SA and USA parallels

2016-11-08 06:00

AT a Republican campaign rally in Youngwood, Pennsylvania (U.S.), this week, I was interviewing some fervent Donald Trump supporters who were convinced that their guy would be the next president of the United States.

I asked them the obvious questions: are they not concerned by Trump’s thuggish behaviour and treatment of women, do they think he knows how to run a country, are they not put off by his business practices and failure to declare his taxes?

Most of them had stock responses.

They said they are not bothered by Trump’s scandals, conduct or wishy-washy policies and believe that he is a successful businessperson who will “make America great again”.

They are convinced that if his opponent Hillary Clinton wins the election, their way of life will be under attack.

Clinton’s campaign suffered a setback last week when the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) James Comey, announced that the investigation into her e-mails is being reopened after they discovered potential new evidence on the computer of her aide’s husband.

Comey faced a barrage of criticism for breaking with convention and involving the FBI in a political matter so close to the election.

It has been surreal watching these events and listening to the views of U.S. voters, while keeping abreast of events back home.

National director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams announced this week that he is withdrawing the National Prosecuting Authority’s decision to charge Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan with fraud.

Abrahams, like Comey, believed he could fool people into thinking that he was simply doing his job when he was obviously motivated by a political agenda. It had become obvious to everyone that the case against Gordhan would collapse once it came before a judge, and the agenda to hijack the national Treasury would have backfired.

Another parallel between developments in SA and the U.S. is how Trump supporters are choosing to overlook and excuse the obvious flaws in their candidate, and dupe themselves into thinking that he will make a good president.

President Jacob Zuma’s administration has been plagued with scandal, poor performance and the abuse of the state to enrich a group of politically connected people, including the Gupta family.

Zuma was given the benefit of the doubt when he first took office, even though many people believed he was a compromised figure. He proved that to be a valid concern by being a weak leader who allowed his government to be looted. Zuma was re-elected as ANC leader and state president despite people being aware that he is a bad leader who evades accountability and disrespects his party and the people of South Africa.

The ANC has consistently defended Zuma and excused his bad behaviour, even though it has been costly to the party, both in terms of its reputation and at the ballot box.

The release of the public protector’s interim report on state capture this week seems to have finally opened the ANC’s eyes to what it previously refused to see.

In a statement on Thursday, the ANC said: “… this report provides a concrete basis for the ANC and society in general to discuss the allegations contained therein and deal with its outcomes”.

“The ANC has long considered allegations of state capture as an attack on our democratic architecture and an anti-thesis of the values held dear by the ANC … Based on the investigations conducted by the public protector, South Africans have greater clarity of the concerning relationships that those in government and state-owned enterprises interacting with capital and private interests should be wary of.”

But the ANC has yet to confront the president directly about the evidence unearthed in the report or take demonstrable action against its members who have been at the beck and call of the Guptas. South Africa has learnt hard lessons about electing a compromised leader. The United States should be careful not to make the same mistake.

• Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick.

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