Dictators arrive quietly

2013-12-01 10:00

Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s 2006 political allegory rings eerily true for today’s South Africa

Back in 2006 when Ngugi’ wa Thiong’o’s novel, Wizard of the Crow, was first published, many South African readers would have dismissed it as a figment

of Ngugi’s bizarre imagination. Many would have said the book has no relevance to South Africa. The refrain would have been: “We have no Wizard of the Crow, we are a rainbow nation of Archbishop Tutu, the exceptional miracle nation of Nelson Mandela.”

Alas, the political shenanigans of the “Polokwane lynch mob”, to borrow a phrase from Bantu Holomisa, suggest Ngugi’s fictional satire is more relevant to South Africa than it may have been intended.

What, exactly, happened in Ngugi’s imaginary Republic of Aburiria?

Three things are worth noting for comparisons with our political situation here at home.

The first is the character of The Ruler, the second is the behaviour of ministers before power and the last is the alacrity of the ministers’ defence of the construction of an exorbitant palace for The Ruler.

The Ruler was a ruthless personality, feared by his friends and foes. Malevolent in character, he ruled Aburiria by fear and intimidation.

With his fanatics calling him “father of the nation”, The Ruler sought to give true meaning to this title. He fathered countless children in the republic. Ministers were oftentimes ordered to pledge their wives or daughters to be of “service to power”.

People were plucked from obscurity and elevated to positions of significance. Some were prepared to do grotesque things to please the high office.

Some – like ministers Machokali, Sikiokuu and Mambo – out of their own volition, respectively elongated their eyes, ears and mouths so that they

could be of “good service” to The Ruler. It was this desire to please The Ruler that led to the idea to build him a big palace, later referred to as “marching to heaven”.

At the time, unemployment was so rife in Aburiria that university graduates would become beggars in the streets or resort to sorcery for survival.

Despite this, ministers would go to the Global Bank to loan money just to satisfy the ego of one man.

All sorts of reasons, including the safety of The Ruler, were used as part of motivation for the loan.

However, efforts by ministers of state security, defence and police to impose curfews to prevent protests against the project were in vain.

The irony of Aburira’s story was that instead of its intended purpose as a gift – a source of happiness – “marching to heaven” became the source of The Ruler’s miseries and led to his downfall. How, then, do these relate to South Africa?

Yes, we do not have a “ruler”, we have a president. Yet, few would disagree that our president shares traits similar to those of The Ruler of Aburiria.

He is cunning with his giggles, yet ruthless to his foes. Just ask Julius Malema or Thabo Mbeki.

His sycophants affectionately call him “uBaba weSizwe” or “father of the nation”. He has indeed cultivated a reputation for having sex and fathering children with friends’ daughters.

Meanwhile, the actions of our ministers suggest they would do anything to please the high office.

For example, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande’s bizarre suggestion for an anti-insult law to protect the president left the whole country shocked. Yet Nzimande’s theatrics of loyalty were not the worst.

Riah Phiyega, the national police commissioner was plucked from obscurity and catapulted into the position of significance by our president.

Not to be outdone in the race to please the high office, Phiyega hastily appointed one alleged criminal, Mr Bethuel Zuma, to the position of police commissioner for Gauteng without proper security checks.

Her disparate acts of loyalty left her with egg on her face.

The construction of Nkandla also mirrors the episodes of Aburiria. Nkandla will go down in history as a monument of state orchestrated corruption.

It is irrational to spend more than R200?million in the face of high unemployment and acute shortages of medicines in hospitals just to give one man rural tranquillity.

Meanwhile, ministers like Jeff Radebe, Thulas Nxesi and Nathi Mthethwa are no longer famous for their roles as defenders of the poor. They have gained a new image of notoriety as advocates of the monument.

Whenever they open their mouths, either they are invoking some apartheid law, taking the Public Protector to court or threatening to arrest anyone in possession of Nkandla pictures. Their alacrity to please the high office is annoying.

It is clear, therefore, that those who thought Ngugi’s book had no relevance to South Africa must think again. Dictators do not stand on a hill and announce their arrival.

While the resoluteness of the people of Aburiria made “marching to heaven” lead to the downfall of The Ruler’s regime, the question is: what will South Africans do?

»?Malada is a member of The Midrand Group

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