Ferial Haffajee

How to avoid slipping on bananas

2010-08-17 07:45

So, my good friend and muse Mondli Makhanya wrote in the Sunday Times that we officially boarded the bus to the Republic of Banana last week. A South Africa bloated by greed, hobbled by a massive and growing under-class, decaying with corruption and cronyism and attempting to silence critics by squeezing the oxygen from the media, you can see the applied metrics with other banana republics.

But yesterday was another country. Gripped by ayoba and unity, a glittering Gautrain ferried adoring tourists into Mzansi; awe-inspiring stadiums shaped like calabashes and sailing dhows held them safe in a one month grip of wonder and joy. The promenade in Durban did an impersonation of a sparkling version of Miami and we all rode high on the wave of a can do spirit. The lessons were numerous but the month showed what can be done when we apply our minds, stick to deadlines and lose the inferiority complex which apartheid bequeathed.

The wannabe banana republic and the Mzansi magic-land reflect two very different countries and to avoid boarding the bus, there are several things our political leaders and our media can immediately do to ensure we live in one and not the other.

The ANC must lose the Jesus complex

President Jacob Zuma said that the ANC would be in power until Jesus comes back. This may well be so (depending on your religious beliefs, of course), but it does make the governing party lackadaisical in office because it believes it has a God-given right to be there. This explains why delivery moves at a snail’s pace and why accountability is in such short supply across the civil service. If you feel that you have forever, then what’s the rush? The World Cup taught us the benefit of an un-moveable deadline and if the ANC does want to stay in power, it would do very well to pretend that it faces a credible opposition which could dislodge it from power.

This will make the party more accountable and less arrogant in office for the betterment of all of us. This merger between the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Democrats presents us with a party led by two smart and immensely strong women and suggest that next year’s local election will be an interesting one. If only Cope had not self-immolated in such flames of ambition and pettiness, we might have seen a political restructuring that would have made the ANC a much more nimble and accountable party without a Jesus complex.

President Zuma should have a word in the ear of his relatives

“Look my boy,” President Jacob Zuma might say to his 28-year-old son, Duduzane, “why do you think the Atul [Gupta] is interested in you?” While the lad may well reply that is because he is beautiful, black and clever, his dad could point out that “I think your surname has something to do with it. You have enough time to grow wealth, Duduzane, give up your shares in the ArcelorMittal Ayigobi deal because it’s making me look like I run a crony economy.”

The deal last week in which the steel giant sold shares to a range of individuals close to the president (including businessman Sandile Zungu and the Gupta family which owns Sahara Computers) is harming our international reputation because in banana republics, the relatives of politicians control the spoils.

To his nephew Khulubuse Zuma, the president might say, “Khulu, I don’t want you running companies that are domiciled in the tax havens like the British Virgin Isles. If you win concessions outside our borders, you must ensure that dividends flow back to his country.” With the president’s lawyer Michael Hulley, Khulubuse Zuma has won oil concessions in the Democratic Republic of Congo through companies domiciled in opaque tax havens.

The president might add: “I want you to pay the Aurora workers by tomorrow and to ensure that the mine is either sold or run properly.” Aurora has become a by-word for failed corporate governance and management as the company owned by Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela has failed serially to pay back-pay to workers. Last week, four miners were killed underground by rogue security elements.

Take a leaf out of Julius Malema’s book

In the media’s current opposition to the ANC’s proposed media appeals tribunal and to the protection of information bill, I dislike that we sound so defeated and victimised. We hark back to the past as warning bell and entreat the ANC to do the right thing. This is the way of an oppressed people who have no sense of agency and who believe that the only way to a deep and meaningful freedom is through the grace of the ANC.

This is not to suggest we sit on our hands and wait for the censors scissors, but it is to act as equal to the ANC and not supplicant; to argue from a point of strength not weakness; to know that neither the tribunal nor the information bill are likely to see the light of day as neither can possibly pass constitutional muster and to know that there are people in the ANC who believe intrinsically in media freedom.

Yes, the Sunday Times’ Mzilikaza Wa Afrika was horribly treated by heavy-handed Hawks, but he was quickly freed by a judge who declared that a minute in jail was a minute too long.

We are as tjatjarag as Julius Malema and must trust that this important element of the DNA will ensure that our freedoms are not such ephemeral things as we can sometimes make out. Tjatjaragness is not the exclusive preserve of  Malema and we can all use it to great effect.

- Ferial Haffajee is editor of City Press.

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