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In the 2008 documentary film Behind the Rainbow by Egyptian-French filmmaker, Jihan El Tahri President Jacob Zuma told a story which has stayed with me for nine years. The story was about his arrest in Swaziland while working as the ANC underground coordinator in 1975. At the time, the ANC wanted to train military operatives whom they planned to inject back into South Africa to conduct missions. The Swazi authorities did not want the ANC to conduct military activities on their soil, so they kept the ANC house under close surveillance. President Jacob Zuma recounted the story which gives us an insight into how he behaves under pressure. “I saw a car parked and shortly thereafter the police came in. When the police say, come to the police station you are not likely to come back.” He said, raising his hands up in mock surrender. ‘So, I said Let me eat first, so we ate and that’s how we were arrested”
This short story defined the character of President Jacob Zuma for me, cementing him in my mind as a man who holds his ground tenaciously regardless of the apocalypse surrounding him.
The ancient Greeks defined the word apocalypse, not as a foreboding word spelling doom, disaster or the end of the world as we have come to understand it in Biblical terms. The word apocalypse in Greek literally means the uncovering, a disclosure of knowledge or revelation. Lifting the veil on that which was formerly hidden.
Interpreted in this way, this word then gives us a framework within which to understand and describe what is happening politically in South Africa today. We are going through an apocalypse of gigantic proportions which brings to light each week all the different ways in which the political elite, government officials, state agencies and corporate South Africa have colluded in corrupt practices since 1994.
And President Jacob Zuma who is currently at the centre of this storm is bidding his time, hanging on quietly to ensure that his wives, children, extended family and friends are well taken care of before he is forced to leave the table. He will eat first despite the vultures which are surrounding his camp waiting to pluck at the dead flesh of his controversial presidency.
As much as most of South Africa and some members of the ANC are desperate to get President Jacob Zuma out of government with immediate effect – we would all be remiss to focus only on him as the source of the fungus clogging up systems in government – because he is very clearly not the only one. White monopoly capital is as real and true as the insidious nature of the friendship between the Gupta’s and the president. We should never forget that it was indeed former president Nelson Mandela himself who ordered his “boys” in the ANC not to upset the ship in the order for the negotiated settlement go ahead as planned with all the compromises that had been made.
Former president Thabo Mbeki said a much in an interview he gave in Behind The Rainbow, “we put ourselves in the shoes of the other side, we said to ourselves if we were the National Party we would be reluctant to lose power and therefore we would fight against change…. because they’d be fearful. These black people who they’ve always defined in a particular way; terrorists, communists all these terrible things you’d be fearful of them taking over. So, we said well, to address that fear we said let’s offer them the sunset clauses to say you will not lose power completely. And it meant not only retaining some of them in cabinet it also meant retaining people in the public service”
While this may have been a great negotiating tactic for the ANC at the time the unintended consequences meant that the structures of apartheid both in government and in the corporate sector were not entirely dismantled
When President Nelson Mandela went on a tour in Europe he told the corporate world in Paris France that he had the labour unions under his control and a large number of state enterprises which were open for business – for private-public partnerships which became the new buzzwords of our new democracy.
Thabo Mbeki said pleasing the west was paramount in their decision-making at the time “we had to take into account the international setting what we do here could turn a significant part of the world against us which would not be right. If we hadn’t done that I
20 years on the violence they feared would tipple the ship is now eating away at the very fabric of our society, from our bedrooms to the streets and it is threatening to unravel the delicate stitches weaving the country together.
If we all understand that much of what is happening in the country economically is a result of decisions made 20, 30, 40 years ago. We can also see that the new information which is coming to light is important to help us steer the ship in a completely new direction, one which is more aligned with the values and principles inscribed in the constitution and the bill of rights.
Changing course might not seem easy but it is our best alternative to continuing down this path. Perhaps this time we can apply our minds more rigorously to the real options we have available; which of the political parties contesting the elections are the embodiment of our highest ideals?
What we decide to do now will be critical to the future of South Africa. It is important for us to know what is happening and who the real players are behind the faces in parliament.
Perhaps then we can have a chance to elect leaders who are sober, courageous and pragmatic enough to stand for what is right with as much passion and tenacity as President Jacob Zuma and the ANC are at the dinner table.
Change is taking place and we need to be wide awake to it. We need to make sure that it’s a change we can believe in and support with our actions, lest we cross the Rubicon.