FOR some of us here in South Africa, the temptation has been too strong to resist looking over the fence into Zimbabwe, like kids who have learned that their friends next door have just been given the latest tech toy we also desperately want to have.
We’re like kids who are desperate to see for themselves if the toy in question is really what it is said to be, and if it can perform the miracles we desperately seek. But it might be too early to start celebrating, as growing indications point to the toy in the hands of Zimbabwean kids being more of a poisoned chalice than a harbinger of the kind of changes needed in Zimbabwe as they are in South Africa.
More of the same ahead
Any hope that the ousted vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa – he who has been Robert Mugabe’s political travel companion for decades and was actively involved in the Matebeleland massacres of the 1980s – will be a better, more democratic, leader seems very faint.
His own political track record is far from brilliant. By the looks of things, Mnangagwa and his defenders in the army are simply acting to secure their own succession in power and prevent Mugabe from enabling the election of his wife as his successor.
Jacob Zuma is trying the same trick on us here in South Africa, by doing everything to ensure that he’s succeeded by his former wife and the mother of several of his children. He wants to keep the Z-folder open and active, as that is the only one he trusts to protect his interests even after he leaves office; the only folder he might even be able to control from the comfort of his ill-gotten retirement.
Sadly, many are falling for his nefarious stratagem.
Given the dire socio-economic and political situation under Mugabe and Zanu-PF, it’s understandable that the hopes of Zimbabweans would be tickled by any switch from the current political status quo to something else.
But they need more than a switch from a confirmed despot to a possible one; like we in South Africa need more than just a switch from a corrupt, unethical, and incorrigible leader to one who might not be corrupt at face value but who has consistently failed to stand up and be counted, remaining quiet all along when the country needed him most; one who preferred to sit on the fence – enjoying the gravy train to reputational oblivion – while our key institutions were being repurposed to serve a bunch of criminals.
Here in South Africa, all focus is understandably on the many routes that have been violently criss-crossing one another and shedding dead bodies along the way as they head to the ANC’s elective conference in December.
Party of nightmares and knives
We too, after almost a quarter of a century under the rule of one party, seem – like Zimbabweans in the north – conditioned to believe that the solutions we seek for our country must always come out of the same party of liberation that, in more recent years, has turned into a party of nightmares, knives, bullets and daggers.
This kind of thinking is unhealthy, as it limits political and leadership creativity and prevents South Africans from imagining a new way; a country led by a totally different group of people who would meet in the middle, coming from all corners of our richly diverse land.
The Chinese might have made peace with the fact that their country will be ruled by the Chinese Communist Party for many more decades to come, but we do not have to do the same. That is not what we signed up for at the dawn of our democracy.
Too many years in power following too many easy victories by the same group of people who enjoyed blind loyalty will never be good for any country aspiring to be a modern democracy. Any party that wins elections must know that it will be replaced if it fails to live up to the expectations of the electorate. Never again must the seat of power be turned into a comfortable place for anyone.
We must continue watching the unfolding leadership contest in the ANC with great interest, of course, because it is still the party in power. The choices it makes affect us all and keep us awake at night, but no longer for good reasons. We must go beyond simply hoping for a better man or woman to emerge from the ANC leadership contest.
What South Africa needs, more than ever before, are watertight checks and balances that will ensure that no other politician gets to do to it what the ANC, particularly under Zuma, has done. The ANC is unlikely to accede to such a call, but we should insist that parties planning to contest the 2019 elections promise to initiate national discussions accessible to the public through civil society organisations and other representative formations.
They should review:
- The powers of the president, especially in regard to the appointment of:
– The heads of chapter nine institutions
– The boards of state-owned enterprises;
- The appointment of political party chairpersons and other office bearers into positions of speaker of Parliament;
- The need to shield law enforcement agencies from control and influence by the executive;
- The independence and credibility of SARS with a view to rebuilding and protecting its reputational fortunes at all costs. The success of our developmental goals relies on it; and
- The prevalence in our National Assembly and Parliament of dodgy MPs with either criminal records or under criminal investigation.
As a country, we’ve had 23 years to test the brilliant institutions that were created to underpin our young democracy, all built with Nelson Mandela in mind. We would be foolish if we fail to plug the obvious weaknesses and ensure that never again shall a man or woman elected to lead our country successfully go rogue and use our institutions to remain in power.
Our reputational climb back will be steep and very long indeed, for as long as we fail to make fundamental changes in how we’re led.