If the South African court handling the former president Jacob Zuma contempt of court case wanted to prove that the judiciary in South Africa is independent, then the evidence has been overwhelming and we accept the verdict: The judiciary in South Africa is independent.
But Zuma is a live wire. His conviction for contempt of court and the subsequent prison sentence of 15 months set in motion a conflagration that has seen scores of citizens dead and businesses ransacked . The state is now face to face with citizens who feel that the same system that has jailed their populist hero is the same system that has unjustly enriched a few while sentencing the majority to a life of indignity in squalid conditions.
Some people have attempted to discuss the crisis as a purely Zuma affair – a case of a square peg in a round hole where Western democracy is superimposed on an African traditional society. The argument is that this is akin to wearing ill-fitting shoes that distorts one’s gait. It is true that the post-apartheid South Africa like most of post-colonial Africa continue to walk with an awkward political gait. The arrested development of the political economy due to colonialism is responsible for this.
But there’s no need to focus only on Zuma. He has had and will continue to have his day in court. The evidence against him will determine his fate. There’s a duly fledged inquiry into state capture where Zuma is again the centre of focus.
But what about the fate of the nation? Analysts have stated that the policy of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) has been to empower the so-called Black middle class in the hope that the benefits of their empowerment will trickle down to the majority poor.
This has not happened. The revolutionary cause that inspired generations now seem like a flickering flame in the gushing winds of greed and exploitation.
South Africa remains a two decked ship on a perilous voyage. Those in the upper deck are the few privileged ones for whom the system has created opportunities. They feast and make merry. Those in the lower deck are the majority who are starving and live a life of deprivation. They have petitioned those on the upper deck yet they continue to be ignored. In desperation they have decided to make a hole at the bottom of the ship! Those in the upper deck have to respond urgently to the cries of those in the lower deck. Otherwise they will face what one American leaders called “mutually assured destruction”.
The situation cannot be tackled by the government alone. The hitherto smug and indifferent middle class has to step forward and be part of the solution to the class war now threatening the experiment we call the Rainbow Nation.
The alternative can best be described in the words of the poem titled Apolitical Intellectuals by Guatemalan poet and revolutionary Otto Rene Castillo: One day the apolitical/intellectuals/of my country/will be interrogated/by the simplest/of our people.//They will be asked/what they did/ when their nation died out/slowly,/like a sweet fire/small and alone.//No one will ask them/about their dress,/their long siestas/after lunch,/no one will want to know/about their sterile combats/with “the idea/of the nothing”/no one will care about/their higher financial learning.//They won’t be questioned/on Greek mythology,/ or regarding their self-disgust when someone within them/begins to die/ the coward’s death.//They’ll be asked nothing/about their absurd/ justifications,/born in the shadow/of the total life.// On that day/the simple men will come.// Those who had no place/in the books and poems/of the apolitical intellectuals,/but daily delivered/their bread and milk,/their tortillas and eggs,/those who drove their cars,/who cared for their dogs and gardens/and worked for them,/and they’ll ask://“What did you do when the poor/ suffered, when tenderness/and life/ burned out of them?”//
African culture shouldn’t be used to justify illegal behaviour. While in our African culture gifts are exchanged, they were usually a token and were never demanded. It was about the spirit of goodwill in which the gift was given rather than the money value of the gift.
Zuma obviously extended the handshake beyond the elbow. For that he has to answer. But the bigger question is the diminishing stake of the ordinary people in the Rainbow Nation.
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