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5 Jul, 2021 16:20

The row raging over a corrupt former president’s jailing shows that South Africa is heading down a sad and familiar path

The row raging over a corrupt former president’s jailing shows that South Africa is heading down a sad and familiar path

Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s leader for nine years, is an emblem of rogue leadership in an increasingly bankrupt country. If he succeeds in escaping imprisonment, a nation that was once a beacon of hope will fall further into ruin.

South Africa is rushing like an out-of-control ox-wagon down the by-now familiar path of many post-colonial African countries into the heart of darkness.

South Africa’s highest court last week ordered the imprisonment of the country’s former president Jacob Zuma for 15 months for contempt of court. The decision stems from Zuma’s refusal to appear at a commission to answer questions about his alleged involvement in corruption during his time as president between 2009 and 2018.

On Saturday, however, the constitutional court agreed to hear Zuma’s urgent appeal on July 12 to rescind its order to sentence him to jail. If the court is gelded, the human rights so dearly won defeating apartheid will be lost.

Zuma, the former head of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), claimed that to jail him was akin to detention without trial, and that South Africa was sliding back to apartheid-type rule. Furthermore, he said that imprisoning him at the age of 79 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic amounted to a death sentence. 

Thousands of his supporters traveled at the weekend to Zuma’s home village of Nkandla in Kwa-Zulu Natal, to form a human shield to prevent him from being arrested “under any circumstances.” 

A hashtag on Twitter, #AllRoadsToNkandla, bristled with defiant statements. 

Zulus wearing traditional garb and carrying shields and knobkerries toyi toyi-ed and sang ‘struggle’ songs.

But not all are in support. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the traditional prime minister of the Zulu nation, said the regiments of Zulu warriors were acting in defiance of orders, and the royal household also distanced itself from the mob.

The fate of the very nation rests on the eventual result of this standoff. Constitutionalism is being challenged because it is incompatible with gangsterism. 

The rule of law is being challenged as it is the number one enemy of those, like Zuma and his other corrupt ANC cronies, who have looted and robbed the country during their time in power. And hid both their crimes and their stupefying ineptness to rule behind the ANC’s obsession with race and racism. 

The ANC is now undergoing an internal battle for power... just as every gang is highly susceptible to internal struggles for more access and control of “turf” and “action” and, of course, the lucrative proceeds. 

Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, declared the sentencing a watershed for the nation. “We have arrived at a pivotal moment in our history, one of which we can all be proud,” he said. William Gumede, who leads the Democracy Works Foundation, a nonprofit focused on developing democracy in Africa, prophesied: “It’s going to inspire people across the continent – civil society, media, opposition parties.”

There is an insidious inverted racism in all this. Praising a court for what it should be doing is like praising an ATM machine for giving you money that is yours. 

Meanwhile, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma’s supporters urge resistance. They aver that the court did not provide the former president with ‘equal treatment under the law.’ The people clearly believe George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ maxim that “All are equal... but some are more equal than others.” 

Carl Niehaus, a former ANC executive, said he could not accept the court’s decision and called on other party members to stand up against it. “It is now the democratic duty of every peace-loving South African who wants to see justice to stand up, to resist and not to accept this outrage,” he warned, threatening that there would be instability in the country if the former leader was apprehended. 

The one-party rule of the ANC has been catastrophic for South Africa. Chris Greenland of Compassionate Justice International believes that all this is a predictable outcome of an anomic culture that has been fostered, nurtured and promoted by the ANC itself from the time Thabo Mbeki assumed the presidency from Nelson Mandela in 1999. 

It was under Mbeki that the racial Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment programs were introduced. At a stroke, an operational mode and culture of race based “gangsterism” was embedded.

Jacob Zuma later became the personification of this “gangster” mode and culture.

Nelson Mandela, when he was defending himself from sabotage charges at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, said he cherished the idea of a democratic and free society in which all people were as equal in opportunity, as they were in accountability before the law. 

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” 

Given the dystopian world in which we live, both these nobel epithets may serve only as dated homilies that are cross-stitched on pillows.

The ANC’s internal civil war is likely only to intensify as Zuma supporters work to wrest control of the party from his successor as president, Cyril Ramaphosa.

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The country’s mainstream news organisations are supine and fawning, and unwilling and incapable of holding anyone to account. As John Steenhuisen, the leader of the opposition, noted recently: “Steeped in the ANC’s worldview, they bemoan the former liberation movement’s corruption and incompetence in government, but can’t bring themselves to denounce its toxic combination of racial nationalism and state control. 

“They see the economy backfiring, the decline of the developmental capacity of the state, and vulnerable communities suffering as a result. But they can’t connect the dots between this malaise and the implementation of ANC policies and the adherence to the ANC worldview. The ANC’s spirit must be sustained, even if its body is rotting.” 

The reality is that the ANC has looted, plundered, and robbed the country that was handed over to them. They have destroyed a country that held such democratic and economic promise at its inception and turned it into a lawless gulag. 

So eager is the world to believe that the ANC has ushered in a democracy with first-world standards of accountability, it is reluctant to examine this asylum run by the inmates. 

We live in times when smart people are silenced so that stupid people aren’t offended. 

The scale of the looting is massive. There is currently an investigation of money that was meant for Covid relief that’s gone missing. Prices of medical supplies have been inflated by nearly 1,000% and bribes are routinely given to powerful civil servants and politicians to rig lucrative tenders. It’s the same story across the continent – it is impossible to quantify how much has been lost, but the cases exposed so far of theft in procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) and diversion of aid money meant for vulnerable people, highlight the possible plunder of billions of dollars. 

Ramaphosa purports to have gravitas and accountability and to be tackling corruption, but he is the fig leaf of a regime that is rotten to the core.

How he responds to this crisis over Zuma could be a defining moment, as Mmusi Maimane, a former leader of the country’s main opposition party, has pointed out. Thus far, however, he has been all mouth and no trousers.

Jacob Zuma himself once said that “The ANC will rule until Jesus comes.” 

What we are witnessing is a charade. 

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Zuma is emblematic of a party that has long ago lost all its morality. It has a culture of greed, impunity and a total disregard for the founding values of the liberation movement.

The only ones to seemingly enjoy and benefit from this tragicomedy are Nando’s, the fast-food outlet. They have put out an ad campaign which crows: “A lockdown we can all get behind. #JacobZuma.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.