SOUTH AFRICA – to be or not to be?
By Femi Olugbile
South Africa is currently in the grip of a ‘Third Wave’ of COVID19 pandemic, fueled by a rash of infections among the general public, predominantly with the ‘Delta’ mutation of the virus. Just the other day, more than two hundred and fifty thousand South Africans came down with the infection in one day.
The government has had to order a fresh lockdown, and a strict implementation of public preventive health measures. That includes a fresh ban on alcohol sales in shebeens. Anyone familiar with the culture of South Africa would know that crippling the operations of shebeens is dealing a near-fatal blow, not just to a large part of the economy, but to the very core of the social fabric of the masses.
Cyril Ramaphoosa, street-level anti-apartheid activist turned corporate titan turned President, a man who is not given to hand-wringing, would normally just roll up his sleeves and get on with the job. But he has been heard murmuring darkly about ‘vaccine Apartheid’ because the supply of promised vaccines to his nation, as well as other nations of Africa, has been delayed by the European manufacturing countries, who are insisting on meeting the needs of their own population first.
COVID19, despite the worrying numbers of infections and deaths, is a nuisance that will pass with time.
There is an existential threat facing South Africa today. It goes to the very essence of its nationhood and what it aspires to be.
Is South Africa going to be a beacon of hope for all of Africa, a rainbow nation and an exemplar of Liberal Democracy and interracial harmony, as Nelson Mandela and his generation hoped and strove for? Or is it going to be just another failed, or failing African pseudo-democracy, perpetually under-achieving, like the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Nigeria?
The Republic of South Africa was birthed through a Liberation Struggle that was not allowed to proceed to the bitter, scorched-earth ‘logical’ end that would have reduced the landscape of Johannesburg and Cape Town to rubble, as predicted in Nadine Gordimer’s post-apocalyptic ‘July’s People’. The African National Congress, the largest mass movement in the land, led the war, and won the peace, in a manner of speaking. Since Independence, the ANC has won elections and provided political leadership. Given the demographics of the nation, it appears set to continue to do so for as far into the future as the naked eye can peer.
That fact, ostensibly, should provide a sense of comfort and stability for the masses who have suffered for generations under a system of racist physical and economic oppression and marginalization.
Watching political developments in the land over the past few years, a number of disturbing questions come to mind.
Does the ANC ‘own’ South Africa?
It is not a trite question, but one that is central to the South African ‘National’ question, such as it is.
In neighbouring Zimbabwe, the question of ‘ownership’ following the prosecution of a successful liberation war is at the heart of the depressing state failure that followed the taking over of political power by Mugabe’s ZANU party. Robert Mugabe, Africa’s most cerebral freedom fighter, had a fatal flaw in his logic, and inflicted that fatal flaw on the body-politic of his nation. In his mind, he, and ZANU, owned Zimbabwe. The coterie of highly motivated people around him, including the present leadership of Zimbabwe, called themselves ‘War Veterans’. They were imbued with an entitlement mentality which subsists to the present day and represents the enabling criterion for the bizarre economic and political decisions that have led that potential ‘breadbasket of Africa’ to economic ruin. The nation is their trophy, their prize for winning the liberation war. If they ride it into the dust, so be it.
There is an ongoing struggle for the soul and identity of the ANC, and by extension, the soul of South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa, always Madiba’s preferred successor for his judgement and ‘people-skills’, is fighting the battle of his life.
Should he do the right thing for South Africa, or the popular thing for the ANC?
If South Africa is to be a modern, thriving Liberal Democracy, its institutions must be cleansed and strengthened. Its Justice must be blind, and impartial. The right thing must be done, no matter whose ox is gored.
Such ‘reaching for the sky’ is proving a dangerous path to tread. Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, has been indicted for corruption. He was invited to appear before the Constitutional Court. He blatantly refused.
The Secretary-General of the ANC, Ace Magashule, was indicted for corruption and advised to step aside. A popular man within the party, he refused. Only with reluctance, and much acrimony, has he just been suspended.
The fate of Zuma, the outcome of the Magashule battle, and other corruption issues involving powerful political figures have become a test of Ramaphosa’s mettle, and a defining moment for South Africa’s democracy. It is clear what Ramaphosa wants. He wants to do the right thing. He is the man wearing Madiba’s outsize shoes and carrying the burden of his nation’s destiny.
It is a risky burden to bear.
Zuma is more popular within the ranks of the ANC, and possibly among the masses, than Ramaphosa.
On the day Zuma was to be arrested and sent to prison after being sentenced by the Constitutional Court, thousands of South Africans defied COVID19 restrictions and travelled to his hometown, ready to form a human-chain around his residence to prevent his arrest. To prevent bloodshed, the police held back. Only a few minutes before the set deadline expired, he handed himself in to the authorities to commence serving his punishment.
It is not the end of the matter. A lot of people are unhappy.
The swords are drawn.
A watershed moment.
To be popular, or to do the right thing?
To give the people what they want, or what they really need?
For South Africa, and its President, the question hanging in the air is – ‘To be, or not to be?’