By Denise Allen
South Africa is definitely a Third World country, no matter how much we, its citizens, like to pretend otherwise and its reputation has deteriorated under its present stewardship. This is no longer the country envisaged by our first African National Congress (ANC) president Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela – Madiba or Tata to all who loved him.
We all knew that the person taking over from Madiba would have a hard time living up to his standards. President Thabo Mvuyeleni Mbeki was not popular, mainly because it was thought that he spent too much time abroad, therefore in 2008 Mbeki announced his resignation. Thus, with the help of his comrades, South Africa’s third democratic president, Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma, took over the reins after the 2009 General Elections. This was accomplished under a cloud of mistrust and apprehension by opposition parties and some sectors of the country’s general population. He was suspected to have been involved in various questionable dealings in the past, but charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) citing political interference.
President Jacob Zuma
South Africa currently has a president who has been openly accused of dishonesty. The allegation against the President is that he used taxpayers’ money to effect certain upgrades to his private home in Nkandla, and not just small change, but millions of South African Rand. It has been established that he lied to Parliament when he said he used his own funds. This point is now moot however, as both the police and the NPA have been politicised and Zuma is safe from investigation and prosecution. The government-appointed Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, was requested to look into the work done on Nkandla. The Public Protectors’ office was established within the terms of the Constitution of South Africa to specifically investigate complaints against government agencies or officials and irregularities were found which she communicated in her report. The ANC chief whip’s office at Parliament was then requested to establish an ad hoc committee to consider President Jacob Zuma’s response to the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla. The deadline for the establishment of this twelve member committee was April 23, 2014, and was duly set up comprised of seven African National Congress MPs, two Democratic Alliance MPs, one Congress of the People MP, one Inkatha Freedom Party MP, and one other MP representing the smaller parties.
On Tuesday, 22 April, the Democratic Alliance (DA) stated it would ask the National Assembly Speaker, Max Sisulu, for an extension of the deadline for the ad hoc committee report from April 30 to May 5 to allow for work throughout the weekend of May 2 to May 4. It would also request that the special session consider their findings, and support their motion to remove the president from office in terms of section 89 of the Constitution, to take place on either May 5 or May 6 and it was suggested that both President Zuma and Thuli Madonsela appear before the committee.
Thus far the only excuses given on President Zuma’s behalf have been: “he didn’t know” or “nobody told him.” His comrades have rushed to his defence, calling Nkandla “a holy place” while some opposition parties have said they will take steps to impeach the president as soon as he has responded to the Nkandla allegations. At least two senior members of his ruling party, the ANC, have come forward criticising Zuma’s behaviour:) and distancing themselves from the corruption which has infiltrated the organization. The youth too appear to have lost their rosy spectacles to some degree, although the ANC Youth League is stubbornly clinging to its hero worship of the president as it appears in their eyes he can do no wrong.
On Saturday, 19 April, approximately a thousand people from Cape Towns’ Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities joined together in a march to Parliament in protest of government corruption. The procession was led by Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who told the crowd: “A national embarrassment, we call the Nkandla question. Zuma has answered with silence. Silence screams the truth.”Even 82-year-old Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was seen walking the two kilometres from District Six to Parliament, stopping only occasionally to rest. Many religious leaders have called upon President Zuma to tell the truth and Archbishop Tutu has suggested South African citizens to vote with their heads.
In some instances the allegations of fraud and corruption appear to have united some of the other parties against the ANC. At the moment tensions in the country are simmering as yet more allegations have surfaced in the last few days. The Special Investigating Unit (SIU) now has evidence linking 15 government officials to possible misconduct concerning procurement in the Nkandla project.
Strikes and Unrest
Against the background of the Nkandla debacle, the country is also in the grip of strike action at the platinum mines in a fight for higher wages. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) strike has now reached beyond a record period of three months with no end in sight. The mine authorities have stated that they are hoping to negotiate directly with employees and not through AMCU.
Unrest combined with marches and demonstrations for better service delivery has reared its head once again through violence including the burning of tyres, vehicles, and buildings as frustrations reached a boiling point. The discussion of service delivery involves things that most of us take for granted, such as clean, potable water, refuse removal, sanitation and electricity. There is still a backlog of housing for the poor while it is understood that some of the houses erected in the past are now falling into ruin due to the poor standards and controls. Shortages of school books at some schools has also continued four months into this current school year.Unemployment, particularly among the youth, is extremely high. The overall unemployment rate stood at 24.1% in January 2014, down by .3% on the last quarter of 2013. There are many instances of young people in Gauteng (the richest province in the country) with university degrees taking up employment as car guards in the grounds of supermarkets and malls. The health sector also is constantly under pressure with staff shortages and lack of sufficient drugs, instruments and diagnostic machines in our public hospitals.
Speculation is rife regarding the outcome of the General Elections scheduled for 7th May 2014. We can hope optimistically for some radical change but, this being South Africa, a Third World country, it is highly unlikely to materialise. There are rumours that President Zuma’s days are numbered, however, he seems to consider himself above the law and appears extremely arrogant and not without reason. All previous steps to bring him to book have come to naught. There is no doubt in my mind that he has harmed his party, the ANC, although they too are continuing on as if nothing has happened. This is the closest we have come to some ANC members admitting they are disillusioned with the president with President Zuma being booed at several recent events.
It will be at least another decade before any viable opposition to the ANC appears on the scene. Opposition parties are at the moment too fractured and too pre-occupied with their public image to constitute any threat whatsoever. Until they are able to coalesce into a strong and unified meeting of minds, there is no real hope of a meaningful opposition. It will however be very interesting to see whether the voting pattern predicts any change at all from the status quo in response to all the stories circulating of corruption and fraud. The general populace is also waking up to the repetition of promises ahead of every national election – promises that all too often fail to translate into reality.
©Denise G Allen 2014