PART 1 HERE N is for NKANDLA Even the apartheid authorities did not abuse public resources to renovate and refurbish the private residence of their most feared Presidents such as PW Botha, or certainly not on the scale of President Zuma’s private Nkandla compound. Never would we have believed that leaders in the struggle for the liberation of South Africans would, in a democratic South Africa, abuse public funds on this scale and so brazenly, even more so when there is still so much poverty in the land. It is behaviour consistent not with a democratic government committed to the poor, but with the caricature of a dictatorship associated with the excesses of large scale corruption and theft.
O is for OPPOSITION… and how the ruling alliance deals with it. While apartheid had an array of censorial mechanisms to suppress information and thought that challenged the status quo, and while it co-opted the public broadcaster for propaganda purposes, our Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the media. The SABC is supposed to be a legally independent entity with a mandate to promote democracy by providing information and airtime from a range of voices within society. Progressives would have expected our work-in-progress democracy to mature through rational and robust public debate around our key challenges, and with a ruling party that (given its overwhelming parliamentary majorities at national and most provincial levels) would be secure and confident enough to engage on these terms. While we have such public discourse, from Mbeki’s time as President, we have seen increasingly anti-democratic tendencies on the part of the ruling alliance in dealing with opposition, ranging from smearing critics as racists, counter-revolutionaries or agents of western imperialism, intimidating critics with threats of court action, arresting journalists on spurious grounds, preventing opposition parties from exercising their democratic rights (which the ruling alliance would never tolerate if it were in the position of the opposition) e.g. preventing the DA’s marches on Nkandla and COSATU House and preventing Julius Malema and the EFF from hosting rallies at some institutions, the killings of protestors such as Andries Tatane and the Marikana miners. Then there’s the Protection of Information Act which may be used to suppress the exposure of corruption and the SABC has again being bludgeoned and co-opted for ruling party propaganda and imaging purposes. Institutional democracy (parliament and constitutional bodies) has steadily been undermined while the above kinds of anti-democratic tendencies are intended to suppress dissent, criticism and opposition, further undermining our nascent democracy. P is for POVERTY The Diagnostic Study of the National Planning Commission states that in 1995, 53% of our population lived in poverty using the international benchmark of $2 per day (R524 per month at that time). The bottom 40% of our population accounts for about 7% of national income. The number of people living below the poverty line declined to 48% in 2008, only because of government grants, rather than because of job creation and income-generation. While poverty among black African people – in rural areas in particular – is inherited from apartheid, progressives would have expected that within the first twenty years of democracy, eliminating poverty would have had a much greater practical – rather than rhetorical – focus for a “developmental state”. There appears to be lack of vision, ideas and political will in dealing with this most important challenge, particularly when one considers the effort and expenditure on projects serving the elite. Q is for the QUACK science of Thabo Mbeki… and the collective ANC leadership at the time who were directly responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds of thousands of mainly black African South Africans, the transmission of HIV from mothers to babies, and the orphaning of more than one million children because of their refusal to provide life-saving drugs. We would never have expected that a post-apartheid government would be responsible for the decline in life expectancy from 62 in the dying days of apartheid to 50 at the height of the AIDS pandemic. Should the apartheid government have been responsible for this, there would have been demands for them to be tried for crimes against humanity, for their genocide-by-wilful-omission in which an average of 1,000 South Africans perished each day, despite life-saving drugs being available, and cheap. Simply unforgivable!
R is for RACISM and the Rainbow Nation With apartheid’s divisions as the backdrop, the desire for a “rainbow nation” in which people of all colours feel part of society is understandable. But the rainbow nation does not exist. It never has- except in television commercials, at a few major sports events, in some church services and for a multi-racial elite who use English as a language of communication and who share some social spaces. Poverty and inequality (and their impacts on education, social mobility, employment, etc) exclude the vast majority – mainly black Africans – from the “rainbow nation” myth. It’s not a new insight, but given our increasing class-based inequalities, it is more appropriate to speak of two nations co-existing in the same space: an elite that exists under the rainbow, and the majority who eke out their existence under a black cloud – a “rainbow” elite and a “black cloud” majority. The Planning Commission’s Diagnostic Study states that one of the nine key challenges facing the country is our continued racial division, and while this is true, the major divide is increasingly between those who have (resources, good education, education, jobs, networks, collateral, medical aid, etc) and those who do not have these. Given our apartheid history and the dehumanisation of black African people on the one hand and the superiority of white people on the other, we would be naïve to expect (white to black) racism to have disappeared after twenty years of a democratic South Africa. Against this backdrop, we need to confront the uncomfortable post-1994 phenomena that have reinforced such racism and apartheid era stereotypes e.g. the deployment of black African people to positions of leadership and responsibility when they often did not have the requisite skills, experience and support structures so that when they have failed, racists would attribute it to black stupidity, or the widespread corruption within government that provokes the snide “this is Africa” remarks, or violent crime (in which black African people are statistically the primary victims and perpetrators) makes white people retreat into secure, gated communities like micro Group Areas of our apartheid past. Rather than rigorous analysis and issue-oriented debate, our political discourse is poisoned by superficial, easy race-speak and cry-wolf accusations of racism to counter legitimate criticism, all of which do not help to identify and deal with real issues of racism. Ironically, it is more possible now for the former leaders of the National Party responsible for apartheid’s atrocities as well as the elites of the former bantustans to be accommodated within the ruling party than it is for the ruling alliance to accept legitimate and constructive criticism on its own terms – rather than dismissing it defensively through the convenient and expedient prism of race – from some of its former progressive allies in the struggle against apartheid. The genius of Nelson Mandela was not to create a false, non-existent “Rainbow Nation”, but rather – after centuries of oppression, racial division and white minority rule, to create the conditions and atmosphere in which those who had ruled in fear, in arrogance and with racist beliefs could remain active contributors to building a society (rather than be obstacles to or to actively undermine the post-apartheid project), and to do this under the leadership of a black government. The potential goodwill from that time was largely squandered and the Mandela-esque conditions were wiped out by Thabo Mbeki’s presidency when he adopted a more chauvinist, Africanist approach. Some would argue that under Zuma, it’s gone a step further with people mainly from KwaZulu Natal and from his Zulu-speaking community now occupying some of the main positions of political and government influence. The perception of the ANC’s non-racial ethos having all but disappeared is reinforced when NGOs (many in which the non-racial ethic still applies in practice, with progressives from “minority population groups” contributing their skills under the leadership of black Africans) have their advocacy and work on behalf of the poor and marginalised in particular sectors dismissed by ANC leaders as entities run by white puppet masters. So, while white-against-black racism prevails as a spillover from the apartheid era, post-1994 phenomena have sometimes reinforced such racism while many progressives – who would be more than eager to contribute to meeting the challenges of the country under the leadership of a black African government – have been alienated from the ruling party by its increasing chauvinism and race double-speak. S is for the SPEAR Never has an artwork generated more controversy, more division, more debate and more exposure of some of the country’s key fault-lines than Brett Murray’s painting of President Zuma in Lenin-like pose and with exposed genitals symbolising power and potential abuse of power. The painting was part of an exhibition, Hail to the Thief II, in which a variety of art works by the artist bitingly satirised the corruption, nepotism and the selling out of the liberation ideals of the ANC. Murray, a conscientious objector and an artist who had engaged actively in anti-apartheid struggle was demonised as a racist; the Goodman Gallery where the work was shown was intimidated by marches and by the Minister of Higher Education calling for the work to be destroyed, and the artist’s (black African) assistant received threats of physical violence (a church minister also called for Murray to be stoned). All of this political outrage created the conditions in which two men defaced the work.
The prescience of the artwork has now been affirmed as the massive public expenditure on the Nkandla compound represents little more than the rape of the public purse by President Zuma. In the light of apartheid’s censorship – including outright banning – of numerous art works, progressives would have expected a democratic government to defend and protect the right to freedom of creative expression guaranteed in the Constitution; in fact, quite the opposite happened. The charge for the destruction of the work was led by those required to uphold the Constitution, just as it is they who now defend Nkandla and condemn the booing of the President. T is for TRANSFORMATION That our society needed fundamental transformation from our apartheid past is to state the obvious. Morally and politically it was necessary to transform all state and publicly funded institutions and even private companies better to reflect the demographics of the country and to reverse and correct the impact of job reservation of the apartheid era. But not only was it necessary simply to change the demographics, it was also believed that in so doing, black people leading such institutions (particularly those aligned to the ruling party and so could be trusted), would be more committed – than white people – to deliver services to, and to look after the best interests of black African people who were most in need of such service delivery. Ironically though, while we have done exceedingly well in facilitating the demographic transformation of instruments of the state, it is this very – more superficial – transformation that has often compromised or militated against the substantial transformation required as in many cases, people in leadership and strategic positions of power did not have the requisite expertise and/or experience to deliver on their institutional mandates. This is reflected for example in last year’s report of the Auditor General into municipal government with only 9 of 278 municipal governments receiving clean audits, consistent with the 5% of the previous two years. Proper training and support have not been provided as part of the demographic transformation of management processes, or at least not at the same levels as for example, the training of black African pilots or of Tito Mboweni’s 18 month tutelage before he took the reigns as Governor of the Reserve Bank. As a consequence, delivery has either not taken place, or has been implemented unevenly to the disadvantage of mainly the poor, black African majority, or consultants have had to be hired to do the work with taxpayers thus having to pay double for the work to be done. Furthermore, the widespread corruption in government administration at local, provincial and national government shows that appointing black people to serve black people does not necessarily result in better, or more empathetic service delivery. So, while change –or transformation – cannot be expected to happen overnight, it can be argued that the manner in which we have gone about effecting transformation (ignoring or discarding highly skilled and experienced people from “minority population groups” and not providing the necessary training and support to those appointed to leadership positions as part of the demographic transformation of state institutions) has effectively compromised, prevented or put back substantial transformation of the lives of many South Africans on the underside of history. U is for UNEMPLOYMENT… that officially stands at around 25%. Should the broader unemployment definition be applied i.e. economically active people without a job and who have given up looking for work, unemployment would be closer to 35%-40%. Notwithstanding the white noise about affirmative action and equity legislation on white unemployment, we would never have expected that so many black people would lose their jobs and that unemployment among black Africans would spike after the demise of apartheid. We are constantly told that our macro-economic policies and the fundamentals of our economy are sound. It would appear though that the host of macro-economic policy measures that we have taken and that have endeared us to key western economic planners have resulted in mass job losses and rising unemployment, and we have yet – numerous conferences, plans and rhetoric notwithstanding – not been able effectively to deal with this key and fundamental challenge. V is for VANITY After our relatively smooth transition to democracy and with Nelson Mandela as the country’s first President, we became the darling of the world. Such attention made us seek to “punch above our weight”, to be a global leader, to “play with the big boys”. We wanted to lead the African Renaissance. We wanted to change the UN and/or have a permanent seat on the Security Council. We wanted to host international events. We were, after all, the country with the largest African economy. We were the poster child for African democracy. And so we expended energy and massive resources on vanity projects like the FIFA World Cup and the elite-serving Gautrain. And we made rude remarks about other African countries because we believe that we are better than them. While we strut the world and African stages, in our own backyard are millions of people who live in conditions comparable to some of the worst African countries in terms of human development indicators regarding literacy, health, life expectancy, income, etc. The FIFA world cup has left us with “enjoy now, pay later” blues with expensive stadiums and roads to be paid for via e-tolls (and then there’s the corruption of colluding construction companies). It would appear that the vanity of our political elite has steered our “development” path over the first twenty years of our democracy more than the needs of the majority. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waTsoiRkAfs W is for WOMEN The emancipation of women from their triple oppression (sex, race and class) was always viewed in the struggle against apartheid as one of the key goals of that struggle. Thanks to the policies of the ruling party, there are now many more women (black African in particular) active and in senior positions in politics, in public institutions, in education as well as in the private sector. However, women – of all classes and colour, but black African in particular – continue to face massive violence within a patriarchal culture. It is estimated that more than 200,000 women are assaulted each year and that a woman is killed by an intimate partner on average, every 8 hours, one of the highest such rates in the world. More than 66,000 rapes were reported in 2012 of which only 4,500 resulted in convictions (rapes and domestic violence are under-reported). The “corrective rape” of black lesbians has become too common a crime. But it is among poor black African women that the struggle for emancipation from their triple oppression continues, for it is they that bear the brunt of unemployment, of HIV-infection, of poverty and of gender-based violence in post-apartheid South Africa.
X is for XENOPHOBIA The killing of Africans from other countries, the constant refrain that people from other parts of Africa are taking local jobs – this form of racism was not anticipated in a democratic South Africa. (It is strange that “they-are-taking-our-jobs” xenophobia is not directed against immigrants from Europe or Latin America or Asia). (That Africans from other countries are appointed to work positions in South Africa is a further indictment of our country’s education system and a humbling lesson that we could learn from the education systems of other African countries). Mbeki’s denialism at the height of xenophobic violence (he attributed it to basic criminality, probably because it was too difficult to accept that in the pursuit of the African renaissance, Africans could kill each other). Just as the apartheid authorities stopped black Africans to demand to see their passbooks, so police in our democratic state stop people with a darker-than-normal-South-African-dark complexion suspecting them of being illegal immigrants. This has led even to South Africans being held as illegal immigrants with the son of Tito Mboweni most recently suffering this abuse. We would not have expected this in a democratic South Africa, and neither would we have dreamt that a privatised “repatriation centre” such as Lindela, with senior ANC politicians among its owners, making profits from the misery of other Africans!
Y is for YOUTH The youth generation of 1976 is honoured with a public holiday on June 16 for the role they played in contributing to the transformation of our society: standing up to the apartheid authorities, helping to internationalise the anti-apartheid struggle, catalysing the birth of anti-apartheid organisations and giving impetus to internal resistance, swelling the ranks of guerrilla movements, and producing a generation of leaders both for internal and external leadership. Many of that generation are now in government or in business positions and it would have been expected that they would create conditions to benefit this key sector of our population. More than two-thirds of our population is under 35, with the 15-34 cohort constituting 38% of our national population (with a further 30% under the age of 15). In excess of 70% of unemployed South Africans are under the age of 35. Thousands of homes are run by teenagers because of the loss of their parents through AIDS. Teenage pregnancy, alcoholism, drug abuse and suicide are too prevalent among our young people. HIV infection in South African youth is among the highest in the world. The ruling party has largely failed to address the basic aspirations and challenges of our youthful population and resentment within this cohort is reflected in the growth of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Z is for ZIMBABWE (It could be for Zuma, but even though this article has not explored his conservative comments on women and gay people, more than enough has been said about him to confirm his disappointment as an advocate and leader of a post-apartheid, progressive agenda in pursuit of social justice). South Africa’s support for the Mugabe regime despite its poor human rights record is best illustrated by the Mbeki-commissioned report into the 2002 Zimbabwean elections, which has never been released despite the Mail and Guardian obtaining a court order for the report to be released. Judge Joseph Raulinga who had seen the report, ruled that it was in the public interest to have the report – which he said contained sufficient evidence of the illegality of that election – released. However, the SA government has continued to resist handing over the report using the court appeal process to do so. This complicity in human rights and anti-democratic abuses in Zimbabwe reflects South Africa’s poor record in opposing United Nations resolutions in support of victims of human rights abuses in Burma, Belarus, Iran and North Korea, a shameful record for a democratic state allegedly committed to fundamental human rights and freedoms, but where – as with other western democracies – such rights are made subject to other geo-political and economic interests. Conclusion It is clearly true that given the length of colonial and apartheid rule and its infusion into every aspect of our social, political, economic, psychological and cultural lives, its legacies will be with us for some time. While some of these legacies cannot be changed overnight, it is also true that there is much for which a democratic South Africa – and the ruling authorities in particular – are themselves responsible, and which are not only inconsistent with, but the very antithesis of a progressive agenda that seeks to build a just, equitable, safe and humane society. There are some things that have changed “overnight” though and these include:
- the lifestyles and bank balances of a minority of individuals who are politicians or highly connected to the ruling party; some have become obscenely wealthy in a very short space of time, much more wealthy than most who were beneficiaries of the apartheid system for a significantly longer period
- the image of the ruling party has changed from one associated first and foremost with the promises of the Freedom of Charter to one increasingly associated with corruption, nepotism, factionalism and with serving an elitist rather than a “better life for all” agenda
- the hundreds of thousands of South Africans who lost their jobs after the demise of apartheid and who have been unable to find sustainable work since and
- the hundreds of thousands who expected to live in a better South Africa but whose lives were cut short by AIDS and government’s denialist approach to the pandemic, by violent crime, in police custody, through political assassination, etc.
The combination of the recent death of Madiba, the values that he stood for and the leadership he provided together with this, the twentieth anniversary of the attainment of our democracy, provide the impetus for serious reflection on where we are, and what must be done to alter our current course that has created not a rainbow nation, but a coexisting “rainbow elite” and a “black cloud majority”, a tension that is unsustainable and the source of current and future conflicts. Mike van Graan is one of South Africa’s most prolific – and critically acclaimed – playwrights, as well as a cultural policy activist. He is the Executive Director of the African Arts Institute and is the former Secretary General of the Arterial Network, a continent-wide network engaged in the African creative sector. He currently serves as a UNESCO Technical Expert on the Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. His plays include “Die Generaal” (The Generaal), winner of the Fleur du Cap Best New Script Award 2008; “Brothers in Blood”, a Market Theatre production that won the Naledi Theatre Award for Best New Play 2009, and “Iago’s Last Dance” which premiered on the Main Programme at the National Arts Festival and was nominated in the Fleur du Cap Best New Script category, 2009. This article appeared originally on the author’s blog and is reproduced here with his permission.