Mondli Makhanya

The fantasy of Africa Month

2018-05-27 06:02
Photo: iStock

Photo: iStock

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In the late 1990s, Swaziland’s trade unions called for a general strike to demand democratisation of the autocratic kingdom. The response from the democracy-hungry population was big. Industry came to a standstill.

Then a funny thing happened. King Mswati III returned from a trip abroad and called for the people to return to work while he considered their demands. The angry masses duly obliged, much to the frustration of the union leaders and pro-democracy activists.

Needless to say, Mswati was playing games with the people. He had no intention of giving up his supreme power. Twenty years later, Swaziland is no closer to being a democracy. The narcissistic and randy Mswati is still living his best life, spending millions on himself and helping himself to the nation’s loveliest maidens.

There were other general strikes in between, led by a brave contingent of activists who defied Mswati’s repressive security forces and feudal chiefs. Some were more successful than others, but the common factor was that traditional Swazis were torn between their desire for democracy and their loyalty to the crown.

The Swazi conundrum descended to ridiculous levels a few years ago when striking teachers returned to work with their demands unfulfilled after Mswati promised them that the government would negotiate with them – and he threatened to fire those who did not return to work.

The teachers took note of the king’s positive remarks and duly returned to class. Not only that, they were so appreciative of the king’s open-ended commitment that they delivered two beautiful cows to King Mswati and the Queen Mother.

Remarking on this, Swaziland National Association of Teachers president Sibongile Mazibuko said the gesture was in line with Swazi tradition.

“We presented the beasts to their majesties as per the Swazi procedure. We do not offer the cows because the king’s address is in our favour. Even if the king’s address was not in our favour, we would have still done the same as per our custom,” she told the local press.

Timothy Mtetwa, the governor of Ludzidzini province, applauded the teachers for their docility.

“The cows are fat. We thank teachers for showing that they are Swazis through presenting their majesties with the cows,” Mtetwa said.

Now imagine the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union calling off a strike just because President Cyril Ramaphosa said some nice things about it. And then following that up by delivering a herd of buffalo to Mahlamba Ndlopfu.

In this Africa Month, during which we are being asked to celebrate our beloved continent, we learn that Mswati has sommer given a piece of land to his friend President Edgar Lungu of Zambia. The latter is now building a mansion on that property, presumably with Zambian taxpayers’ money.

In this Africa Month, the people of Burundi overwhelmingly voted to amend the Constitution to extend the presidential term to seven years and allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for another term. The 71% yes vote in the referendum will allow Nkurunziza, who as been in power since 2005, to remain in office until 2034.

Let’s put that into a South African context. In 2005, South Africa still had a president called Thabo Mbeki. In 2008, he was replaced by interim president Kgalema Motlanthe. In 2009, the position was taken by some other guy we all wish could just stay home and make public appearances only when he stands in the dock. In 2018, this character was pushed out and replaced by Ramaphosa, who will most likely be returned to office after next year’s general elections.

If Ramaphosa serves a second term, he will leave the Union Buildings in 2029. By 2034, the person who takes over from Ramaphosa will be finishing his or her first term.

In this Africa Month, the Zimbabwean military recorded a song in honour of new President Emmerson Mnangagwa, thus promoting the cult of personality that dominated his predecessor Robert Mugabe’s reign. Terence Mukupe, a Zanu-PF firebrand and the country’s deputy finance minister, proudly announced the army would not allow anyone else to take power if Mnangagwa and the party loses the elections scheduled for July.

Although Zanu-PF distanced itself from this statement, Josiah Hungwe‚ another party heavyweight, entered the fray by extolling Mnangagwa’s military past.

“If you want to run away from him, he can shoot you, so you should always know that he can shoot people who do not want to listen to him and want to run away from him ... Our leader Mnangagwa is a soldier and you know that a soldier is always equipped with a gun to do whatever he wants,” he told the rally.

In Africa Month, we say all sorts of sweet things about our continent. The African Union issues statements about continental unity and economic progress. There is dancing and the celebrating of culture. But on the ground, human rights are violated as in any other month, democracy is trampled upon, fiscuses are raided and elites eat big while the poor suffer.

Most sadly, Africans embrace dictatorship as if it is the norm. Mswati is feted. Nkurunziza is given an extension and Mnangagwa is trusted.

And that is just three countries.


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