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From time to time I return to South Africa, the land of my birth. Living outside of it and returning gives me a view of things that is a little removed from the scene and thus, hopefully, objective. South Africans, of all colors, are friendly warm and keen to engage anyone in conversation. Arriving at Passport Control at Oliver Tambo international airport is no exception. The presiding immigration official, upon my arrival at his kiosk, warmly greeted me and then went on to ask me questions about the USA and what it’s like to live there. As I left him he called out, “Give my regards to Obama when you get back!” I dare say there are few places in the world where one will find such a happy and jovial attitude. South Africans laugh at themselves and everyone else which constitutes a real breath of fresh air in a world that it so hung up about itself and the need to be politically correct. It was a joy to be home!
But what of home? Some nearly twenty years after the demise of Apartheid the country has taken on a new character and it is refreshing to see black people occupying important positions in all segments of society. They are kind, helpful and full of smiles. They have a new dignity because they are in charge and have in many cases risen to the challenge of building a new South Africa. To see young black men running out onto one of our great rugby fields donning the green and gold of the Springboks is breathtaking to say the least. More than this, they are in the team because they are damn good! (Oops excuse my English) Who can fail to glow with pride as the spectators, mainly white, demonstrate their joy at seeing one of South Africa’s black rugby stars handle the ball by shouting out, “The Beeeeast.” When the bastion of “Broederbond Sport” is free from racial prejudice and intrigue then you know that a miracle has taken place in South Africa. Actually a God-given miracle!
But what of the future? Here there are disturbing signs that all is not well in the Rainbow Kingdom. South Africa’s young and fragile democracy is being challenged by the very people who have been elected to defend and strengthen it. This is no exaggeration, consider the following:
The undermining of the judicial system
Recently a very competent prosecutor was placed on suspension by the NPA (National Prosecuting Authority) because she was investigating corruption and fraud that involved senior local government and national political figures that were close to the President himself. Fearing that she would be successful she was suspended and charged with wrong doing. After fighting a long drawn out legal action, that cost her everything even her home, she was finally exonerated and cleared of all wrong doing. This essentially means that political figures of great power and influence consider themselves above the law and they will not hesitate to falsely use the law to hide their crimes. There is thus one law for the political elites and another for the man in the street. If not corrected this abuse of the SouthAfrican judicial system will breed distrust and fear; two realities that define most Banana Republics.
The undermining of a free press
Democracy means that the people, through their chosen elected officials, rule the country. The people then require effective means to “police” those in power.
This means three things:
1. There must be an unfettered and free press.
2. There must be the right to express peaceful public dissent……….and,
3. The rights of minorities must be guaranteed.
The ANC led government intensely dislikes criticism and recently, because of their overwhelming majority in the Parliament, they passed a law that would effectively curb the freedom that the press has hitherto enjoyed in South Africa. In essence this law would make it difficult for journalists to know when their criticisms of the government are crossing a red line and thus exposing them to prosecution. This in turn would deter them from being too critical; exactly what the government wants! To the credit of the government, though the bill has been passed, President Jacob Zuma has yet to sign it into law because he knows that the moment he does so the Democratic Alliance Party will immediately challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Should they be successful in this challenge the government will suffer an humiliating defeat.
The issue is, that a law to reign in the freedom of the press has been passed by the ANC government and this gives notice as to the real intentions of the government and this is not good because this in turn is the proven road that all dictatorships travel by!
The undermining of the rules of the land
The country was recently rocked by what is called Guptagate! This blatant disregard of the laws of the land was perpetrated by the President himself with the support of his inner circle of friends. In essence a plane chartered by very wealthy businessmen and women from India was allowed to violate South African air space and evade the normal entry procedures for visiting foreigners by illegally landing at Waterkloof Air-force Base. To add insult to injury, they were then permitted to illegally enter the country and be escorted by the police as they drove to Sun City for a big party.
The message the ANC government sent to the country is that once again the elites and friends of government are not subject to the laws of the land especially if they have money. In reality this again means that the laws of the land are only applicable to the tax paying majority but not to the ruling elite who will disregard them at the “drop of a hat.” Thankfully, because of the national outcry, the Guptas from India were forced to leave in the way that all visitors to the country leave; through proper procedures at Oliver Tambo International Airport. To date no one in the government has taken responsibility for this fiasco.
Undermining business confidence
The ANC government rules with the support of the Trade Union Movement known as Cosatu and the Communist Party. This means that radicals are always pressing for new laws that will transfer the wealth of the country to the “have nots.” They call this the struggle to achieve economic freedom. They therefore want to see the mines and other national business institutions nationalized and thus given to the people.For many of these people Mugabe of Zimbabwe is a hero even though his policies of achieving economic freedom totally bankrupted the country and increased poverty and hunger. I have tried to read as much as I can about this policy and have been struck by the fact that in the desire to achieve economic freedom you will never find the words dedication, qualification, education, commitment, hard work and discipline! It’s all about taking from those who have and just giving it to those who are disadvantaged, disinvested and discriminated against. It’s a failed policy the world over and it undermines investor confidence wherever it is implemented.
A recent report carried in the Financial Times stated that South Africa’s draconian labor laws coupled with the threats of the implementation of a nationalization policy were negatively impacting on the business environment and that indeed the country was in financial decline. A fact verified by the poor performance of the economy over the last fiscal year.South Africa should be the economic engine of Africa but in fact is fast being overtaken by Kenya, a nation that is now rapidly attracting foreign investment because of an open and liberal business environment. What South Africa needs is jobs and lots of them but as long as it is obsessed with race in the business sector it will never get these. Affirmative action is to some degree required and necessary but when it becomes incompetent tokenism and a road to get something without earning it it is a problem and in the end an insult to those who benefit from it.
Undermining the future
A recent report revealed that South Africa’s educational system is one of the worst in the world. It even lags behind that of Zimbabwe! This means that millions of children are getting an education that is hopelessly deficient. It also means that the future of these children is being ruined and with it their financial prospects. As always the Minister of Education will not take responsibility for this fiasco and sadly it looks as if nothing will change.
This problem is exacerbated by the high levels of crime. All countries have a crime problem but South Africa’s crime problem is unique and one of a kind. I have traveled the world over and have never encountered anything remotely near to South Africa’s crime levels. The country is now rated one of the most dangerous countries in the world! Crime is affecting all segments of society and all communities and it is thus dismembering families, creating a huge psychological and social problem and ruining the future of the country. To escape it hundreds of thousands ofSouth Africans have left for safer shores abroad and with their departure is the loss of expertise, experience and initiative; values that really make a difference in building the nation. One may call these people names for leaving but I have listened to their trauma and cannot blame them for going. For many it is just too late to go so their futures will be lived out by residing behind brick walls, barbed wire, laser beams, electric fences, security gates and panic buttons. When one ventures out beyond these security barriers one has to be extremely vigilant and one has to have one’s pockets filled with coins in order to pay off the ever present car guards etc.
Sadly the government seems quite incapable of effectively dealing with this problem and if this continues the countries future prospects will be dim. After all who wants to live in a national prison and pay taxes for the privilege?
National elections will shortly take place in the country. The electorate should have free access to the positions taken by the competing parties so as to vote in an informed and educated manner. These parties should therefore be free to hire any company, organization or newspaper to get their message to the people. In a democracy the people have a right to be informed in this way and all parties should honor and respect this. However, not so with the ANC because any news outlet or information network that conveys the opposition’s point of view is economically boycotted. That is, the ANC mobilizes its grass roots supporters to sever ties with these entities and thus economically hurt them. Naturally, it works and thus the voice of the opposition is silenced! This is not democracy but the early signs of dictatorship; the drive to retain power at all costs. If the foundations of building a strong democracy are being undermined just twenty years after Apartheid I fear that South Africa, with all its initial promise of hope, will turn out to be just another failed African state.
The picture that I have painted above is not a fictitious one; it is based on fact and is therefore a real one. South Africans are however a resilient people and thus far have overcome many obstacles in their pursuit of freedom. I sincerely pray that they will find a way to really entrench freedom in the country and overcome these challenges. The transition from Apartheid is now over and the new government must take hold of the future and accept accountability for its actions. Nation building is not a game and the country needs Statesmen/women and not politicians. The Father of the new nation, President Nelson Mandela, was a real statesman and a remarkable gift to the nation. His legacy was built on respect for all people, courage to act when one stands all alone and vision for what the future can be. He placed the country on the right path and served as a guiding light even when he was no longer in power. As I write he lies dying in a Pretoria hospital and it is my hope and prayer that the vision of a proud, successful South Africa does not pass away with him. The burden of responsibility that now lies on the shoulders of the next generation of rulers in South Africa is indeed a great one.