AS pressure mounts on South African President Jacob Zuma to go amid a political storm engulfing the nation triggered by his recent midnight cabinet reshuffle and succession battle, it is increasingly becoming clear the ruling ANC risks Zanufication while the country faces pitfalls of national consciousness of Fanonian proportions.
Editor’s Memo Dumisani Muleya
Whereas some analysts say South Africa is about to reach its “Mugabe moment” and others warn against reductionism — oversimplifying a complex situation — in their assessments, a comparative analysis in a post-colonial African context is inevitable.
Of course, historical and internal dynamics, as well as circumstances may be different, but parallels can nevertheless be drawn.
What South Africa is going through now, Zimbabwe also went through and is still stuck in: exhausted nationalism, descent into extraordinary lethargy by the post-liberation movement and ubiquitous failure. Toxic leadership and policy failures, as well as corruption and bad governance after an initial period of euphoria, are major factors.
This has led to a rise in social discontent and strong opposition.
In both countries, the situation was characterised by unfulfilled promises and lack of delivery. Leaders got absorbed with self-interest and primitive accumulation. Patronage and cronyism became endemic and rampant.
Yet there were deep underlying and structural issues at stake, on top of historical grievances around land and economic transformation. Negotiated transitions and failure to overhaul the post-colonial state and the political economy were part of the problem.
Unemployment, lack of housing, inadequate infrastructure which limits social inclusion of the subaltern, marginalisation of communities, ailing public health systems, poor social service delivery and divisions in society, among others, are key variables.
While the majority wallowed in poverty, those in positions of power and influence enjoyed fabulous material comforts or trappings of office. These contradictions spawned tensions, divisions and dissent which sometimes manifest themselves in vocal and even militant opposition; Julius Malema and EFF being the best example.
Feeling under siege, the ruling elites resorted to populist and radical measures to survive. This is South Africa’s current trajectory, which of course might change because of strong institutions and vibrant opposition in and out of the ANC. Amidst its spectacular natural beauty, scenic landscapes and pristine beaches, therein lies a malady that can only be found in a deeply divided and unequal society, in which the price of a corrupt and incompetent leadership is mainly being paid by the most vulnerable.
Like its panoramic scenery — best captured along the coastal Garden Route — South Africa’s contradictions are breathtaking. The affluent Sandton — Africa’s richest square mile — and the adjacent poor shanty township of Alexandra — provide the most graphic illustration of the country’s unsustainable inequalities.
Zuma now finds himself in a political maelstrom, battling for political survival. He has resorted to demagoguery and Mugabeism for self-preservation. Some of the problems he faces are a result of his ineptitude, while others are historical and structural.
Hence, his removal alone, like in Mugabe’s case, won’t resolve all the problems. Yet it is also true that if Zuma goes, South Africa stands a better chance of avoiding further Zanufication and Zimbabwe’s disastrous path.
Similarly, if Mugabe goes, Zimbabwe can be saved.
South Africa’s situation is also complicated by an unresolved succession issue at the heart of ANC turmoil.
Naturally, the opposition is capitalising on this. Whites who want to cling onto old privileges and thus their visceral fear change are out in full force. Blacks who support and oppose Zuma have also taken positions, raising the spectre of a brutal and even bloody confrontation ahead, especially given that violence is always below the surface in South African society.
The economy is now under threat, particularly after its “junk status” rating, as the clamour for radical land reform and economic transformation grows. This volatile cocktail, aggravated by problems like state capture, violent crime, xenophobia, as well as racial tensions — all which Zuma did not invent — raises the stakes and sets South Africa on a Zimbabwe-like slippery slope.