Those of us who have kept a close eye on South African politics were not surprised that President Jacob Zuma survived on Tuesday yet another vote of no-confidence.
Many analysts and media outlets tried to pretend that a different outcome was a real possibility. They resembled boxing commentators trying to convince their viewers that an obviously outclassed fighter stood a chance to defeat the champion. Who would keep watching, after all, if they knew the outcome beforehand?
But the sad truth all along was of course that Zuma was never, ever in any danger of losing. Oh, the whole will-it-or-won’t-it-be-a-secret-vote drama certainly helped to convince the more gullible and the less-informed that the upstart South African public stood a chance against the reigning champion of corruption scandals.
During the debate preceding the vote, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, citing her conscience, called on her fellow African National Congress (ANC) members of parliament to support Zuma.
Conscience, however, has long been a foreign concept to the ANC leadership, except when it can be invoked in speeches that can convince only those who have already hitched their fortunes to the Zuma-piloted gravy train.
Today, the ANC cares for only one thing: Clinging to power, no matter the cost.
Zuma can take the blame for a lot of things, but it’s not his fault that most of the MPs of his party are more interested in protecting the party’s pride and ability to reward the faithful with lucrative government jobs and tenders than with improving the lot of the country’s people.
Forget the official slogan “A better life for all” — the real motivating principle is “To hell with the people — show me where the money is!”
To outside observers, the whole debacle must seem quite confusing; how is it possible that such an obviously compromised individual and party can remain in power for such a long time? The answer is that they can’t do it without some help.
That help comes in various forms. One of them is a media, both local and international, that continues to promote racialist agendas and interpretations of each and every event in the country. Local media houses go out of their way to promote radical race-obsessed academics and “intellectuals” who are happy to ignore actual history and empirical data in the interests of their narrative. The result is that 25 years after the referendum that marked the beginning of the end of the system of apartheid, the discourse in and surrounding South Africa is more race obsessed than ever.
The cynical symbiotic relationship between the media and academics is what has made it possible for critics of Zuma and the ANC to be painted as merely pawns of “white monopoly capital” and “imperialists” who have no other mission in their life than the subjugation of the country’s black majority.
Insidious propaganda is of course not of much use without an audience willing to fall for it, and this is where another ally steps into the breach: The teachers’ unions allied with the ANC, their members, and senior government officials in charge of the country’s education system. They have learned well the truth embodied in a quote often mistakenly attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “The cornerstone of democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” But they have used it in a manner that’s the complete opposite of its original intent.
Which brings us finally to the South African voting public itself. Again and again voters have returned the ANC to power; again and again they have taken to the streets not long after doing so, demanding change; sometimes these protests continue right until the next election, at which point the same people inevitably re-elect those they had spent years protesting against. Is it mass psychosis? It might seem like that, if we didn’t already know about all the above-mentioned forces arrayed against them. But at some point, a nation, just like an individual, needs to realise that blaming others for your woes can only get you so far.
Captains of nothing
The poem Invictus by William Ernest Henley famously inspired Nelson Mandela while he was in prison (and also the worst movie of Clint Eastwood’s directorial career). It ends with the oft-quoted lines: ‘I am the master of my fate:/I am the captain of my soul’, and as inheritors of Mandela’s legacy, South Africans are fond of repeating them. The opening lines don’t get quite as much attention: “Out of the night that covers me, /Black as the pit from pole to pole.” Tuesday served as a reminder that South Africans find themselves at the beginning of the poem, not the end; the future looks darker than ever, with not even a tiny point of light to be seen in what appears to be a tunnel of infinite length. Until voters break free of the mental forces that are keeping them from realising that they truly are the masters of their fate, that fate will continue to be a terrible one.