By Olakunle Abimbola
To South Africa with loot, sorry love!
That is grim but fair; for anytime there is some excitement in that polity, industrial-scale looting and arson appear part of the mix.
So it is, with the current looting and riots, that greeted the latest station, in Jacob Zuma’s bumpy public career: freedom fighter, to president, to jail bird — to borrow the unflattering projection of a BBC report.
It could have been a gripping grist for Shakespearean or Greek and Roman classical tragedy, except that Mr. Zuma had, peak or trough, exhibited the character (or none of it) of a low man — to echo the tragedy of Willy Loman, the tragic hero and failed travelling salesman, in Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller’s contemporary tragedy.
But while Willy Loman’s tragic flaw was being untrue to himself, though a decent bloke, Jacob Zuma’s is being wilfully true to himself, though an indecent fellow.
That would appear a fair take, from the scandalous controversies that always swirl round him: from jailed liberation stalwart under the Apartheid regime (a heavy cross he admirably lugged from the tender age of 17), his stormy (un)presidential years (2009-2018) and the looming tragedy of a jailed former president — even outside his current jam: a 15-month jail term, for contempt of court — the first in South African history!
Unlike the fictional Loman that got milled by a cold, cruel and soulless capitalist grind, real-life Zuma seems the much lampooned “African Big Man” (with fulsome apologies to The Economist of London), full of illicit power and glory, and sworn to bending — nay crushing — everyone: state, people and all, to his own will!
A Farouk Chothia BBC report, of July 8, paints Jacob Zuma’s unsavoury long tiff with the law (2005 to 2021), dating back to his pre-presidential days — a profile hardly presidential!:
— 2005: Charged with raping a family friend — acquitted in 2006.
— 2005: Charged with corruption over multi-billion dollar 1999 arms deal — charges dropped before he becomes president in 2009.
— 2016: Court orders he should be charged with 18 counts of corruption over the deal — he appealed, but in 2017 lost a bid to overturn them.
— 2016: Court rules he breached his oath of office by using government money to upgrade private home — he has repaid the money.
— 2017: Public protector said he should appoint judge-led inquiry into allegations he profiteered from relationship with wealthy Gupta family — he denies allegations, as have Guptas.
— 2018: Zuma approves inquiry into claims of state looting.
— 2018: The National Prosecuting Authority confirms Mr. Zuma will face prosecution for 12 charges of fraud, one of racketeering, two of corruption, and one of money laundering, relating to the arms deal, which he denies.
— 2021: Begins a 15-month jail sentence after the Constitutional Court orders his arrest for refusing to testify at the commission into state looting.
All of us are rogues, goes that cynical Nigerian street quip, but whoever is caught is the barawo! That might just be the unpleasant reality among the ANC cadre, 27 years after triumph over White Apartheid.
This BBC portraiture of Zuma is anything but beatific. But the former president, rocking monumental disgrace because of personal recklessness, may just be a sick metaphor for ranking ANC apparatchiks.
Those have been accused of cornering South African resources under Black re-empowerment, just as the White racist red necks did under Apartheid. Brutally, it is dubbed “state capture” — and Zuma is now in hot soup, simply because he shunned the Raymond Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture.
That appears the point of Brian Pottinger, a former editor/publisher of the South African Sunday Times, in his July 15 analysis for The Post.
In that piece, Pottinger blamed the KwaZulu Natal rioting and looting, by the comrade-masses, protesting the Zuma jailing, as direct tutorials from the grab-and-grab of the itchy and golden fingers of ANC comrade-aristocrats in power.
He slammed Zuma as an irredeemable ruffian — which he may well be — and gored President Cyril Ramaphosa as a pussy-footing incompetent, who hates to rock the boat, when he should be the fiery Daniel come to judgment, over his decadent comrades.
Why, he even struck a familiar, if excitable note, to local Muhammadu Buhari critics here, dismissing Ramaphosa as taciturn, remote and sepulchral; instead of fierce, dashing and assertive — traits he needed to have, to summarily chop off the Zuma and allied sore, before decay into the current cancer.
But read more closely: Pottinger was pushing a rollback on post-Apartheid policies of Black empowerment, as ode to the White privilege days of yore, though without being outwardly racist!
For Ramaphosa in Pottinger’s court — just as PMB in critics’ court here — it’s damn you do, damn you don’t: the politics — or is it, cynicism? — of public criticism!
In the garb of sacred criticism, you unleash the most profane of closet yearnings, which though may not edify the public space, is sure to titillate not a few.
Still, whatever is Pottinger’s closet motive, South Africa and ANC, the country and party of Madiba, the great Nelson Mandela, are in a mess and need urgent help.
Pottinger is bang on the money: what was designed as Black radical economic transformation, in response to decades of cruel apartheid and mass economic strangulation, has petered down to serious socio-economic deformation. Holding the short end of the stick is the Black majority, just as they did during White racist rule.
That structural breakdown explains the South African penchant to resort to looting and arson, at the proverbial drop of a hat. With tact and wisdom, but never by rashness, President Ramaphosa must do whatever it takes to stamp out that rot.
Failure to do that would amount to an epochal failure, that would question the very basis of ANC intervention: from its early day as Black pressure group against White domination, to its colourful history as a liberationist movement, to its democratic triumph of 1994. All would be undone!
But a good start, to get that right, is calling the Zuma bluff. Zuma, the virulent strongman mightier than his country’s institutions, is a nightmare for any country — and Donald Trump, even after 245 years of American statehood and democracy, is living and ugly proof.
Let Zuma stay in the can. Draft whoever were accessories to the mayhem that greeted his jailing to meet him in there. Let him also face fair trial, for whatever allegations of sleaze hanging on his neck.
A fitting denouement, to the wilful tragedy of Zuma, is the shock therapy South Africa needs to get its life back. It’s good that is coming in early days — 27 years after Apartheid.