Zuma, Zille and African Sovereignty

2017-04-20 18:04

“As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own way of doing things…Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days, but we know that during those times there were no orphans or old age homes.” (Jacob Zuma)

As the walls come crashing down around Zuma, one wonders what makes him so important to the ANC. Why did they fight so hard to make him their leader? And why, in the face of overwhelming evidence that he has been bought by the Guptas, do so many remain loyal?

The over-riding theme of ANC rule is Africanism and indigenous redress. Never mind our liberal constitution, democratic institutions and noises about non-racialism – Africanism trumps these and then some. Geography matters, race matters, history matters. ‘The Struggle’ was not about winning conjugal rights for gays, it was about remedying colonialist humiliation and exploitation. This appears to be the subterranean force still animating the ANC, and it’s a narrative that Zuma is trumpeting right now.

This also explains the significance of Helen Zille’s comments defending certain aspects of colonialism. I’ve wondered why she didn’t just back down. But perhaps these seemingly innocuous comments hint at a broader theme: the role of whites in post-apartheid South Africa. For Africanists, whites are the descendants of those who came to Africa to exploit the indigenous people. What legitimacy do the descendants and beneficiaries of such heinous exploiters have to question African rule? This is one of the ANC’s main arguments against the DA. Criticism from whites is to be rejected because who are we to point fingers: our very presence here is suspect, at best to be tolerated and at worst to be delegitimised. And then there are the attacks on ‘white’ institutions – business (‘white monopoly capital), opposition parties, ‘the white press’, western financial institutions, and yes the Treasury.

If we equate the word ‘African’ with ‘indigenous’ we get Zuma for president – a corruptor who has no business running South Africa. In some ways Zille’s timing is poor – the DA should be fighting Zuma, not each other. But there is method to her madness. This is as good as time as any to affirm that whites are full and legitimate citizens of South Africa and entitled to engage robustly in politics. For proponents of indigenous redress the toughest pill to swallow is that the colonialists won…hands down. But for a few battles, like Isandlwana, European colonisers won the war then made the law. The biggest losers were indigenous elites. Indigenous ruling systems were replaced, or layered over, by colonial ones – chiefs became colonial proxies.

That this Africanist narrative is still so alive in the ANC partly explains why coloured and Indians have deserted them in droves and now vote overwhelmingly for the DA. Indigenous redress is not their story. When the ANC undermines democratic institutions and the pillars of our constitutional democracy it does so in the name of Africanist ideology. They get away with it because indigenous redress is still an important story for the majority of black African voters. And for many in the ANC it’s way more important than clean and efficient government. Let’s not pretend that race and culture don’t matter in politics. They will remain important for some time, particularly if millions of voters continue to buy into the idea that freedom and prosperity are zero-sum commodities, something to be taken from the coloniser and returned to the colonised.

One wonders how much easier Zuma would have gotten away with it had he been in business with an African family (e.g. the Motsepes) and not the Guptas. The Africanist narrative breaks down somewhat when a family of foreign Indians are picking your cabinet.

The hurt of colonialism was caused by the loss of sovereignty for indigenous socio-political systems. It’s ironic that Zuma compromises South Africa’s sovereignty, handing over political decisions to the Guptas; like chiefs of yore tricked into giving away their land for beads and trinkets.

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