The unfolding political crisis in Zimbabwe that has seen the country’s military seize power and force the hand of President Robert Mugabe is in some ways similar to South Africa’s current quandary as the governing party struggles to shake off internal factional battles and corruption scandals.
There is no doubt the ANC’s “challenges” – as the party’s officials at Luthuli House would like to refer to them – have dealt a devastating blow to our economy and caused uncertainty about the country’s political stability as the ANC gears up to elect new leaders next month.
Unlike Zimbabwe, South Africa is a constitutional democracy, and the ongoing military coup on our neighbours’ doorsteps (or the purging of “criminal elements” surrounding the 93-year-old leader), is unlikely to happen in SA.
However, the current political impasse in Zimbabwe presents our country with the opportunity to reflect on how corruption and the capture of key state institutions, including the vying for positions within the ANC, have crippled our country’s economic and social progress.
Once a highly regarded liberation party, the ANC has descended to levels where some of its leaders are seen as self-serving and detached from the electorate. The party and country are led by a man who tells MPs about his prerogative to appoint members of Cabinet, and says at the same time: “The reasons are not necessarily to be known by people. If you want to know‚ win elections and have a government.”
President Jacob Zuma’s remarks at the National Council of Provinces on Thursday were a flagrant disregard of our country’s constitution, which is underpinned by principles of transparency and accountability, something he has clearly demonstrated to be at odds with, and he has over time shown he is not a living constitutional being, but a majoritarian leader.
I refer to Zimbabwe because the country is a case study for SA as we eagerly await the start of ANC’s 54th National Conference (should the congress not collapse) due to take place in Nasrec, Johannesburg. In the buildup to the congress over the last few months, it has become clear the outcome of the conference will be critical for the country’s political and economic direction post-2017.
The ‘coup’ in Zimbabwe has got some South Africans thinking about the possibility of our own army toppling Zuma and “criminal elements” around him from power to bring our country back on track towards social and institutional redress, and away from his scandal-prone leadership.
But as journalist and author Redi Tlhabi recently warned in an interview with CNN, even with the prospect of Emmerson Mnangagwa taking over – Mugabe’s vice-president, emerging as Zimbabwe’s next leader – he is no democrat, and we must not breathe a sigh of relief yet that Mugabe will be gone and Zimbabwe will return to its hey days.
Mnangagwa is just an extension of Mugabe, and was a key player and part of that nuclease of Mugabe’s power.
What happens after the ANC’s national conference should be our priority, as it directly affects our country. However, merely waiting for the congress or 2019 to make our voices heard will not serve our country’s national interests.
A military coup is unconstitutional in South Africa and unlikely to happen, but the brave efforts of whistleblowers and investigative journalists such as Jacques Pauw – author of The President’s Keepers – should be commended and seen as the blueprint for citizen participation.
Zimbabwe also reminds us of the importance of a strong opposition in any democracy, and the role of civil society rooted in the spirit of active citizenship. A country can only be “captured” by a few of the ruling elite when its citizens remain idle and watch their country crumble before their eyes.
Mugabe might be clinging to power and refusing to resign voluntarily ahead of Zimbabwe’s scheduled elections next year, but the tide is turning in the military’s favour and Mnangagwa’s faction within Zanu–PF.
Let us allow the developments in Zimbabwe be a wake-up call for all South Africans to realise what could happen should we abdicate our role as citizens in a constitutional democracy like ours. We cannot give leeway to any ruling party that destroys our country while it tears itself apart.