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South Africa

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Mandela’s Legacy

13 June 2013

Mandela’s Legacy

By Gwynne Dyer

As I write this Nelson Mandela is still with us. He may even still be living at the end of this year. But this is his fourth hospitalisation in six months, and the prognosis for 94-year-old men with persistent lung infections is not good. How will South Africa do without him?

Wrong question, actually. In practice, South Africa has been doing without him for more than a decade already – but psychologically, it is just now getting to grips with the reality that he will soon be gone entirely.

For all its many faults and failures, post-apartheid South Africa is a miracle that few expected to happen. Although Mandela retired from the presidency in 1999, fourteen years later he is still seen as the man who made the magic work, and somehow the guarantor that it will go on working. If only in some vague and formless way, a great many people fear that his death will remove that safety net.

Just in the past two weeks, however, the tone of the discussion has begun to change. On hearing that Nelson Mandela had been admitted to hospital yet again, Andrew Mlangeni, one of his dearest friends and once a fellow-prisoner on Robben Island, said simply: “It’s time to let him go. The family must release him, so that God may have his own way with him…Once the family releases him, the people of South Africa will follow.”

That one comment opened the floodgates, for it had a strong resonance in traditional African culture, which holds that a very sick person cannot die until his family “releases” him. They have to give him “permission” to die, by reassuring him that his loved ones will be fine when he’s gone. So South Africans must now accept that they can get along without Nelson Mandela, and then he will be free to go.

It’s not that everybody really believes in this tradition, but it frames the conversation in more positive and less distressing way. People can argue about whether or not South Africa is doing as well as it should, but they can at least agree that Mandela got the country safely through the most dangerous phase of the transition, and that they can carry on with the job of building a just and democratic society without him.

Except for President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, of course. Mugabe has always deeply resented the fact that Nelson Mandela is revered as the father of his nation while he himself is seen as a vicious tyrant who has ruined his country. So he seized the opportunity of a recent high-profile interview on South African television to accuse Mandela of having failed in his duty to South Africa’s black majority: he had been too soft on the whites.

What would have particularly annoyed Mandela, if he was well enough to watch the show, was that the interviewer was Dali Tambo, the son of his oldest and most trusted ally, the late Oliver Tambo. As young lawyers, the two men co-founded South Africa’s first black-run legal office in 1952, and when Tambo became the president-in-exile of the African National Congress he made Mandela’s release from prison its highest priority.

Dali Tambo is another kettle of fish: a flamboyant man who has traded on his family name to forge a career as a TV interviewer. He has his own soft-focus interview show, “People of the South,” and recently he persuaded Robert Mugabe to give him a two-hour interview. In the course of it,

Mugabe dismissed Mandela as “too much of a saint.”

“Mandela has gone a bit too far in doing good to the non-black communities, really in some cases at the expense of blacks,” the Zimbabwean dictator said. “That’s being too saintly, too good, too much of a saint.”

Nonsense. What Nelson Mandela and his white negotiating partner, F.W. De Klerk, were trying to avoid in the early 1990s was a South African civil war that would have killed millions and lasted for a very long time. The 20 percent white minority were heavily armed, and they had nowhere else to go. Their families, for the most part, had been in South Africa for at least a century.

Therefore, a settlement that gave South Africa a peaceful (and hopefully prosperous) democratic future had to be one in which the whites still had a future. So you either make the kind of deal that Mandela and De Klerk made, in which nobody loses too much, or you submit to a future that would make the current civil war in Syria look like a tea party.

And by the way, Mugabe was making his remarks in a country whose economy has been so devastated by his “tougher” approach that fully one-quarter of the population has fled abroad in search of work, mostly to South Africa.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, talking about Mandela’s inevitable death, said last week: “The best memorial to Nelson Mandela would be a democracy that was really up and running: a democracy in which every single person in South Africa knew that they mattered.” That is still some distance away, but Mandela has laid the foundations. He was the right man for the job: a saint who also understood realpolitik.

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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 8, 9 and 13. (“What would…saint”; and “And by…Africa”)

 

 

An African Iceberg?

22 May 2013

An African Iceberg?

By Gwynne Dyer

Keeping a file of random clippings is an old-fashioned thing to do, but sometimes it offers you unexpected connections. Sometimes it’s a connection that you don’t even want to see. But there it is, so what are you going to do about it?

In June, 2009, South Africa’s Medical Research Council published a report which said that over a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – have raped somebody. Almost half of those men admitted to raping two or three women or girls. One in thirteen of the self-confessed rapists said they had raped at least ten victims.

The numbers are astonishing and horrifying, but on the assumption that at least a few of the interviewees were ashamed, or were afraid that their admission might later be used against them, those numbers are probably low. The Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal provinces, where the study was conducted, are among South Africa’s poorer provinces, but there is no self-evident link between poverty and rape.

The study was a model of statistical rigour. It used a Statistics South Africa model of one male interviewee in each of 1,738 households across all racial groups and income levels in both rural and urban areas. Half of the men interviewed were under 25 years old; 70 percent of the rapists had forced a woman or girl into sex for the first time when they were under 20.

The researchers were not even trying to count South Africa’s rapists. The study was called “Understanding Men’s Health and Use of Violence: Interface of Violence and HIV in South Africa,” and it was really investigating the linkage, if any, between sexual violence and the spread of HIV. It turned out there was none – but that the actual amount of rape going on is completely off the scale even for an extremely violent society like South Africa.

I found another report claiming that 40 percent of South African women can expect to be raped during their lives, but I had nothing to add to the discussion so I just filed the information away. Then last November I saw a report in The Guardian about a study carried out in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo in which 34 percent of the men interviewed – over a third – admitted to rape.

That’s a war zone, of course, and it may not be representative of the Congo as a whole. But I did begin to wonder how widespread this phenomenon was, and I came across a study in the African Journal of Reproductive Health dating back to 2000, in which 20 percent of a thousand women interviewed in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania (hardly a war zone) said they had been raped. Only one-tenth of those rapes were reported to the police.

And early this month came a report from the Rwanda government’s Gender Monitoring Office that a survey of more than 2,000 schoolchildren across the country revealed that 43 percent of them were aware of other pupils being raped. Teachers were allegedly among the chief offenders.

“If teachers are responsible for the problems of teenage pregnancies, that is a serious problem as they’re supposed to protect them,” said Education Minister Vincent Biruta. But Katherine Nichol, who works at Plan Rwanda, an NGO that promotes girls’ education in rural areas, was willing to go a little further. “We only know the tip of the iceberg of this issue here in Rwanda,” she said.

That’s the question, really. Are these reports just anomalies and exceptions? After all, South Africa is very violent, the eastern Congo is a war zone, Rwandans have been traumatised by the genocide of 1994, and Tanzania is – well, maybe just an anomaly. Or are they the tip of a continent-wide iceberg?

Rapes happen everywhere, not just in Africa, and it’s especially bad in war zones. There was practically no German woman left unraped in the eastern parts of the country when the Soviet army swept in in 1944-45.

Armies seem to have a special problem with sexual violence even when there isn’t a war. Last year, there were 26,000 reported cases of sexual violence against women in the US military – and the Pentagon believes up to 80% of sexual assaults go unreported. Indeed, a female soldier in the US military is more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted by one of her own colleagues than injured in battle.

But the subject today is Africa, and the few statistics available suggest that there is an astoundingly high number of rapes in several widely separated countries. So what is needed now is more and better statistics.

Is the proportion of rapists among the male population in the western Congo (which is more or less at peace) much lower than in the East, or not?

Are Kenya’s official rape statistics (over 300 women per week) accurate, or should they be multiplied by ten to account for non-reporting, as in Tanzania?

Are the true numbers for rapes different in Muslim countries in Africa (all the ones mentioned above are predominantly Christian), or are they really the same?

Nobody will win a popularity contest by gathering these statistics, but hundreds of millions of African women have the right to know the answer. And when the scale and nature of the problem is clear, there needs to be urgent, decisive action.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3, 5 and 12. (“The numbers…rape”; “The researchers…Africa”; and “Armies…battle”)

 

 

South Africa: The Politics of Massacre

20 August 2012

South Africa: The Politics of Massacre

By Gwynne Dyer

Forty-eight hours after South African police killed 34 striking miners last Thursday (16 August), Julius Malema showed up at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg to assign the blame.

“President Zuma said to the police they must act with maximum force,” Malema told a crowd of thousands of miners. “He presided over the murder of our people and therefore he must step down….From today, when you are asked ‘Who is your president?’, you must say ‘I don’t have a president’.”

President Jacob Zuma was in Mozambique when the slaughter happened, and is unlikely to have given the police instructions on dealing with a local strike. But professional demagogues don’t have to worry about the details, and Malema was fundamentally right in what he said next.

“Zuma doesn’t care about the mineworkers, he came here last night and met with whites,” Malema said. “It’s not the white British (mine-owners) who were killed. It was you.” And in a final slap at the governing African National Congress (from which he was recently expelled): “They only come to you when it’s time for elections. Once you put that cross, they disappear.”

Julius Malema fills the same role in today’s South Africa that Winnie Mandela did in the dying days of apartheid in the early 1990s: the radical demagogue who uses violent, often anti-white invective to articulate the rage of the impoverished black majority. This terrifies South Africans who have something to lose, black and white alike.

Malema preaches hatred of the rich and hints at social revolution. The fact that he has become mysteriously rich himself at the age of 31, although his only jobs were as an official of the ANC Youth League, doesn’t bother his millions of admirers at all. They just want to see a real redistribution of the country’s wealth in their favour, and they think Malema is their best bet.

They are probably wrong. Malema is ruthless and cunning enough to have a chance at winning power some time towards the end of this decade, when the ANC’s political near-monopoly finally collapses. But he is not skilled enough, and perhaps not even clever enough, to push through that sort of redistribution without destroying South Africa’s industrial economy in the process. Nevertheless, many of the poor feel they have nowhere else to turn.

It is now 18 years since the fall of apartheid, and a substantial class of prosperous middle-class blacks has emerged (together with a small group of very rich people with close links to the ANC). However, the poor majority remain desperately poor, and they no longer trust the ANC to bring positive change in their lives. They are starting to defect politically, and the main battle is being fought on the territory of the trade unions.

Mining is South Africa’s biggest industry, and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) is the country’s biggest union. It is closely tied to the ANC, but many believe that it is also in bed with the bosses. Cyril Ramaphosa (who chaired the ANC’s disciplinary appeals committee that expelled Malema from the ANC early this year) was the founder of the NUM 30 years ago, but now he is on Lonmin’s board.

The Lonmin strike is actually a turf war. The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (ACMU), a new, radical union, has been stealing the members of the National Union of Mineworkers, including three or four thousand of the 26,000 men working in Lonmin’s platinum mine. ACMU promised to triple the workers’ wages, and the violence began when it tried to stop NUM members from going to work.

Ten people were killed in clashes between the two unions in mid-August, including two police who were hacked to death with pangas (machetes). So the police were understandably nervous last week when they faced an angry mob of about 3,000 workers armed with pangas, spears and clubs.

Unleashing a torrent of automatic fire that killed 34 strikers and wounded 78 was an act of gross indiscipline, but frightened men, even if they have far better weapons, will not always respond in a measured and disciplined way when they are under attack. The reflex, unfortunately, is to hold the trigger down and spray the threat with bullets.

Nobody wanted this tragedy to occur, and it is unlikely to happen again in the same way. Jacob Zuma will still probably be re-elected as the leader of the ANC in December and go on to a second term as president. There will be a commission of inquiry, and judges will reach conclusions and make recommendations.

But the main political beneficiaries of the incident are the forces that are trying to loosen the grip of the ANC’s old guard on the unions and the country. It has been a very auspicious occasion for Julius Malema, who is trying to position himself as the only real alternative to Zuma and the gang. Some time later in the decade, the Lonmin massacre may come to be seen as a turning point in South Africa’s history. Or not, because history does not run on rails.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 5 and . (“Julius…alike”; and “Mining…board”)

 

 

The African National Congress at 100

5 January 2012

The African National Congress at 100

By Gwynne Dyer

“It’s a bittersweet victory,” said William Gumede, a distinguished South African academic, about the hundredth anniversary of the African National Congress (ANC), which opens with a enormous party in Bloemfontein on Sunday. “This is our tipping point. From here things will go downhill. No liberation movement has moved upwards from this point.”

It’s a grim prognosis, but Gumede, author of “Thabo Mbeke and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC,” insists that South Africa is no exception to the rule. “Every African country thought it was exceptional. If you look at the archives of Nigerian papers at the time they got independence (1960), everyone in Nigeria, in Africa and indeed the world over thought they were exceptional. No one wanted to criticise them.” But then it all fell apart.

It has not fallen apart yet in South Africa. Eighteen years after Nigeria got its independence, there had been a terrible civil war, the generals were already ruling the country, and the average income was lower than it had been in late colonial times. Whereas eighteen years after the end of apartheid in South Africa in 1994, it is still a more or less peaceful democracy, and the living standards of the poor have at least not declined.

But maybe that was just because South Africa was fortunate to have an extraordinary generation of leaders: men like Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu and Oliver Tambo who were intelligent, incorruptible and dedicated to democracy. Without them at its head, can the ANC be trusted? A lot of people doubt it.

Mandela chose Thabo Mbeki as his successor because he trusted him to keep the government clean and democratic, but there was already something wrong there. However saintly Mandela was, the way he imposed Mbeki as leader of the ANC, and therefore president of the country, was considerably less than democratic.

Mbeki turned out to be more autocratic than Mandela had hoped, but his overthrow in an internal ANC coup in 2008 was hardly a triumph for democracy either. Of the two men who played the biggest roles in organising that coup, one, Jacob Zuma, is now president of the ANC and the country, while the other, ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema, spends all his days plotting to take his place.

Zuma, a man who has faced multiple charges of corruption and rape, miraculously emerges unscathed from the courts each time, and his co-conspirator in the main corruption case, Shabir Shaik, has just been released from prison for “medical reasons.” Malema, an accomplished demagogue, has built his popularity among the poor black majority on barely disguised racial incitement against whites, mixed-race people and other minorities.

Politics is a tough old game in every country, but there is a systemic problem here: the ANC doesn’t do democracy well. Gumede put his finger on it when he pointed out that the ANC, like other African parties that fought liberation wars, had a military structure. “They tended to centralise; there was not much internal democracy. When they came to power they couldn’t break away from this culture, which undermined internal democratic processes.”

Dozens of heads of state and an estimated 100,000 ordinary South Africans are flocking to Bloemfontein to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the ANC. They honour it because it brought freedom to the black majority in South Africa without destroying the country’s democratic institutions in the process. South Africa still has free elections, free media and a justice system that is free from government influence (most of the time).

But that has been relatively easy up to now. The ANC still enjoys mass support because of its heroic past, so it has won every national election so far without having to break the democratic rules. The question is: what will it do when it can no longer win without breaking the rules?

That day is probably not very many years off. The ANC’s share of the vote has been falling steadily, partly because of its perceived corruption but largely because almost two decades in power will erode the popularity of any political party. The election in 2014 will probably be the last in which it can hope to win a parliamentary majority honestly.

The most important crisis in South Africa’s history will occur when it loses the election after that. Only if the ANC then goes meekly into opposition can we conclude that South Africa really is an exception to the rule that liberation movements don’t do democracy.

The rule doesn’t mean that Africa is doomed eternally to political oppression and corruption. A number of African countries have passed through that long tunnel and emerged on the other end as flawed but generally law-abiding democracies: Kenya, Zambia, and Mozambique, for example. But it would be much better not to go into the tunnel at all.

The ANC will really deserve the admiration of the world if it can leave power without a fight. At the moment, the odds on that happening are no better than even.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 13 and 14. (“The rule…even”)