Over the last few months, I have been following Jacob Zuma’s attempts to escape from the corruption charges brought against him in 2005. Zuma, the predicted future president of the country, seems to have received special treatment in the ongoing proceedings. A few months ago, the judge declared Zuma's corruption charges unlawful as he was not given a chance to state his case before being charged. Yet the judge emphasized that his decision was not a confirmation of Zuma’s innocence and that fresh charges could be brought against him, after he was given a chance to defend himself.
The judge also suggested that there may have been “political meddling” in the decision to charge Zuma in the first place. This statement outraged Zuma’s many supporters, and they were quick to direct their rage at President Mbeki, calling for him to step down immediately. Pressured by the ANC and realizing the futility of protesting, Mbeki finally complied. His resignation in September left a series of unsettling questions for South Africa. Moreover, the subsequent resignation of 14 cabinet ministers, including the Minister of Finance, widely respected for his role in stabilizing the country’s economy, begged the pressing question of what would happen to the running of the country thereafter? The subsequent swearing in of ANC deputy chief, Kgalema Motlanthe, as the new head of state, and his decision to reappoint some key ministers, led me to hope there would at least be some sense of continuity in governmental policy. [Editor’s note: Last week, a appeals court overturned Judge Nicholson's ruling, opening the way for Mr Zuma's trial to be resumed, just months before general elections.]
Local and foreign reactions
But although South Africans have expressed concern over these political events, it seems to me that the outside world was more visibly upset. I wondered at my own lack of reaction in comparison. I supposed that living again in a country where mind-boggling incidents were a regular occurrence has led me to become somewhat detached from them. A degree of detachment is almost necessary in a place where you never know what the next day will bring, but is it really a positive thing to become accustomed to a chaotic environment?
Mbeki’s resignation did not come as a complete surprise to me. Generally viewed by South Africans as an ineffective leader removed from the needs of his people, he had been increasingly criticized in the months leading up to his resignation. I, too, found Mbeki’s tendency for fancy rhetoric with no action, hiding from reality by burying his head in the sand and hoping issues like xenophobia and HIV/AIDS would disappear by themselves, extremely frustrating.
The question on people’s minds nowadays is, as useless as Mbeki may have been as a leader, will Zuma be better? As the April elections loom closer, having a man charged with both rape and corruption as South Africa’s next president is not a reassuring thought. One wonders how it is possible that Zuma has become a role model, a hero, to the majority of South Africans? But as most have not been educated about their voting options and know only that Mbeki’s government did not make the long promised reforms in housing and employment that the majority so desperately need, it’s no wonder they see the charismatic Zuma as the one who just may deliver. This possibility of tangible change at last, it seems, surpasses questions about his moral integrity.
The major question in my mind is, no matter who rules the country, will the needs of the majority ever be met? Fourteen years after the election of the first democratic government, it seems most South Africans still endure a poor quality of life with inadequate housing and lack of basic services such as water, indoor plumbing and electricity. The promise of employment also remains empty with a current national unemployment rate of 23% recorded in September 2008. I have heard from black and white South Africans alike that things were better under apartheid. One African woman told me that she would much rather be ruled by whites than blacks, as she felt black people were just out to get rich. And, indeed, upholding their responsibility to serve the people doesn’t seem a highly valued trait by the current leaders of the country. They seem much more concerned with filling their own pockets.
Corruption at every level
Local political leaders have taken their cue from national ones. In April 2008, Mayor Milton Morema of Bushbuckridge, the municipality that includes Acornhoek, was arrested, charged with double murder. Morema was accused of killing his policitical competitor as well as the hired hitman. His many supporters vehemently protested his arrest. I was outraged more at the support shown him by the local community than the fact that another politician had pursued his own gains through unlawful means. Amazwi journalist Bongekile Mhlanga covered the story as it unfolded, and updates were printed in the Villager, providing residents with a complete picture of the ongoing scenario. All of Amazwi’s journalists believed that the mayor wouldn’t go to jail because of his power. And sure enough, in late May, the case was dismissed, as the magistrate agreed with Morema’s lawyer that the manner in which the mayor had been brought to trial smelled of a “witch-hunt”.
A recent incident in Johannesburg emphasized the blase breaking of the law by those supposed to be maintaining it. Driving with my cousin, she accidentally turned onto a street designated only for minibus taxis. The next minute, a policeman beckoned us over. Belly bulging over his blue pants, he swaggered towards the car. For some reason, he came over to the passenger side. I rolled down my window.
Before he could open his mouth, my cousin said, “I know, I’m sorry, I forgot that this was just for taxis.”
He flashed his teeth at us. “Are you going for lunch?” he asked.
“Yes, my cousin is just visiting Jo’burg so I’m taking her for lunch,” she replied. He smiled again, ingratiatingly.
“How about starting with me?” I clenched my fists beside me, nauseated by his arrogance.
“That’s illegal,” she said firmly, “Just write me the ticket.”
His smile vanished and he stepped back in surprise. “Well, have a nice lunch, ladies.”
We drove off, discussing what had happened. I supposed that one recourse, reporting him to his superior, wouldn’t necessarily be helpful as, chances were, the boss was doing the very same thing.
Just before Mbeki’s resignation, I had talked about the current political crisis with a friend. He shook his head and said, “They must do what they like. It isn’t going to change the way I’m living my life.” I saw his point. It appears that the stability of the country will be in question for a while to come. In addition, it seems its leaders at all levels cannot be counted on to uphold the values of honesty and integrity. But we as individuals certainly have the choice to live these values in our own lives, and develop our communities into places that reflect them as best we can.
Through the Villager newspaper, Amazwi committed to offering people an honest depiction of what is happening around them. In this way, we could at least help to create an informed community empowered to work actively toward positive change for themselves and the country as a whole.
Photos in this blog:
1.Zuma followers vocalize their support at the State of the Nation address given by President Thabo Mbeki earlier this year.
2.Thandi interviews a Zuma supporter visually expressing his support.
3.ANC supporters gather at Acornhoek march.
4.Family of the victims allegedly killed by Mayor Morema protest his release.
All photos are courtesy of Briget Ganske.