South Africa

Dangerous and corrupt realities of modern-day South Africa

For many South Africans, Durban is a popular place to go on holiday in the summer months – particularly those who live in Johannesburg and crave a break by the coast. The beaches and marinas brim with activity.

But despite the enjoyment that many visitors have, it is also one of the most dangerous cities in South Africa, if not the world. Shootings are not uncommon, including a recent fatal incident where rival operators engaged in a turf war opened fire at a busy taxi rank.

The ANC government came to power full of optimism and promises following their election victory in 1994, but in many respects they just haven’t delivered, as Alex Perry – previously Time magazine’s Africa bureau chief – notes in an excellent new book, The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free, which charts his travels across the continent:

“In the first years after apartheid, Tutu had spoken about a Rainbow Nation. The New South Africa turned out to be no harmony of colour and, with its electric-fence partitions, barely even a nation. Freedom, in South Africa, was really a murderous free-for-all. The struggle against apartheid rooted in black solidarity and an end to discrimination, had, in the end, led to fragmentation. And individuals couldn’t stop a country falling apart. From behind their barricades they just got to watch.”

So what has gone wrong?

“We did not deliver to the people, we continued to deliver to ourselves,” a former aide to an ANC provincial leader who was assassinated in 2011 told Perry on the seafront in Durban. The party had fought for democracy, but was itself essentially undemocratic and once it got into power it simply did not adjust.

In Perry’s chapter on South Africa, a picture of ANC members jostling for power emerges. It is a country where politicians would be prepared to gun down their rivals in a bid to gain influence and get their hands on public money.

For some, South African’s current president Jacob Zuma is a case in point, with claims he has maintained contact with the same underworld criminals that helped him smuggle weapons into the country in the years running up to apartheid being abolished.

Soon after his appointment as the country’s president in 2009 Zuma appointed many of his close allies to high positions in justice, police and state security departments. And he dismantled an elite police unit that had pursued him for corruption.

There has been much industrial strife under Zuma’s rule, including a huge wildcat strike at the Marikana mine in 2012, where police fired on which killed 44 strikers and wounded many more. The president was also booed during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in 2013.

Yet despite this and millions of dollars being spent on private homes for Zuma (including adding 79 additional buildings to his sprawling home north of Durban, as part of a $20 million upgrade) and funding the lifestyles of his many wives, he was reappointed for a second term as president in May 2014 with a 64% majority.

As a result of the widespread corruption in South Africa for many “little has changed since apartheid” and most of those whose lives were “truly transformed by the ANC’s victory were those of the party’s own leaders,” as Perry writes:

“For most whites, the post-apartheid years had been an unqualified boon. More money, less guilt. For blacks, out of a total population of 50 million, 8.7 million still earned $1.25 or less a day. Most continued to live in the same township shacks, travelled inside the same crowded minibuses and, if they had jobs, worked in the same white-owned homes and businesses as they had before the revolution.”

The current political situation in South Africa – where in some areas violence, industrial strife and unemployment seems to have become the norm – is a real worry for international commentators. I’ve mentioned R.W. Johnson’s new book in previous blogs and from the name of the volume (“How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Looming Crisis”) you can see where he sits. This passage considering the country post 1994 sums things up:

“For all its promises that it had learned its lessons while in exile in independent Africa, the ANC in fact repeated all the classic mistakes of such regimes. There was a lot of misgovernance, but perhaps even more than that, there was simply no governance. For years the government was protected by a friendly international environment, by a long commodities boom and by growth which resulted simply from the opening up of the rest of Africa to South African trade and investment. After 20 years of almost complete fecklessness, an extremely serious situation had been reached by 2014”.

2015-09-19 13.51.31

ANC headquarters in Johannesburg

Johnson believes that the country is heading for another “investment crisis which will in turn end in another regime change, as such crises always have in the past”. Whether that happens, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Zuma is “worse than Mbeki”, the former ANC Youth Leader who had initially praised the current president and the founder of a new populist party, the Economic Freedom Fighters has said. He runs, according to Johnson, a “federation of warlords” that particularly benefits members of his native Zulu tribe and ANC cronies in and around Durban, KwaZulu-Natal province’s main city. The author says he is a “virtual Zulu monarch with multiple wives, a palatial establishment at Nkandla and many cattle.”

Public money has, since Zuma’s election, been used to help maintain his lavish lifestyle of fast cars and plush properties. More funds still have gone into companies set-up by family members, specifically so they could benefit from government contracts. Indeed, businesses hoping for this work have found that donating to the Jacob Zuma Foundation or Jacob Zuma Education Trust to be very helpful.

But as Johnson points out in his book, it was Nelson Mandela who ensured Zuma became Thabo Mbeki’s deputy and thus later became president, of both the ANC and the country.

Mbeki was not a fan of Zuma and sacked him from both positions in 2005, although he was re-instated to his party role after an outcry from ANC members. Zuma was charged with 700 counts of fraud, money laundering, corruption and racketeering and sent him to prison for 15 years, thanks to the efforts of cronies in Mbeki’s government.

Zuma had good lawyers however and was popular with ANC members, so it was Mbeki that was forced from office in 2008.

Durban has attracted a lot of investment since Zuma’s election to president, but much money has been wasted. It is a world where the police drugs squad is paid off by drug dealers and the CID is likely to be a client of gangsters.

“While Durban under ANC rule was already a corrupt city, there seems little doubt that Zuma’s ascension to power saw a smart step-up, as the city’s budget was used to pay off political debts and reward those who had backed him…..,” said Johnson.

Beyond its picture-postcard image, Durban – a place where street muggings are apparently common place – is where the battles of modern South Africa are being fought out. The fact that my hotel said it was not safe to cross the city on foot, even in the middle of the day is a telling sign. Not only that, but it is a real modern tragedy.

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Categories: South Africa

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