Sunday, September 27, 2020

Gestures, African leaders and Democracy

The recent dull elections in South Africa serve as an example of politics’ nonsense. Much Ado About Nothing!
What is the purpose of holding expensive elections involving 50 million South Africans when the winner is pre-determined and is pre-ordained; and when the outcome is pre-arranged due to party structuring that is always out of kilter in favour of those at the top?

Africans are so good in staging seemingly “democratic” elections.
After the “democratic” elections, they then go on and use more than US $9 million to celebrate the “victory” during an expensive inauguration while people starve around them, while the sick die and children being sent home for lack of school fees?

Politicians are shameless narcissists.
I am astounded and don’t bother to comfort me on this.

Amid all this waste and unnecessary pomp, we see the likes of Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi, two of Africa’s most notorious dictators, smiling and thumbing their noses at the world at the expense of the South African taxpayer.

Dictators regal in other people’s democratic sunshine, while they themselves deny their own the slightest of freedoms.

Their jails are full of fellow citizens who try to put across an alternative idea that is always considered treasonous.

Mbeki’s inauguration was littered with some dictators who have mineshafts full of skeletons of innocent compatriots.
Their countries have thousands of orphans, widows, widowers and childless couples who all lost their loved ones, not to disease or natural disasters, but lost them to the very same dictators who are being honoured by South Africa.

May I please know what Gaddafi was doing at Jacob Zuma’s inauguration in South Africa?

We saw him insultingly punching the air with his fist as he walked towards his seat to witness the end result of a democratic process, flawed as it might have been.

When did Gaddafi last allow his own country to hold elections? So why invite him to celebrate a democratic process that he loathes in his own country?

Democracy, it seems, is an unfair doctrine. South Africa could not deny Gaddafi what he denies his compatriots back home.

But wait a minute! Why let Gaddafi into South Africa while slamming the door in the Dalai Lama’s face? What’s going on here?

Oh, it’s democracy, I guess.
Democracy is elusive.

In the United States of America, the dominance of two parties is having its toll on the 306 million citizens whose choices are narrowed down to the two old political parties. Very limited choice.

Few countries in Africa attract as much attention during elections than Zimbabwe and South Africa and yet both fall short of truly democratic elections.

I am not fooled by the abundant existence of political parties in South Africa, Zimbabwe or elsewhere. The bottom line is that democracy is an indefinable practice that no nation has been truly able to practice, implement and uphold.

As of 2004 in the United States, a perceived bastion of democracy, more than 50 percent of the people (including those who did not bother to vote) were ruled by George W Bush, a president they did not vote for. And that is worse compared to the 2000 election in which Al Gore received 48.4% of the popular vote compared to George W Bush’s 47.9% of the popular vote.
What is democratic about half the people being ruled by a person they voted down?

Meanwhile in Britain, the British are being governed by a Prime minister who was voted for by neither his own party nor by the electorate.

Gordon Brown, like Jacob Zuma, just happened to be standing in the queue and presto, they were Executive leaders of their respective countries.
Gordon Brown is ruling now but without a single vote cast for him.

In that “democratic” respect, therefore, at least Zuma was better than Brown in that Zuma waited in the queue for a rehearsed election. He even had the luxury to appoint a friend to be a temporary president while he attempted to shake off his legal problems.

Zuma’s temerity is born out of his “clout” within the party and this top-heavy dispensation of party influence and, in the end, manipulation defeats democratic practice in any organisation.

Fittingly, of course, when Zuma took over the presidency, he made Kgalema Motlanthe, the former president who held the fort for him, his vice president.

Why did we expect anything different? Who voted for Motlanthe in the first and even second place?
While I don’t want to laugh, I am amused by these moves.

Poor Africa has a hard act to follow and we are using other people’s criteria as yardsticks.

And we are failing to meet their standards, standards which they, themselves, fail to meet or maintain.
And yet we get blamed for it.

The failure of democracy is amplified when it happens elsewhere outside America and Britain, yet democracy would be such a fine attribute to intelligent and civilised humans, if only it were real and existed anywhere in the world.

In South Africa, a country with the continent’s most liberal laws, one is seemingly assured of a national presidency by an ability to defy the courts and having the dexterity to manipulate party supporters who sing, dance and trumpet the virtues of democracy.

The underlying intimidatory message of violence is unmistakable in the singing and dancing before, during and after the elections.

Do you remember the days of alliances and political parties or liberation movements aligning themselves with other countries in Africa?
First, you had to be fighting for the liberation of your country. But to do that you had to be “aligned” to a super-power (the United States of America or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

The last time I cared to look, South Africa’s Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) was poised to clinch one seat in South Africa’s 2009 parliament.

I don’t care what happened in the end because, either way, they did not get more than one seat. And that is a shame.
A shame, not because they did not deserve one seat in parliament, but a shame because they, in terms of history, deserved to be second or, at worst, third.

Their history dictates that they should be neck and neck with the African National Congress.

But, over the years, the people watched and spoke; they relegated the PAC to the dustbin of history.

The reasons are obvious: if you get bigger than your boots, don’t wear them!
If you feel more important than your supporters, you are history.
No player is greater than the game itself.

The PAC was aligned to Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party; they both enjoyed Chinese support while Joshua Nkomo’s PF-ZAPU (Soviet support) was aligned to the ANC.

Meanwhile in Mozambique, FRELIMO (Soviet) found itself aligning with ZANU-PF more for tactical than ideological reasons.

There is something obscene about seeing brutal dictators, with blood on their hands, mingling with well-intentioned leaders who are struggling to introduce democracy on the continent.

There is something seemingly retrogressive about granting democratic rights to people like Gaddafi and Mugabe who have made a lifetime’s effort to deny millions of people democratic rights.

And to make matters worse, when the bad appear in the midst of the good, it is the bad ones who are more conspicuous and who hog the limelight and for all the wrong reasons.

Africa, starved of role models, cannot afford these kinds of gestures.
Mugabe and Gaddafi had no reason to be in South Africa. Their presence tainted a happy occasion and insulted those of humanity who work tirelessly for democracy.

Their presence was a gesture in bad taste because these two reminded happy people that evil lurks not too far away. It was like trying to drink a glass of milk as one passes by a pit latrine.

It wasn’t kosher, for what it’s worth.

And yet gestures are very important and effective; ask that guy called Nelson Mandela who knows the power of symbolic gestures!


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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.