After days of wanton carnage spurred by greed and entitlement, the world has made excuses for the wanton damage to the reputation of South Africa by the army of Zulu sycophants supposedly protesting a judicial ruling against their tribal overlord. Have we concluded that years of apartheid have robbed the average South African of decency, decorum and the understanding that modern society runs on the concept of equality before the law? Are we satisfied with the excuse that apartheid has eroded a people’s sense of right or wrong?
New age historicists regale us with rants of an Africa on the march to greatness before the trek was rudely interrupted by 400 years of slavery. They tell us lofty stories of our opulence – the gold, the diamonds the glorious resplendence of our kings and queens ere the advent of the white man. They romanticise these facts and cleverly ignore or deny the fact that, like every other race, every march to greatness comes with faults. They ignore the wars and enslavement that existed before the first slave ship docked on the African continent. A history that glorifies everything and acknowledges no faults is at best glorified farce.
The carnage unleashed on South African businesses by unconscionable looters protesting a court ruling; the precision with which it was carried out, the immediate impact and future consequences together with Ramaphosa’s reticense to take decisive action are worth closely examining. The magnanimity of Nelson Mandela has made non-Zulu leaders of South Africa walk on eggshells.
Like other African rulers, Jacob Zuma had his plethora of faults. It is true that when it comes to governance, African leaders operate on a different pedestal from those they seek to emulate in the west. In Africa, power comes with enormous influence but only a tinge of responsibility. The perks and privileges are unqualified and subject to wanton abuse and manipulation, and oh yes, they are often abused. The continent has to overcome these things if it is to progress and be counted as progressive.
Ours is the continent that grants immunity to its leaders not to accommodate human frailties but because we expect them to misbehave – and they do – generously. It is here that moral standards are lowered to excuse the official debauchery of rulers and political office holders. It is here that people could rise to fame, fortune and stardom without a questionable means of livelihood and expect to be respected. It is here that the excesses of priests are a taboo debate for the laity. They are told to leave the final judgment to God but the laity is daily subject to terrestrial punishment.
Indeed having had a man like Nelson Mandela run the nation denying privileges and handsomely navigating the complex tribal balance of a so-called rainbow nation, the South Africa bequeathed to Zuma is perennially abused. Unfortunately, Africa is one continent where lowlifes run the show while the qualified are scared from service. Like Muhammadu Buhari and some sit-tight leaders and monarchs, the nepotistic majority sheep would always excuse the excesses of the wolves among them until they are eventually consumed.
In a normal clime, Zuma would not have opted for political office, but he is Amazulu, with extreme unqualified support of the majority tribe on his side. The Zulu are the largest tribe, constituting 21 per cent of the population; they could always rely on tribal loyalty to swing either the debate or the violence. A Zulu King openly canvassed attacks on successful Africans dubbed Makwerekwere without repercussion. The sacrifices of the Makwerekwere to the evolution of a free South Africa is often denied or belittled. Like the racists in yonder climes, the new South African says – the past has nothing to do with them!
The grass of the Makwerekwere is not green because they sit in a kraal drinking umqombothi and waiting for the pie in the sky or the welfare cheque. It comes from sweat, toil and hard work. This is not a disease limited to South Africans alone, it manifests itself everywhere where impunity feeds on the nectar of nepotism and the honeycomb of a captured state. It’s fast becoming a poison eating up our continent’s march to greatness.
Zuma knew that with majority support on his side, he could get away with blue murder. He assumed the highest political office in spite of a farrago of corruption charges pending against him. Those files were shredded; they were simply locked away for his immunity to elapse. That in itself is a good sign of a prospective working society. But it comes to nothing when ethnic anger can be swayed to excuse corruption and impunity.
The Zuma camp has long used the ethnic card for that purpose. To them, a Thabo Mbeki inquisition amounts to an ethnic witch-hunt. Mbeki is a Xhosa, making up only 17 per cent of the indigenous population. Mbeki knew he had to tread softly to avoid a full-fledged ethnic war.
In government, Zuma epitomised the concept of the leopard unable and naturally unwilling to change its spots. He acted with impunity and laughed his critics to scorn. He used legal subterfuge to scare those who dared the tribal supporters. His family members simply put the knife on the nation’s economic pie, slashing and grabbing the most lucrative slices, from oil and gas to mines, retail and aviation.
Using their closeness with the first son Duduzane, the Guptas were crowned semi-demi-regents disposing economic and political favours in a ‘democratic’ South Africa. Nigerians would remember the powerful influence of the Chagouris and the Vaswanis. Under Zuma, the mercury on the thermometer of responsibility and accountability was lowered to accommodate presidential recklessness. Every infraction that should bring down a leader only made Zuma stronger.
In the thick of a HIV/Aids epidemic, Zuma chose to have sex (some say rape) with a known infected family friend and to excuse his decadence with a hot shower! Having a harem as permitted by his culture, did not diminish Zuma’s libidinous escapades. In other climes, it was enough to disqualify him from holding public office and certainly to bring him down as a leader, not strengthened.
What shall we say of the 240-million-rand renovation scandal that dogged his presidency? Zuma appears to be conscious of his pecking order in the ethnic configuration of his country to underrate Cyril Ramaphosa, a minority Zenda. He had sufficient time to appeal to his ethnic mafia to disperse but chose not to. His daughter constantly stoked the carnage on social media. This explains but not excuse Ramaphosa’s watching brief as the country and the backbone of its economy and pride were being eroded for several days last week. Nobody has resigned as a result. None has been fired!
Had Ramaphosa acted swiftly, he might have saved the embarrassment. But then, he could have played into the waiting hands of his political enemies and exposed his own tribes to a certain pogrom. Not acting until the situation got out of hands has unfortunately cast South Africa in horrible light as a place to live and do business or as an investor’s haven. South African criminals cashed in on the natural impunity conferred on them by their ethnic cleavage the way Nigerian herdsmen have taken advantage to pillage and murder in Nigeria.
In South Africa, serial impunity by looters hiding under inexcusable tribal cloaks means that anyone doing business in that country and not aligned with the ruling clique is open to attack. Previous attacks have been justified with excuses that years of institutional inequality have muddled the waters of rationality – the big question is – when will Africa stop excusing bad behaviour, start taking responsibility and start asserting itself?