It can be argued that the biggest lesson from the most recent elections for municipal governance in South Africa was the fact that the oldest liberation movement on the Afrikan continent, the African National Congress (ANC) was humiliated by the opposition parties, one of them, Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) which is only three years old.
The ANC had never in its wildest imaginations conceived of a scenario where against the backdrop of its glorious credentials as the liberators of Afrika’s strongest economy, was ordered by voters to hand over the keys to the controls of Pretoria (the capital), Johannesburg (the Wall Street of Afrika), Port Elizabeth or Nelson Mandela Bay, (the city that bears the name of the world’s most famous moral leader of our time) and was emphatically denied access to the safes of Cape Town (South Africa’s Mother City where the country’s legislature is).
This means that the three organs of government are at the mercy of opposition leaders to get rapid and qualitative services, and many of these opposition leaders were not heard of twenty years ago. To all intents and purposes, the ANC has been reduced to a rural party.
A few years ago, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu fired a few salvos at the ANC and Jacob Zuma, its president, when he reminded them that even though they won the elections convincingly, they were off course in terms of steering the country towards a better future.
Tutu referred to Muammar Gaddafi and Hosni Mubarak who also won elections by extremely large margins in Libya and Egypt respectively, yet got dislodged by the youth with unprecedented humiliation and dishonor. He was emphatic in his admonition to the ruling party not to take their winning of an election as the last word on the people’s aspirations.
The ANC wrote him off, and staunch ANC loyalists ridiculed him and called him all kinds of names. Vintage Tutu resorted to prayer. The outcome is there for all to see, which is an illustration of the difference between political credentials and principled leadership, especially when the latter is escorted by calls to God to intervene.
THE ANC is now the de facto opposition. Its leadership cannot have a day without some or other emergency meeting to ‘introspect’ about what went wrong, and to figure out why even the most ardent ANC supporters chose to stay at home and denied the liberation movement of all times the victory it believed was designed for it by God and ancestors.
The worst setback of all is the fact that President Zuma lost the trust and subsequently the votes of the residents of Nkandla who used to argue that it was fine for their leader to eat on their behalf, like old Afrikan traditional leaders used to be the custodians of both the good and the bad in the name of their subjects.
Worse yet, Nkandla was handed back to Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi whom every literate opinion maker had written off as a spent force who withered into the sunset with the demise of homeland politics. Struggle heroes are at a loss to explain this new voice of the people in South Africa, and by extension other countries led by liberation movements.
The ANC now licking its wounds can blame the media, the representatives of white interests, the counter-revolutionary civil society, the ungrateful youth, and the clever blacks for this. What they are unable to do is acknowledge where and why things went wrong on their watch. Afrikan heads of state are typically unable to read and move with the times, especially those who have reason to claim that they were part of the struggle for freedom and national independence.
There is something wrong with us as Afrikans and our leadership models, especially once we taste the sweetness of power and glory. We forget completely where we came from, who made it possible for us to get where we are; we become much more hurtful to our own people as if history begins and ends with us! Whereas other civilizations teach that the privilege, not the right, to have power, is to help others, we Afrikans use power, however ill-gotten, to fix those we do not like and hurt others. We use power to steal with impunity from the poor accumulate wealth in the name of the revolution. What is most hurtful is to see people who at one point were willing to sacrifice everything, for the goal of liberation are the ones now willing to do everything, even sell the country to bogus foreign business partners, for personal gain.
Here are many stories to that explain the Zuma factor in us: When the erstwhile ruler of Zaire, Mobutu Sese Seko died, his wealth could not be traced or accounted for. Because his expiration was so swift, the people around him who stole for and with him were either dead or forgot the pin codes for his foreign bank accounts. During the 1980s Mobutu had more money in his personal accounts than the total annual budget of the state of Zaire, intended for national development plans.
Several Zairian embassies and consulates abroad could not pay their municipal bills. While attending a United Nations summit in New York at the time, an American journalist asked Mobutu whether he was prepared to loan some of his own money to pay the bills of his country’s foreign missions bills. Mobutu replied: ‘I can, but how do I know that the government will pay me back?’
Not too long ago, Nigeria was the host of an international football tournament. This event brought much prestige to the nation. The story goes that in the towns where the matches were to be played, the leaders and managers of the power utilities deliberately caused the failure of electricity supply to create an emergency that would force people to pay bribes for their power to be switched back on to watch the games.
The story goes further that due to the power failures, foodstuffs had to be flown in from South Africa to feed the players and the large crowds of spectators at the games. All the middle men getting those getting the tenders and kickbacks to bring in the food and generators were Nigerian government officials, many of them elected leaders! There is another story of an important Nigerian governor who landed a tender to import millions of tons of candles from Europe to his state. In order to sell his candles, he instructed that the power stations be rendered dysfunctional so that ‘his people’ would be served with candles that he and his family were sole traders of.
One reason that Afrika holds high the first President of Tanzania, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, is his strong ethical conviction as a political leader. He developed what he called the ‘leadership code’ by which he drew the line between business and government. He championed that those with interests to make money should stay out of government and not use their political influence to make money in business. Mwalimu Nyerere, like a few other historical leaders on the continent, understood that the business of government is to govern, not to compete for tenders. We in Afrika have no shame when we cannot even explain how we acquired our wealth on the backs of the people. What led the ANC to be in the unenviable position that it is in is its inability to steer clear of business and its leadership’s greed to conflate governing the country with being members of the richest class. It is this weakness that led to Marikana and the concomitant disappearance of trust between the leaders and the voters.
President Yahya Jammeh of the Gambia has amassed superior wealth since he seized power militarily so much so that on good days, he would be driven through the streets of Banjul to throw boxes of dry biscuits and blankets to cheering crowds who sing his praise as Babili Mansa.
In the climate of extreme poverty such as in Namibia, the honor that ought to accompany political leadership gets subsumed under the ostentatious display of wealth by public office holders. Then all of us join the race to be connected so that we can steal and get rich quick! Thus the way to know and to speak of one another is no longer about the contribution we can make with the gifts God gave us, but how we can influence business deals by becoming and/or remaining connected to politics—the Guptas way. This is the sad reality that Afrika has entered after the gallant fights for freedom and national independence.
In this state of affairs, it is difficult to escape the hurtful classification that we Afrikans are perhaps the least evolved when it comes to governing ourselves. We seem never to learn from the experiences and mistakes that we know were made elsewhere and ought to avoid, until we make our own, and make them perilously. We have seen failures across the continent. We have been abused, and we fought for human dignity and equal rights. We are very critical when not in power, but declare criticism our worst enemy once we get to the top, even if the criticism is meant to improve what we do for the common good.
To paraphrase the Bible, we Afrikans are like animals who return to their own vomit, and continue to behave as if nothing is wrong, as long as they have something to eat. We know what is wrong, yet we repeat to do what is wrong. We rejoice when we see those who look like us in pain. One day, the Gods and what remains of our human souls, shall speak. We hope that when the Gods shall speak, their pronouncements shall be typical of Gods’ speak – and that they will overlook our follies and turn their faces away from the hurt we continue to inflict upon one another in search of who knows what!