Ngugi wa Thiong’o, in his novel The Grain of Wheat, as well as other luminaries, narrate the socio-political African chronology and social sciences through novel reconstructions.
The permeating theme is as follows: Africa was colonised by the white Europeans. At a later stage, the African states won political independence from the western rulers. All these events culminated in native revolutionary political parties taking over political power in chartering a way forward for their people.
A grim scene follows. Pursuant to the purported demise of white power in these countries, the new black leadership becomes the modern bourgeoisie. Instead of the Bible, which is argued to be the bedrock upon which Africa was conquered, the politic-religious gospel under African political leadership is "Thixo uBawo, Thixo uNyana, Thixo uMoya noThixo isisu" (God, the Father, the Son, the Spirit and the Stomach).
Ignoring the cynicism of the adage, the base principle contained therein, as argued in these novels, and other social science literature, remains true and relevant: contemporary African politics are littered with self-serving leadership with an inflated sense of rewarding itself for the years of toil in attaining liberation for the native people.
Novels, by definition, are exactly that – figments and productions of its authors’ artistry and creativity. Regrettably however, such imaginative creativity is founded on and reflects modern African politics, and in particular, South African politics.
The ANC has failed dismally in its lofty goals, crisply reflected in the Freedom Charter. The land remains in the hands of those who are light in skin tone. They own the financial systems, and the larger populous, who are darker in skin tone, remain in squalor with limited access to the means of production.
These means of production, Adam Smith would tell us, are the essentials of the libertarian economic freedom. I deal with the EFF – also dramatis personae in this scandal – later.
The socio-psychology theory of post-colonial politics holds as follows. Once the freedom liberators gain access to the table of the master, they will feast and fill their stomachs first. Once full, they will feed those that don’t have access to the table.
Stomach first, liberation later
It explains the phenomenon of economic success of the incumbent president, Cyril Ramaphosa. Not every black person can own a beast worth R18m. This is for two reasons. The first is that not everyone can afford one. The second is petty. Who wants to buy a gout-inducing asset?
The incumbent president’s luxury is a microcosmic lens through which we can understand the theme of model black political bourgeoisie. Stomach first, liberation after.
It gets worse for the marginalised blacks. We have a system of majoritarian political rule. Simply put and drawing from the Socratic and Athenian principles of political governance, the people shall vote into political power individuals who will best represent the aspirations of the majority of the population.
The assumption is that such elected persons will enact and execute laws that will advance the interests of the majority. To use the most obvious example, there is little debate that the majority of the population wants expropriation of land without compensation.
But this need has been and continues to be used by the political black elite to further exploit the majority. Instead of reflecting the call for land redress through legislation and relevant laws, they use it as a carrot to attract us, the donkeys, to vote for them.
Why did Sassa under the stewardship of Bathabile Dlamini spend more on capitalist service providers than on the interests of the poor it purported to serve? Why did the state under the stewardship of Gugile Nkwinti spend close to R1bn on Mala Mala to "redress" land that we all understand to be unjustly resting in white hands? This is even harder to comprehend given the instructive judgment of Ngcukaitobi AJ in Msiza v Director-General for the Rural Development and Land Reform.
Why did the "father of radical economic transformation", former president Jacob Zuma, insist on bending the laws of the country to assist one family? Were there no local blacks that needed his assistance in radically transforming the economy for the benefit of those he purported to fight for?
The answer is simple. The incumbent black political leadership does not care for the poor black marginalised. What blacks are good for, and worthy of, are free food parcels and black, gold and green t-shirts during the elections period that mask the inadequacies of real transformation policies.
Most people accepted with optimism the EFF. They came with a promise of "people first" and an assumption that political figures are there to serve the ordinary man and woman on the street. Without detracting from the good progress the EFF has made for accountability and pushing the agenda of land reform, they have been a let-down.
Leeching the blood of the poor
The party purports to seek to eradicate corruption in political governance. Signs were however, always there. Think back to Limpopo, Cassel Mathale, the Ratanang Trust, tax evasion, etc. Think of the Mazzotti gang and how the EFF has defended the likes of Tom Moyane. Coincidence?
The EFF has become a party of contradictions and double standards, the latest scandal being the potential illicit funds received from VBS Bank.
It gets worse for the marginalised. Private companies that are purportedly incorporated for the best interests of the poor thrive on leeching the blood of the very people they purport to serve. VBS Bank is an example of the spectacular failure of black corporate governance. It's remarkable let-down of the dreams of those that saw it as the driver of economic and social liberation.
Much of the foregoing criticism exposes politically inadequate leadership, and rightfully so. This does not, and should not, absolve the mainly white male-led corporates.
Steinhoff is the main example. The loudest criticism with regard to Steinhoff is the media coverage of this scandal. The corrupt activities involving Steinhoff amount to sums in multiple folds of the VBS Bank scandal. Why then is Steinhoff receiving less coverage than VBS Bank? The VBS Bank scandal broke a few hours ago yet it enjoys more media coverage than Steinhoff.
At this stage, various black corporate and political individuals implicated in the VBS Bank scandal have been identified for prosecution. To the average person, only Markus Jooste has been positively identified as the culprit of the Steinhoff debacle. This line of reporting perpetuates the stereotype that only black political leaders are corrupt. When will KPMG be sued and those involved prosecuted? Why are all prominent commissions looking into politics and black political leadership? Does anyone have a positive update on Tiger Brands and other white companies that flouted competition laws?
Black political leadership today does not fulfil the mandate of the struggle for liberation. It has abused and continues to abuse its power for self-gratification. This cuts across the main political party and the black opposition. It leaves the large black majority with few electoral options.
Black leaders in politics and corporate institutions have let the people down. They continue to and will probably do so for a long time to come. It is only when the electorate holds the relevant bodies to account that change will come.
Blind political allegiance will change nothing. Blind political allegiance with no accountability continues to entrench the poverty of politics and the perpetual marginalisation of the already marginalised.
Drawing from Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Bantu Biko, "black people, you are on your own until you liberate yourselves from the blind and hopeful loyalty to those that continue to use you for the stomachs of their own politics".
- Mfesane Siboto is an Advocate of the High Court in Johannesburg.
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