South Africa in black and white

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THE recent sacking of the South African Finance Minister by President Jacob Zuma has triggered a political tsunami of sorts.
On the political front, the usual divisions between the African National Congress (ANC) and opposition parties such as the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) have intensified while within the ANC itself, major fault-lines in regard to economic liberation and methodology of achieving that vision have resurfaced.
The Vice-President of SA and the secretary-general of the ANC as well as its treasurer were deliberately distancing themselves from President Zuma and his decision to fire Pravin Gordan.
It is tempting to regard the polarisation which has suddenly gripped South African politics as a ‘passing cloud’, an internal affair which South Africans are bound to sort out sooner rather than later.
As neighbours of SA and members of SADC, we should not regard the political drama that is unfolding as normal before opting to go back to the business-as-usual mode.
Here is why we should pay close attention to the political and economic events and processes which are unfolding down south.
First, it is important to note that the honeymoon period ushered in by Nelson Mandela and the ANC and its allies in 1994 is almost over!
A lot has been said about the reconciliation process which took place between blacks and whites, both before and after 1994.
But this exercise has so far not succeeded in reconciling the ‘haves’, who mostly happen to be whites, and the ‘have nots’, who happen to be, in the main, blacks.
The much touted narrative about SA being a Rainbow Nation is turning out to have been a dream at best if not a myth which, at a symbolic level, never incorporated the dominant colour of the black majority in the first place.
After 23 years of political liberation and democracy, it is becoming painfully clear to most South Africans that the kind of democracy they enjoy does not necessarily include the democratisation of the economy itself and that, save for a few of them, the majority are bound to remain poor and marginalised in all matters economic.
Meanwhile, the descendants of white settlers who looted African land, commandeered its resources and the labour of the indigenous population for their own exclusive benefit for centuries have at best paid lip service to racial reconciliation since 1994.
More significantly, almost all have fiercely held on to their inherited economic privileges and opportunities ever since.
Further, the same group has increasingly been coming out in the open during rallies describing blacks as baboons or monkeys addicted to bananas and therefore unfit to govern.
Even the Premier of the Cape Province, Helen Zille, who of all people should know better about the deep and lasting injuries which apartheid inflicted on blacks across many generations, has taken to social media to declare in a brazen fashion how colonialism ‘civilised’ SA.
In light of the above, it is obvious that the black majority and the white minority are not reaching out and talking to each other; for the most part they are talking past each other and look well set to begin screaming in different directions.
The country they share remains the same but both population groups live in worlds which are completely different.
The gap between the suburb and the ghetto, the rich and the poor, the blackman and the whiteman is becoming a yawning chasm on a daily basis, making SA one of the most unequal societies on earth. Something is bound to give in soon.
Second, at the level of political drama, President Zuma has calmly but insistently recast himself as a champion of the poor majority, more so since the last local elections exposed how seriously disillusioned with the ANC a sizeable chunk of that majority has become.
He has gone to the extent of insisting that the much touted South African Constitution has to be changed in order to expropriate land from the whites without compensation.
This kind of (President) Robert Mugabe talk is sending alarm signals to Western capitals.
But on the ground, Zuma is expressing the frustrations of many who regard the radical approach as long overdue.
He has gone further to preach sermons about the need for SA to embark on a ‘radical economic transformation’ so as to break the back of what he calls ‘white monopoly capital’.
In doing so, Zuma has almost single-handedly re-positioned the political discourse of the country; the movement away from the usual neo-liberal clichés about unreachable rainbows and non-existent racial-reconciliations towards a more radical language of economic transformation which promises much for the expectant many who remain poor is both strategic and tactical.
Strategic in the sense that the re-positioning of the ANC is meant to undercut in a brutal fashion the loud-mouthed EFF, contain and choke a resurgent DA while at the same time reminding all and sundry that the ANC remains a party of the liberation struggle and a party of the Freedom Charter.
The question which remains is whether in repositioning the ANC, at least at the level of political discourse, he has done so together with some of his most senior colleagues.
Even then, some of these senior colleagues, especially those who take too long to grasp the strategic character of this ongoing reset might pay the ultimate price by being exposed as being non-revolutionary and therefore unfit to lead SA into the future.
In a sense, therefore, the repositioning is not only meant to prolong and consolidate the central role of the ANC in SA but also to influence the imminent succession processes in regard to who succeeds him as a party leader and that of the country.
It is a gamble and a big one at that.
In other words, the ANC has no other choice but to go to the left if it is to outflank most of its political opponents.
Third, opposing Zuma and supported by ‘white monopoly capital’ is, surprise, surprise , none other than Pravin Gordan, an ANC stalwart formerly deployed by Zuma at the Ministry of Finance.
Gordan carries the aura of a finance guru, someone who projects himself as a safe pair of hands good enough to shield SA from the much dreaded junk financial status.
As soon as he got the sack, Standard and Poor’s accorded SA the junk status and in order to pile up as much political pressure as possible on Zuma to resign, cited his decision to sack Gordan as the cause.
Overnight the political temperature in SA went ballistic and highly toxic.
Gordan, with the enthusiastic support from all opposition parties and a few in the ANC, has gone out on a crusade to oust Zuma from power.
He is accusing him of corruption, nepotism and recklessness and on this one, he has galvanised most whites to support his cause.
Accordingly, the balance of forces is as follows: On one side is Zuma, the ANC, more so the Women’s League and the Youth League; on the other side is Gordan, opposition parties and some trade unions, among other groupings — all baying for Zuma’s ouster.
When all is said and done, it is clear that there is an ongoing re-alignment of political forces in SA.
All these forces hinge on whether the ANC comes out of all this political turmoil intact or not.
It is in the interest of SADC as a whole that the ANC remains strong in SA.
If not, all other revolutionary processes in SADC countries which are at different stages of incubation and fruition could be at risk.

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