t ever live there again. I’ve left and gone back twice, so I’ve given it fair chances to love me back.

    I hope you find what you need where you are. If not, come to Colorado. A few more years of Republican rule (or rule by the sorts of Democrats that seem to comprise the “alternative” these days) and I imagine there will be plenty of opportunities for an “informal economy” guy like you.

  4. I suspect American journalism could benefit from your presence, Gavin, as could a few American journalism schools, the few left that purport to teach international reporting. And there’s always those political science programs …

    A fine piece, sir. Thanks.

  5. Sam:

    “I’ve left and gone back twice, so I’ve given it fair chances to love me back.”

    How/why does it fail to love you back…?


    “…dolphins joined me and I was the only one out there…”


  6. There are three interesting things to the Zuma rape trial:

    A South African virologist who testified in the trial stated under oath that the chances of getting infected with HIV in an unprotected sex is 1 in 10 000.

    Then a defence lawyer known as Kemp J Kemp in summing up his argument when relating to the shower incident told the judge of a Kruger Rand that fell into bucket of HIV fluid and that the most natural thing to do after retrieving it barehanded was to wash one’s hands at the tap. ‘n boer altyd maak ‘n plan.

    Then the presiding judge one van der Merwe used the Cautionary Rule (an Apartheid law which casts into doubt any testimony of a single woman or child witness to a crime) and found the victim’s testimony unreliable and went all over to utter some parts of his judgement in Zulu in an obvious deference to Zuma (who had lost his usual loquacious English toungue during the trial).

    After the trial the pastor who testified about the victim’s lax morality turned out to be a fraudster and charlatan.His story was ran by the Sunday Times.

    It is obvious that it takes both black and white clowns to tango in the circus playing itself out in South Africa. It is indeed a “multi-racial” mess that is being concocted.

  7. Thanks, WH, for that crash course in South African affairs. And thanks for sharing your reasons for staying.

    Oh, and thanks for the Zapiro cartoons too.

  8. Your take on South Africa represents a lopsided biased view which is based on a reality you clearly conceived. Firstly, Jacob Zuma is not a rapist, a court of law in a consititutional democracy ruled that. Secondly, the lady in question does indeed have a very sketchy and dubious background including false accusations of rape against previous sexual partners who she could not remember. Thirdly, The ANC modus operandi is not out of sync with many ruling parties globally, where the majority party chooses who will represent it as President.

    I could go on, but impartiality seems to be something totally lost to practitioners of journalism. Too many times you interpret and create news instead of simply reporting it. You are mistaken in thinking that your writings will have any influence on the voting public. They love JZ because he cares for them, listens to them and solves their problems. Not the long, beaurocratic processes of the learned, but swift action. For all your skill, you clearly lack the ethos of journalism, reporting objectively.

  9. Ken, Are you joking? Zuma will be another Mugabe, and South Africa and ALL South Africans will be worse off for it. I suppose it will all be Bush’s fault in the end.

    Either you’ve never been to South Africa, are a communist yourself, or just a useful idiot.