Recent events in South Africa indicate that the former power is already on the well-trodden path that has led numerous African countries into ruin.
For the past one week, poverty-stricken South Africans in the townships have gone on the rampage against immigrants from other African countries. The South Africans blame Nigerians, Zimbabweans, Mozambicans and Kenyans for their woes in an environment of high unemployment and violent crime. Though few Kenyans have been affected so far, there are fears that the violence could spiral out of control.
The political leadership in South Africa does not provide much hope. President Thabo Mbeki has become a lame duck president as his presidency comes to a close. The country’s social, economic and political institutions are in a state of limbo as the curtains draw to a close after 10 years of Thabo Mbeki leadership. Actually, Mr Mbeki had been the de facto leader of government during Nelson Mandela’s presidency between 1994 and 1999. At his age, Mandela had decided not to get too involved in the intricacies of government. Today, Mr Mbeki is seen as tired, authoritarian and out of touch with the realities facing his people.
Thabo Mbeki (left) and Jacob Zuma (right). Pictures by Afrol News (left) and Ligali Corporation.
Next year, the man expected to take over from President Mbeki is the current head of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma. Mr Zuma is currently facing corruption allegations that forced him out of the country’s Vice Presidency some few years ago.
Mr Zuma has been acquitted of raping a HIV positive woman who happened to be a family friend. The woman is young enough to be Mr Zuma’s daughter. During his trial, Zuma said that the lady had dressing in a manner suggesting that, “she wanted sex.” According to Zuma, it was against his Zulu culture to, “leave a woman without satisfying her.” The woman denied that she had behaved suggestively.
Questioned on whether he was not afraid of getting infected with HIV, Mr Zuma testified that he took a shower afterwards.
Mr Zuma is a flamboyant, polygamous character who has been known to marry several women within the space of a few months. Mr Zuma is prone to populist statement. After winning the African National Conference (ANC) leadership, Mr Zuma told his supporters to get ready to pick arms to fight for greater opportunity in a South African economy still dominated by whites. The comments were widely criticized but could be responsible for today’s blood-letting.
Until the 1990s, South Africa was the leading military and economic power in Africa. The country’s intelligence was much feared and ranked alongside Israel’s Mossad in efficiency and ruthlessness. South Africa’s army and police forces inflicted huge losses on liberation movements throughout the Southern African region. It is reputed that South Africa may have been behind the death of Mozambican President Samora Machel in a plane crash in 1988. President Machel had succeeded in ousting the Portuguese from Mozambique and was a leading figure in the fight against Apartheid in South Africa. By a twist of irony, his wife Graca Machel is now married to South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela.
South Africa energy companies distributed power to most of the Southern African countries, including the very countries that supplied the power in the first place! South African businesses can be seen throughout the African continent in the form of retail chains, fast food outlets, newspapers, communications companies and beer manufacturers. South Africa’s sea, airports and railways were reputed for their efficiency. South African Airways was number one in Africa. South Africa excelled in sports
South Africa was a leading innovator in Africa. Its SASOL firm converts coal into petroleum. At one time, South Africa was said to be developing nuclear weapons with the help of its ally, Israel.
Today, South Africa’s reputation is spoken about in the past tense.
According to the book, “The State of Africa” by Martin Meredith, South Africa continues to face daunting problems. Despite economic growth, unemployment rates stand at more than 40%. The number of job seekers continues to out pace the growth in jobs. In some rural areas, unemployment is as high as 95% with a dozen people surviving on the old age pension of one relative.
Millions of people live in squatter camps or informal settlements, enduring abject poverty with little or no sanitation, clean water or power and no visible means of support. In all, at least 18 million people live without any sanitation; 5 million lack safe water supplies; and 7 million struggle below the national poverty line. Crime for many is the only means to survive resulting in one of the highest crime rates in the world. Less than 10 million South Africans earn a regular wage in the formal economy out of a population of about 46 million. The rest face what Meredith calls, “a precarious existence.”
South Africa’s military and intelligence services are decaying, its professional ranks diluted by the deluge of fighters from liberation movements. Most of them only had elementary military training but the agreements ending apartheid dictated that they be absorbed in the forces to enhance racial equality. The South Africa of today cannot project its might within its own borders much less across the region.
South Africa can no longer supply enough electricity and power is being rationed. Load shedding programs have plunged entire neighborhoods into darkness for hours at a time in scenarios similar to those of other African countries.
South Africa’s people continue to suffer the vagaries of HIV/Aids, with the highest rate of infection in the entire world. Government reaction has however been erratic at best and slow at worst. President Mbeki himself questioned the scientific premise behind HIV/Aids, terming it as a conspiracy against black people. Mbeki said HIV/Aids is not a disease but a symptom of poverty, inadequate diet and lack of healthcare. The South African government refused to provide anti-retrovirals even after drug companies had lowered the costs. Mbeki said that anti-retrovirals are poisons aimed at curbing the growth of the African population.
South Africa’s health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, has prescribed herbs for the management of HIV/Aids patients. Incidentally, a former assistant minister of health describes Tshabalala-Msimang of being too fond of the bottle. However, Tshabalala-Msimang’s friendship with Mbeki goes back to their days in exile while fighting Apartheid and her position in the cabinet is quite secure.
The crisis in Zimbabwe exemplifies South Africa’s failure to rise up to the challenge of leadership in Africa. Though South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest economic and political partner, Mbeki has insisted on “quiet diplomacy” even in the face of massive human rights abuses in Zimbabwe. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled to other countries in the region including South Africa and Mbeki cannot claim ignorance of events just a few hundred miles from South Africa’s capital city. Critics say that had Mr Mbeki gotten tough on Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe years ago, the present misery in Zimbabwe would have been avoided.
Just after the historic 1994 elections that ended Apartheid and brought about black majority rule, South African whites expressed apprehension over the future of the country. “Grass will grow on airport runways,” one woman said as an example. Looks like the worst fears of black majority rule are becoming a harsh reality.
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