Amidst looting and killing in the wake of the unprecedented imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma by the South African Constitutional Court, Prince Machela of THE SOWETAN TIMES penned this piece on the post-apartheid South-Africa unfolding before the continent and the rest of the world. The piece requires a situated reading!
“In the midst of the political confusion that has gripped our country, many people are wondering if we have come to the end of South Africa.
The answer is simple: The thing called an “end” does not exist, not in relation to a country. SA will be there long after Jacob Zuma is gone.
What Zuma has done, is to make us come to the realisation that ours is just another African country, not some exceptional country on the southern tip of the African continent.
During the presidency of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, some among us used to believe that the black people of SA are better than those of other African countries.
We must all thank Zuma for revealing our true African character; that the idea of rule of law is not part of who we are, & that constitutionalism is a concept far ahead of us as a people.
How else are we to explain the thousands of people who flock to stadiums to clap hands for a president who has violated their country’s constitution? Such people have no idea of constitutionalism.
Now that we have reclaimed our place as another African country, we must reflect on & come to terms with our real character, and imagine what our future portends.
In a typical African country, ordinary people don’t expect much of politicians, because people get tired of repeated empty promises.
In a typical African country, people have no illusions about the unity of morality and governance. People know that those who have power, have it for themselves & their friends and families.
The idea that the state is an instrument for people’s development, is a Western concept, and has been copied by pockets of Asian countries. Africans & their leaders don’t like to copy from the West. They are happy to remain African, & do things “the African way”. The African way, is rule by kings, chiefs & indunas, in a setting of unwritten rules. Is there anyone who has seen a book of African customary laws?
The idea that a commoner can raise questions about public money spent on the residence of a king, is not African. The ANC MPs who have been defending Zuma, are true Africans.
Asking a ruler to be accountable is a foreign – Western – idea. In a situation where there is conflict between a ruler and laws, Africans simply change the laws to protect the ruler. This is why no single white person has called for King Dalindyebo to be released from jail.
The problem with clever blacks, is that they think they live in Europe, where ideas of democracy have been refined over centuries. What we need to do is to come back to reality, and accept that ours is a typical African country. Such a return to reality will give us a fairly good idea of what SA’s future might look like.
This country will not look like Denmark. It might look like Nigeria, where anti-corruption crusaders are an oddity. Being an African country, ours will not look like Germany. SA might look like Kenya, where tribalism drives politics.
People must not entertain the illusion that a day is coming when SA will look like the USA. Our future is more on the side of Zimbabwe, where one ruler is more powerful than the rest of the population. Even if Julius Malema were to become president, it would still be the same.
African leaders don’t like the idea of an educated populace, for clever people are difficult to govern. Mandela and Mbeki were themselves corrupted by Western education. (Admission: this columnist is also corrupted by such education). Zuma remains African. His mentality is in line with Boko Haram. He is suspicious of educated people; what he calls “clever blacks”. Remember that Boko Haram means “Against Western Education”.
The people who think we have come to the end of SA, don’t realise that we have actually come to the beginning of a real African country, away from the Western illusions of exceptionalism. Those who are unsettled by this true African character need help. The best we can do for them is to ask them to look north of the Limpopo River, to learn more about governance in Africa.
What makes most people restless about the future of SA, is that they have Western models in mind, forgetting that ours is an African country.
The idea that a president can resign simply because a court of law has delivered an adverse judgment is Western. Only the Prime Minister of Iceland does that; African rulers will never do that. Analysed carefully, the notion of SA coming to an “end” is an expression of a Western value system – of accountability, political morality, reason, and so on.
All these are lofty ideas of Socrates, Kant, Hegel, and so on. They are not African. All of us must thank Jacob Zuma for introducing us to the real African Republic of South Africa, not some outpost of European values.