RECENT and ongoing developments in South Africa provide us, day in and day out, with ample opportunities to witness the levels of political arrogance we’ve come to be bathed in by our leaders. And we’re all complicit in it.
To get here, it took only two decades of too many easy, predictable, electoral wins fueled by the blind trust of voters who, still traumatised by decades of evil apartheid rule, have been too willing to place all their fortunes in one cookie jar under the control of former liberators, the country’s post-apartheid political elites.
Just over twenty years ago, with many of them fresh from exile or having just been freed from inhumane apartheid jails, the freedom fighters integrated society driven by noble plans to turn ours into the most admired state in the history of post-colonial Africa. They even swore never to repeat mistakes made elsewhere on the continent.
Fast forward to 2016, they do not hesitate to brandish their middle fingers in our collective face, treating us like children and telling us we’re wrong and they’re right. They claim to know what’s good for us even when the truth is out there for everyone to see; arrogantly believing that our great country belongs to them to do as they please.
If anything scares me more than everything else in contemporary South Africa, it is not the rampant crime South Africans have become accustomed to. The crime has become largely predictable and, on the whole, we have come to live with the illusion that we can muster the art of jumping over fences at the right moment, dodging the knives and bullets in our crime-ridden streets.
And it is no longer the seemingly untameable levels of socio-economic inequalities that scare me the most. It is also not the Guptas, whether they’re still in the country or not; whether they still have business interests in South Africa or not; and whether or not they still influence presidential decisions and remote control cabinet ministers and senior government officials.
Like the enterprising family of opportunists that they’ve proven to be, the Guptas would have seen a weakness, early signs of what would in time turn into a gaping fissure in the political, ethical and moral edifice that our founding President Nelson Mandela had carefully passed on to those who came after him. They threw in their bait and waited patiently.
Weakened by greed, current day political leaders could not resist taking a bite. With this first bite, they got taken in, one by one, starting at the top. But, in this case, they were not victims; they were willing participants in a corrupt system of business relationships that would enrich them personally, together with their friends and families, while impoverishing the already poor masses of South Africans who relied on them to turn their fortunes around.
The two sides of state capture
The closer I look at the Gupta-effect on the current mood in the country, I get tempted to sympathise more with the view that they’re just an entrepreneurial family of opportunists who saw a gap and went for it; not one that seeks to describe them as the chief wreckers of our constitutional order. Much like former colonial powers who saw opportunities in independent African countries, the Guptas, armed with the same hunger for fortune, sought and found willing accomplices in influential positions to work with.
They began right at the apex of our constitutional being and found a willing President, a man recently described by the highest court in our land as the embodiment of our constitution. Using him as a conduit, the fortune seekers went down the political and administrative value chain to take control for their own benefit, remembering to leave small change to appease their willing partners here and there. Think of animal trainers who regularly throw something into their charges’ mouths to nibble on in order to keep going. The Guptas did not have to work too hard; the field was already replete with high levels of greed and absence of republican values.
Today we find Gupta praise-singers who are provincial premiers, the head honcho at our country’s national broadcaster – he who, apparently taking cue from his political master, constantly brandishes a middle-finger to repeated court judgments regarding his irregular appointment at the broadcaster – and several others.
It is therefore political cowardice, hypocrisy, and opportunism to place all the blame for our state of affairs on the Guptas. The bulk of the blame sits squarely on the shoulders of the unethical leaders we have placed our trust in.
What scares me the most in current day South Africa is the growing realization that we have placed our fate squarely into the hands of a bunch of politicians who, now faced with the growing prospects of losing much of the power they’ve taken for granted all along, might stop at nothing to retain it. We’ve heard the insults aimed at our Public Protector – the David whose office was built to protect us, ordinary folk, from the Goliath that our liberators have become – and we’ve seen endless vilification of those who dare demand that our Constitution and the rule of law be respected. More recently, the same former liberators shamelessly refused to accept the implications of a clear judgment by the highest court in the land. The rot has already begun eating off the head.
Suddenly, Harare and Matebeleland seem too near for comfort; Kampala and Bujumbura are a mere stone-throw away. That is what scares me.
It is past time that South African leaders looked in the mirror and admitted what they saw in it. They cannot forever play victim and point fingers elsewhere after willingly walking into snares set-up by fortune seekers. State capture is not the sole specialisation of the Guptas, but refusing to take the bait requires ethical leadership; something that we clearly lack in the current crop of leaders.