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ANC silencing debate about power, patriarchy and the president

Brett Murray’s defaced The Spear stands as a monument to intolerance. After thousands of ANC supporters marched to the Goodman where the painting the had once been on display, the gallery has agreed it will not be displayed publicly again.

While representations of the painting now enjoy the ubiquity of the web, what price have we paid for the original painting’s removal from the gallery’s wall? In the aftermath of the fury unleashed by the ANC, will artists still dare to challenge and provoke? Or has South Africa accepted that culture and “acceptability” is something determined only by its ruling party?

It has become impossible for the ANC to mask its totalitarian instincts: if it hadn’t already, the mask slipped this week. When the party feels threatened, the Constitution no longer matters; neither do the courts: it is only the power of the raised fist to invoke fear and unleash retribution that is of consequence.

While opposition was relatively muted — whether in the arts, on the streets or the benches of parliament — the ANC could maintain the pretence of supporting the concept of a constitutional democracy, one in which robust criticism can flourish. Now the party is under siege, both internally (through its vicious faction fights) and externally, thanks to ebbing support, increasing disillusionment at persistent poverty and a growing political opposition.

Will a gallery in South Africa ever again be brave enough (or even be permitted) to display art condemned by the powerful as outrageous? Or will controversial culture be exported – onto the web, and to exhibition spaces abroad? Are our artists to become exiles once more, hounded for daring to question or expose?

Freedom is difficult, sometimes painful. Freedom guarantees being able to question, comment, criticise – even if by doing so insult and outrage is the result. Art must provoke, must make us argue and discuss – even if our feelings get a bit bruised in the process. If we are so fearful of causing offence, we will become blinkered; how can we search for truth, or inspire debate, if we are so afraid of the consequences?

“The norm” needs to be constantly unpicked and explored, and the powerful scrutinised. Not long ago, slavery, denying women the vote and jailing gays was “the norm”. It was through exercising freedom of expression, culturally and politically, that these practices were banished (although tragically in some parts of the world today these practices are still considered acceptable).

In a country in which rape and the abuse of women and children are rampant, it is vital that we have a conversation about gender, power and patriarchy. It is vital that art catalyses a discussion on the way women are treated, and a discussion about the need for us all — male and female, black and white — to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.

The backlash against The Spear threatens to silence that much-needed discussion. The ANC’s and its supporters’ rhetoric implicitly suggests that commenting or critiquing the president’s version of masculinity and the actions that stem from it is simply taboo – especially if the critic is white.

If genuine freedom and equality for all South Africans is to be attained, no culture should be sacrosanct or off limits. Rather they should be interrogated and explored.

This week South Africa’s largest news site, News24, voluntarily removed an image of The Spear not long after City Press, the Sunday newspaper embroiled in a legal battle with the ANC over the image, took it off its website too.

News24 claimed it was doing this “in a spirit of healing and nation-building”. This is at best misguided. Nation-building is defying those who seek to dictate what is culturally acceptable and what is not. It is standing up to attempts to quash creative expression. Nation-building is fighting for the rights enshrined in our Constitution. In the long term, little can be gained (least of all “healing”) by surrendering to intolerance.

South Africa will not overcome fear by giving into it. The nation can only grow if the right to provoke, question and criticise is vigorously defended.

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The ANC’s bullying will fail to quash freedom

There has been much gnashing of teeth at the decision made by the editor of City Press, Ferial Haffajee, to remove a photo of Bretty Murray’s The Spear from the newspaper’s website.

When it comes to the media, the ANC has brought all its indignant fury down on one publication – it has been useful to do so, as its single-minded bullying is reminder of who’s boss, a flexing of muscle that menacingly reminds both the media and South Africans generally of the even greater fury the party can unleash should it take umbrage to a paper’s contents.

The ANC certainly has the power to intimidate the media, fostering a climate of fear, hysteria and hatred. Its behaviour can certainly inculcate a mindset of self-censorship amongst the nation’s journalists – which is so much easier and more effective than employing the cumbersome mechanics of official censorship, although through its artful manipulation of the Film & Publication Board you could argue it is using this approach too.

But what the ANC, the City Press and the brow-furrowed chattering classes have lost sight of is that this is a changed world, one in which the old mediums (print, TV) still have an important role, but are far from being the only means through which ideas and information can be conveyed.

Indeed, these entities have become absorbed into a chaotic web in which information (and that includes presidential penises or at least the depiction thereof) is being shared and streamed with lightning speed and astonishing reach.

The ANC might be able to scare the City Press into removing The Spear, but it won’t be able to do the same to the thousands of other sites that have posted the image, or to the people that have shared it on social networks or emailed it to their friends.

It is for this reason that the ANC has failed in its attempt to quash creative freedom, even as the party has exposed its contempt for the constitution which guarantees it. It will again fail when, in the months and years ahead, there emerges artworks, writings, films and more that critique, satirise, mock or hold the ANC or its leaders to account.

As the events of this week has shown, the ANC’s strategies to shrink the space available for dissent and freedom of expression might sometimes seem effective. But we need to remind ourselves that this space has expanded into the online realm and beyond, to where it is out of the party’s reach.

The Arab Spring proved that social media has become a remarkable, unstoppable force to keep information and free thought flowing; a means to challenge and criticise power. In the future, we will see this being wielded by more and more people as social media tools becomes more affordable and accessible. The massive success of Mxit in South Africa is an exciting harbinger of this social media explosion.

And, thankfully for our democracy, this means that the ANC’s control of the public broadcaster and its coercion of “old” media will become increasingly irrelevant.

The genie is out of the bottle – and we’re all the better of for that.

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How corruption sustains the ANC – and is killing our democracy

Official opposition leader Helen Zille’s latest weekly newsletter offers up an essential analysis of why corruption within the ANC is endemic and how its deep, poisonous tentacles are steadily strangling South Africa’s constitutional democracy.

Read it below:

Why Zuma couldn’t stop corruption, even if he wanted to

The utterances of the ANC today have all the hallmarks of the double-think of George Orwell’s 1984. If you haven’t read the book, double-think involves holding two contradictory ideas in your head at the same time. This means that when your actions contradict your words, you actually believe your own propaganda.

Examples of ANC double-think abound, but nowhere is it more apparent than its stance on corruption.

How often have we seen commentators praising ANC leaders, including the President, for their tough talk on corruption? It always ends with rhetoric. Action never follows.

When the President launched the ANC’s manifesto before the last election, he said:

“Most importantly, the ANC will step up measures in the fight against corruption within its ranks and the State…this will include measures to review the tendering system, to ensure that ANC members in business, public servants and elected representatives do not abuse the State for corrupt practices.”

In his State of the Nation address this year, he said: “We will pay particular attention to combating corruption and fraud in procurement and tender processes…” He said the same thing the year before. Yet, we have seen no measures introduced to actually do anything about corruption.

These repeated anti-corruption promises are deeply ironic given the cloud of corruption that hangs over the President himself. Extreme double-think must be necessary for Zuma to speak of his “zero tolerance” approach to corruption when he knows how many quashed charges hang over his own head. More than that. As he attacks corruption, President Zuma knows that the ANC undermined the independence of the National Prosecuting Authority to avoid ANC leaders, including himself, having to answer corruption charges in court. The Constitution itself is being sacrificed to the ANC’s corruption.

What’s more, the ANC has even set up front companies to institutionalise corruption. Most notorious is Chancellor House. Its purpose is to channel tenders and contracts from the ANC in government to the ANC in business in order to enrich the ANC and its leaders. Straight, institutionalised corruption.

Chancellor House facilitated the deal between Eskom and Hitachi Africa, to manufacture boilers for the proposed Medupi Power Station, from which the ANC stands to make an estimated R1-billion tax free profit. Eskom will have to pay with taxpayers’ money. And, as a result, the ANC will become one of the wealthiest political parties in the world. Let South Africans remember this when they pay their inflated electricity bills.

So, while some in the ANC leadership rail against the proliferation of tenderpreneurs, the ANC has become the tenderpreneur-in-chief. A pattern is emerging here: the more corrupt the ANC becomes, the tougher its anti-corruption stance. Indeed, this is how double-think works. The graver the deed, the greater the falsehood required to neutralise it in one’s mind.

It is time for everyone to realise that corruption is not just an aberration in the ANC that must be ‘rooted out’ from time to time. The ANC needs corruption to survive, it is its lifeblood. It needs it to fund its election campaigns. It needs it to pay the loyalty networks necessary for ANC leaders to entrench their power. And it needs corruption to pay for its leadership’s lifestyles. ANC leaders in the party, the state, and in business have become an interlocked network of patronage and corruption. Everyone knows that everyone else is corrupt, so they cover up for each other, and abuse power to tighten their grip, undermining independent institutions and eliminating opposition both inside and outside the Party.

In the process, the ANC is turning South Africa into a criminal state. What will it take to get us out of this sordid mess?

The obvious thing would be for President Zuma to stop talking about corruption and take decisive action to actually expose and prevent it. He could announce anti-corruption measures such as preventing political parties from doing business with the state. He could announce laws which prevent government employees from doing business with government. And, he could stop the deployment of cadres to parastatals and institutions integral to the fight against corruption, such as the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). He could re-instate the independence of the criminal justice system to expose and prosecute corruption without fear or favour.

But he cannot do any of these things without exposing himself and his closest political allies to criminal prosecution. The criminal justice system has been perverted as an instrument for persecuting political opponents and protecting political allies. But even this selective use of the criminal justice system is becoming difficult because the entire ANC edifice — allies and opponents alike — are caught in what Allister Sparks calls a ‘corruption gridlock’. Senior ANC members have so much dirt on each other, that they dare not take action against corruption. If one goes down, he will take the rest down with them. This is precisely what Jacob Zuma himself threatened to do when faced with prosecution relating to the arms deal before he became President.

This explains why the corruption in the arms deal was so successfully covered up. It explains why Julius Malema was able to get away with what he did and said before any rebuke whatsoever from Zuma. It explains why Schabir Shaik is still on medical parole, despite no evidence that he is terminally ill.

In all of these cases, the ANC leadership is paralysed because of its dubious past and future interest in maintaining the status quo. Zuma cannot go beyond rhetoric and take real action against corruption for fear of alienating those who have enough information to bring him down. His time and energy is spent placating those who hold this power over him instead of governing. This is the consequence of endemic corruption.

Most people think Zuma needed to avoid jail so he could become President. Actually, the opposite is true. Zuma needed to become President so that he could avoid jail.

Now that he has succeeded, Zuma is paralysed as a President. You can be sure that nothing will come of his rebuke of Malema. There will be no tough anti-corruption measures taken while he is in office. And, in time, Schabir Shaik will receive a presidential pardon.

If we dig deep enough, I believe we would discover that Jacob Zuma continues to benefit from corrupt relationships to this day. The lifestyle of his family is too lavish to be affordable on his presidential income. We wonder how he can spend R65 million – which he has insisted is his own money – renovating his residence at Nkandla. And we marvel at how he can support his wives, his fiancée and 20 children on a single salary.

But we also know that his family members, including his wives, are involved in over 100 companies – some of which benefit from state contracts. It was therefore not surprising that Zuma missed the deadline to declare his financial interests by 10 months, and only disclosed his assets when public pressure forced him to. The irresistible inference is that his advisors were sanitising his business interests for public consumption.

All of this tells us why Zuma cannot get tough on corruption, even if he wanted to. The cronies he relies on for political support benefit from corruption too much. Not only this, the ANC benefits. Most of all, Zuma and his family benefit.

This week, the DA tabled private members legislation in the National Assembly that, if passed, would put an end to political parties doing business with the state. This would have prevented the ANC from using its influence at Eskom to grant a multi-billion rand state contract to a company it has a stake in.

Also this week, we announced new legislation in the Western Cape, where the DA governs, that will prevent state employees and their families from doing business with the state, because of the clear conflict of interest this presents.

I have challenged President Zuma to implement this legislation at national level and I look forward to seeing his response. But I am not holding my breath. After all, he is caught in a corruption gridlock. He has too much to lose from taking decisive action against graft.

But what Zuma and his cronies need to understand is that, if they do not act against corruption in their ranks soon, they will lose in the end. They must remember that we live in a democracy and that they are subject to the will of the people. The time will come when even the ANC’s staunchest supporters will realise what their party has become. The only remedy available in a democracy is to vote for an alternative.

As ANC NEC member Jeremy Cronin said this week: “The ANC should realise overwhelmingly that the honeymoon is over.”

–end of newsletter–

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Zuma – Mugabe’s messenger

According to the Financial Times, President Zuma will ask the UK to drop its targeted sanctions against key figures in Robert Mugabe’s kleptocracy. EU and US sanctions have been a serious inconvenience to the opulent, tax-funded lifestyles of the Zanu PF — it’s little wonder why it’s screaming for them to be dropped.

Zuma apparently argues that the sanctions are standing as an impediment to the implementation of the Global Provisional Agreement, the plan which sets out the coalition deal signed between Zimbabwean parties last year. I personally believe Zanu PF would obstruct implementation of the agreement regardless of whether sanctions were in place or not — and that the moaning about sanctions is merely an excuse for Zanu PF’s contempt for the GPA’s obligations — which require a respect for human rights and a relinquishing of illicit power.

The cynic in me says Zuma’s merely doing this as a favour for a “friend”. Sadly, it would seem that the bonds between the ANC and Zanu PF — ironically both considered “liberation movements” in their day — seem to strong. It is this relationship that has rendered South Africa’s approach to Zimbabwe pathetically reprehensible and completely ineffective.

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Zuma’s parole for pals

Many people, myself included, had suspected that convicted fraudster and pal of President Zuma, Schabir Shaik, managed to get medical parole through having friends in high places.

Only terminally ill prisoners qualify for medical parole; it seemed hugely doubtful that notwithstanding Mr Shaik’s medical issues, he was most certainly not terminally ill, or about to die, when he was released early March 2009.

This was view further solidified when, over the past few months, reports continually emerged of Shaik being out about, at restaurants and playing golf. It also seemed a little odd that a man who was ostensibly suffering from a terminal illness and on the verge of dying, hadn’t passed away yet.

Today the M&G provides us with some sad, unsurprising answers. They have obtained documents which clearly show that Shaik was not terminally ill and that his parole release was politically motivated.

Read the M&G‘s expose here.

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Why there’s not much hope for Cope

This op-ed was written on the eve of South Africa’s elections in April.

When Mosiuoa ‘Terror’ Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa announced they were “serving divorce papers” on the African National Congress (ANC), their political home, there was a frenzy of speculation that this would result in a tectonic shift in South Africa’s political and electoral landscape. As the marriage broke down irretrievably with the SA National Convention, an anti-Zuma fest in Sandton, and the subsequent official launch of an opposition breakaway party in Bloemfontein just over a month later, pundits were hailing these developments as marking the end of ANC’s political hegemony.

Dreams of a breakaway party’s ability to chastise ANC arrogance and curb the party’s overwhelming electoral might weren’t the only things discussed amongst the chattering classes. Many were seduced by Lekota’s pro-constitutional rhetoric, calls for a constituency-based parliamentary system and for the president to be directly elected. They saw this as promising greater engagement and accountability between political parties and the people – an antidote to the Mbeki era’s alienation of the electorate and the erosion of parliament’s prestige and “people power”.

Now, as the April 22 election date looms dizzyingly closer, the body politic is in a very different mood. A Markinor poll estimates that the Congress of the People (Cope) will receive between eight and 12 percent of the vote, with this buttressed by the DA’s tracking poll results which show support for the breakaway hovering between six and eight percent. Both percentages are paltry compared to the optimistic figures bandied about in the early days of Cope’s creation. It appears that come April, Cope will little more than dent the ANC’s electoral dominance – far from cutting the ruling party down to size as so many initially expected.

There are a number of reasons for this. The initial media frenzy and fuzzy euphoria that surrounded Cope’s pro-constitutional democracy pronouncements soon faded as more and more personalities closely associated with Mbeki’s ruling cabal defected to the party.

Nosimo Balindlela, the erstwhile premier of the Eastern Cape, was welcomed by the breakaway with open arms, despite having led a provincial administration plagued by corruption, ineptitude and service delivery failures.

Smuts Ngonyama, another influential member in the new party, hardly represents democratic values – having been Machiavellian Mbeki’s spin-doctor-in-chief and head of the presidency. With Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, the former deputy president, jumping aboard too, Cope seemed to increasingly resemble a collective of has-beens sidelined after backing the wrong horse at the ANC’s landmark Polokwane conference in December 2007.

The party’s leadership also suffered a credibility crisis. While Terror Lekota has been lauded for being “his own man” and something of a firebrand, many sceptics pointed to the administrative collapse of the defence department while he was its political head. People were also left wondering where Lekota’s apparent commitment to the Constitution was while he was a member of Mbeki’s cabinet. After all, he seemed quite happy to toe the party line when it came to Aids, the Arms Deal, Zimbabwe and other issues.

Cope has struggled to define its identity. While it has claimed to be a fresh and new alternative to the ANC it has been unable to differentiate itself from the ruling party, thanks to the plethora of Mbeki-ites in its ranks and a “cut and paste” election manifesto startlingly similar to the ANC’s. Volunteer-in-chief Mbhazima Shilowa didn’t help matters by claiming Cope “reveres” Mbeki: an autocrat whose tenure was marked by the suppression of debate, demonisation of critics, racialisation, lacklustre service delivery and rampant corruption.

Cope’s failure to make a clean break with Mbeki’s reign has continued with the appointment of Mvume Dandala as the party’s presidential candidate. While some hailed the appointment as a masterstroke – after all, the political neophyte was supposedly untainted by the scandals and intrigue of the Mbeki era – the strategy backfired. Not only is Dandala relatively obscure — most South Africans haven’t heard of him until now – but journalists soon discovered that Mbeki has described the former head of the Methodist church as his favourite cleric. Dandala incidentally officiated at his presidential inauguration in 2004. Unlike most other senior religious figures he refused to criticise even the president’s most horrifying policies – most notably Aids denialism and the implicit support of Mugabe’s oppressive regime. Dandala reinforced notions of loyalty to Mbeki and his Aids-denialist agenda when he was unable to categorically state to a journalist that HIV causes Aids. It’s perhaps unsurprising that some have even gone as far as to accuse him of being a Mbeki puppet, acting as a proxy for the disgraced former president to reign in the influence of Lekota and Shilowa within the new party.

A deterioration in the generally favourable attitudes towards Cope in the mainstream South African media can be attributed to the quietening down of pro-constitutional sentiment, with the splinter party instead dependent on high-profile defections to maintain news momentum. But even this tactic backfired when several people, including the ANC MP Dennis Bloem, were included in both the ANC and Cope electoral lists in early March. It appeared that these principled specimens were hedging their bets, worried they were to be purged by the post-Polokwane faction in power at Luthuli House. The electoral list fiasco also sparked reports of fierce battles for power and positions within Cope. With the party’s foot soldiers fighting it out for top spots on the electoral list, focus on the real battle – the election campaign – has been lost. Shilowa, Lekota and Dandala’s wobbly and uncertain leadership exacerbated the situation, creating the perception amongst potential voters that Cope is rudderless, running aground on the quicksands of self-interest and organisational anarchy.

Cope’s already fragile credibility has also suffered from its lack of discernment around new recruits which include corrupt former pastor Allan Boesak and other politically irrelevant opportunists like David Dalling and Peter Marais, both of whom have been members of several different parties. (In a farcical twist, the latter has subsequently defected to the ANC.) To make matters worse, Cope’s election strategist Mlungisi Hlongwane rejoined the ANC in late March. Compounding this strategic instability are rumours that despite the backing of BEE billionaire Saki Macozama, Cope has run out of money.

Analysts have said much about Cope’s potential impact on other opposition parties, with some even claiming that the breakaway would unseat the Democratic Alliance (DA) as the official opposition. Although Cope has been campaigning in opposition strongholds and its Western Cape premier candidate Allan Boesak has desperately rubbished the service delivery record of the DA-led coalition running the city of Cape Town, it is unlikely that either will have much effect. This is supported by Cape Town’s two recent by-elections: the DA won both by a landslide, with support for Cope barely registering as a blip on the electoral radar.

Cope’s dire financial situation, combined with its lack of strategy and chaotic organisational structure, is up against the DA’s relatively well-funded and slickly operated election machine and therefore will not be capturing much of the opposition vote.

On voting day Cope can count on the support of Mbeki loyalists as well as a sizeable portion of the nascent black middleclass, the beneficiaries of Mbeki’s Black Economic Empowerment and affirmative action programme. There aren’t, of course, that many of either – a direct consequence of the nature of both the man and the policies he imposed.

Like the authoritarian and aloof figure that haunts it, Cope has failed to connect with the rural voters and urban poor that make up the bulk of the ANC’s support base. In contrast, this is a demographic that ANC president Jacob Zuma, with his populist charisma and empathetic warmth, has energised and inspired. The disillusioned frustration stemming from the service delivery failures, unemployment and continuing poverty that characterised Mbeki’s rule has shifted to a hopeful optimism that the messianic Msholozi will deliver. In the face of this, splutterings about Zuma’s corruption charges are powerless and largely irrelevant. In trying to seriously challenge the Zuma-led ANC, Cope has put itself at an even greater disadvantage through its incoherent leadership, uninspired election manifesto and its chronic credibility crisis.

It is clear that Cope’s formation will not fundamentally realign South African politics as some have hoped. While that realignment is indeed inevitable, it is also an incremental process. We still have a long way to go.

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Debunking the Daily Mail’s doomsayer

On Sunday 29 March, a devastating article by Peter Hitchens on Jacob Zuma and South Africa’s future was published in Britain’s Daily Mail. Couched in a sickening, sensationalist discourse swirling with racist and colonialist undertones, the story employed gross misrepresentation, selective truth-telling, distortion and stereotyping to depict South Africa as about to collapse into the abyss of anarchy and lawlessness.

Of course South Africa faces some very worrying challenges. There are indeed threats to the sustainability and strength of our democracy – not least the disbanding of the Scorpions and the dropping of Zuma’s charges. But with all the nuance of a sledgehammer, Hitchens’ article framed the largely untested Zuma as a savage despot, thereby reinforcing all the crude, racist assumptions about our country that doubtless many Daily Mail readers hold.

I have selected some of the more outrageous passages (italicised) and comment on them below.

On electricity cuts:

Electricity blackouts – the invariable sign of a country on the slide – are now frequent. The ill-run nuclear power station inherited from the apartheid regime’s atom bomb programme is beginning to judder and fail, raising fears of an African Chernobyl.

Loadshedding is so last year. Apparently not for Hitchens. I can’t remember the last time there was a powercut in Cape Town. And remember not so long ago when New York was plunged into darkness? No one was predicting the demise of the American empire then. Eskom may have screwed up big time with a lack of capacity but that doesn’t necessarily mean South Africa is on the verge of falling apart.

To my knowledge, Koeberg had nothing to do with the apartheid’s nuclear programme. And despite its shutdowns, it’s highly unlikely Koeberg is going to blow up any time soon.

On immigrants and informal settlements:

It is largely thanks to these new arrivals that wretched, instant slums sprout right up to the edge of Cape Town’s slick new airport.

Those “slums” have been there since the 1980s and haven’t just suddenly sprouted within the past few months. With the N2 Gateway housing project there are actually far fewer shacks near the airport than there has been in decades.

Even in the lovely Cape wine country, squatter camps have erupted on the outskirts of towns where chefs drizzle olive oil on to fancy salads….

Again, squatter camps and townships have been on the outskirts of Cape Winelands towns for decades and haven’t just suddenly materialised. The settlements are a result of apartheid’s vicious town planning in which blacks were forced to live away from towns in appalling conditions.

On Aids:

There is a little about AIDS, but nothing like as much as there should be, given the acres of graves that commemorate the government’s moronic policies, of denial and folk remedies (including beetroot).

Yes, government Aids policies have been moronic. But Hitchens makes no mention that Aids denialism has been abandoned or that Manto Tshabalala Msimang, one of its fiercest proponents, has been sidelined and replaced by a very capable health minister, Barbara Hogan, who – even though only being on the job for a few months now – is already improving the healthcare system and its response to the HIV/Aids pandemic.

On Zuma himself:

In the coming weeks, South Africa seems to me to be taking several definite steps towards its cold, shocking awakening – as a full member of the Third World.

The man who will lead it there is called Jacob Zuma. Remember the name. You are going to hear a lot more of it.

Zuma is wholly African.

Wholly African? Hitchens is implying that’s a bad thing.

He completely lacks the Westernised polish and smoothness of Mandela and Mbeki. His political party, the African National Congress, sometimes seems aghast that it has chosen him as leader. Too late.

Why is having “Westernised polish and smoothness” be a good thing? Hitchens is implying that such qualities are a virtue, far better and more civilised than being African which he clearly considers “savage” and “barbaric”. Mugabe and Idi Amin both were renowned for their “Westernised polish and smoothness” and look at where that got their respective countries. And it didn’t make Mbeki anymore democratic – far from it. His tenure as president would have made Machiavelli blush.

As for the ANC despairing of its president – well, that’s simply hilarious. The party loves him. They’ll do anything for him.  For heaven’s sake – that’s why he won at Polokwane.

[T]he future President has all the charisma of an ashtray. The scripted slogans fall from his lips like blobs of cold porridge.

Another joke. Zuma is known as a highly charismatic figure and electrifying, gifted speaker.

On South Africa’s impending elections:

Many fear it will rapidly become a lawless kleptocracy when he comes to power, which he will do after a hopelessly one-sided and rather crooked election.

South Africa’s 2004 elections are generally considered to have been the freest and fairest in its history. And while there will undoubtedly be the occasional incident of intimidation etc. it is unlikely that this will characterise the upcoming election. As for South Africa becoming a lawless kleptocracy? The rot set in when Mbeki was in charge. It’s up to civil society and the political opposition to ensure it doesn’t spread any further.

On the Zulus and Zululand:

South Africa’s largest tribe are a proud fighting people, and Zuma will not be a mild leader, as Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, his two forerunners, were.

Tribal stereotypes are not only shameless constructs but often ridiculously inaccurate. Hitchens implies that while all Zulus are war-like, the Xhosas are peace-loving and “mild”. Both are equally pathetic generalisations. As more and more of the Xhosa Mbeki’s machinations come to light, it’s hard to think of the man as having been a “mild leader”.

There are Zuma posters, but the ANC – mistrusted here as a mainly Xhosa party – has to come into these districts under heavy police escort. The posters are nailed on electricity poles about 15ft up, to stop Inkatha militants tearing them down.

It’s laughable to think of the ANC as mainly Xhosa or that the only reason why Zulus support Zuma is because he is also Zulu as Hitchens attests. ANC support in KwaZulu-Natal has grown massively since 1994, with the Inkatha Freedom Party shedding masses of votes at each successive election – long before Zuma was the ANC’s leader.

On a rally in Springbok:

What is he doing here, in this arid dorp halfway to Nigeria? The truth is that the ANC faces a rebellion, and is trying to quell it with a mixture of power and pay-outs.

Someone please show Hitchens an atlas! Springbok is nowhere near to being “halfway to Nigeria”. And if the ANC is really facing a rebellion why is it doing so well in the polls? Of course many amongst the poor are gatvol, but, viewing Zuma as a saviour, they tend to take their angst about service delivery failures out on immigrants and individual ANC municipal councillors instead.

A breakaway, called the Congress of the People (COPE), has just scored surprisingly well in council by-elections near Springbok. Zuma’s allies, furious that for the first time they face serious opponents, have let their rage show in ways which have rightly scared many peaceful South Africans.

So, Cope is doing well in Springbok. Ergo they are now “serious opponents” to the ANC. That’s hilarious, considering a Markinor poll estimates their support to be between 8 and 12%. They’re little more than a splinter.

On the DA:

[Helen Zille] knows the [Democratic] Alliance must break out of being nothing more than a white liberal party.

A white liberal party? Hitchens is sounding like Trevor Manuel on this one. According to research done by Lawrence Schlemmer, the political analyst and academic, the DA is South Africa’s most multiracial party. And there’s that massive landslide at a by-election in the coloured township of Mitchells Plain we could talk about…

Hitchens’ conclusion:

[T]he prognosis – a rigged and menacing election, a government founded on lawlessness and an uneducated, cunning new leader, an African ‘Big Man’ with his roots in tribe and tradition – is not so good.

An election is generally considered to be the will of the people. Because Hitchens considers Zuma a barbaric savage, he describes such a concept as “menacing”. (Quite frankly the elections that propelled the warmongering civil-liberty assaulting Tony Blair to power were far more menacing.) There is no evidence that supports the notion that the election will be rigged but maybe Hitchens assumes that as its happening on the African continent, it must be rigged.

As for Zuma’s lack of education, why should that be a concern when so many of Africa’s “big men” were some of the best educated on the continent (such as Mugabe)? Hitchens implies that African cultures are inherently dangerous and uncivilised. Provided that Zuma respects and adheres to the constitution, bill of rights and our democracy, there is nothing wrong for him to be rooted in “tribe and tradition”.

It is unfortunate that worst kind of neo-colonialist Afropessimism has been employed to sell a few more papers. If they are incapable of a rational, truly insightful and nuanced portrayal of South Africa and its challenges, perhaps the Daily Mail should rather just do another story on Jade Goody instead. Or talk about how terrible Tony wriggled out of the cash-for-peerages scandal and canned an investigation into British Aerospace’s bribing of Saudi Arabian decisionmakers to guarantee they bought Eurofighter jets.

It cuts both ways.

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