SA must beware a Putin risin’

2014-03-11 10:00

Few dare admit it, but the truth is there is a significant Vladimir Putin support club here in our good old republic. The reason is not because people admire the Russian president’s thuggish ways, or are enticed by his six-pack.

It is much simpler than that. Among those who toyi-toyied, threw stones and shouted “Amandla! Ngawethu!” in the 1970s and 1980s, there is a great nostalgia for the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The collapse of the Soviet Union left a deep scar in many South Africans’ hearts. For many, it was sad to see Russia under Boris Yeltsin become a laughing stock.

When former KGB colonel Putin came in and rescued the country from the Yeltsin mayhem, he not only restored Russia’s pride, but the pride of many others to whom the Kremlin was like the Vatican.

His aggression of recent years has reminded many of the strength of the old Soviet Union.

This is obviously a misplaced admiration as Putin and his Russia do not stand for the same philosophical and ideological principles for which the old Soviet Union stood.

Putin is an example of what can go wrong when a society does not have strong institutions to provide checks and balances.

The same goes for Ukraine, which, since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, has also been horribly misgoverned.

Russia’s first president, the comical and vodka-drenched Yeltsin, was incompetent and corrupt.

He ceded the country to oligarchs and presided over a chaotic administration. Putin restored order, but retained the corrupt oligarchic system, whose beneficiaries have been instrumental in keeping him in power.

In Ukraine, successive post-Soviet governments came in and raided the coffers. When they were removed, either through elections or mass uprisings, they gave way to even more corrupt versions of themselves.

The common denominator in these two nations was the failure of their people to insist on strong institutions when they became stand-alone republics in the early 1990s. This allowed the corrupt and power-hungry to run amok.

The builders of post-apartheid South Africa had greater vision than that. They embedded strong institutions in the Constitution.

Civil society popularised these institutions. By putting them to use, South Africans made these institutions part of the nation’s DNA. Outside of government, South Africans built their own institutions and strengthened existing ones – so much so that faith communities, NGOs, the media and trade unions have become integral elements of the democratic infrastructure.

This is why a power-hungry clique in our politics cannot be allowed to systematically destroy those institutions and reduce the democratic space.

They have already done so with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA). In the defence and promotion of a corruptible Jacob Zuma, two heads of the NPA were run out of town, and the Scorpions unit was shut down and replaced by a pitiful shell.

The Judicial Service Commission was also captured with the intention of ultimately capturing the judiciary. Next in line is the Office of the Public Protector, whose incumbent, Thuli Madonsela, has been subjected to the same relentless onslaught Bulelani Ngcuka and Vusi Pikoli suffered before being forced out of and fired from the NPA, respectively.

So determined are the baying mobs to get rid of Madonsela, she may soon be accused of being the grandniece of DF Malan’s late domestic worker. Those seeking to rein her in may not be able to fire her, but they’ll make sure her life becomes so unbearable, she doesn’t serve her full term.

They will then install a pliable wimp and the capture will be complete.

What some of the people who run this country seem not to want to understand is that durable nations and societies are built on strong institutions.

A case in point is the US under Richard Nixon and George W Bush. That country was able to recover from the ruinous presidencies of these two men because it had strong institutions, both governmental and nongovernmental.

Russia after Putin will be a mess. His ultranationalistic, narcissistic, brutal and corrupt imprint will have so stained the country’s culture that it will be difficult to cleanse itself of his dirty legacy.

Like greedy children who want to eat all their treats at the same time, they want to live for today and don’t give a damn about what happens tomorrow.

At home, a similar spectre faces us. For those baying for the Protector’s blood, what matters today is the protection of Zuma and, in turn, he will protect them.

Tomorrow’s South Africa can look after itself. So in this quest, they will try to wreck and weaken the institutions that are our foundation. It will serve their immediate and narrow purpose.

And then one day, when a Putin comes along?...

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