In the late 1950s, Journalist Tim Knight (www.TimKnight.org) was a very young reporter on the Sunday Express. His exclusive report on the funeral of 69 unarmed demonstrators massacred by police at Sharpeville — and other stories about the evil that was apartheid — eventually made it necessary for him to leave South Africa.
He moved to the Congo (two wars in three years) and the United States where he worked for ABC, NBC and PBS and won broadcasting’s highest honour, the Emmy. From there to Canada. For ten years he was lead trainer for all the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s TV journalists.
Last year, Tim Knight returned to South Africa and now lives and works in Cape Town.
After fifty-four years away, here is his assessment of Mandela’s South Africa today.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died. And every month that goes by moves South Africa further away from the democratic dream for which he lived.
The dream isn’t quite over yet. But you can sense, feel, smell, ominous signals that Madiba’s beloved country is turning into yet another African plutocratic kleptocracy, ruled by yet another noxious Big Man.
President Jacob Zuma, the wily, half-educated Struggle veteran, seems to believe South Africa is his personal fiefdom — its rapidly dwindling wealth at his personal disposal, to spend as he wishes.
L’état, c’est moi.
Zuma’s grasp of democracy extends no further than winning relatively clean general elections, firmly guaranteed under the nation’s admirable Constitution.
Once the election formality is out of the way, however, he spends his time and energy trying to subvert that same Constitution to the huge advantage of himself and the ANC party he leads.
In his spare time he jets around the world attending lavish dinners, inspecting guards of honour, and cozying with such democratic luminaries as his new BFF, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who’s trying to sell him obscenely expensive nuclear power plants.
Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is a devious, manipulative politician who steals from the poor to give to himself, his family, and his cronies. He’s a despot who takes every possible advantage of the naive, trusting, democratic side of savage capitalism.
He surrounds himself with corrupt, sycophantic incompetents who exist for no other reason than to serve and protect him. These coarse and fawning courtiers live for his smiles, dread his frowns, and — in exchange for their honour, their dignity and their very souls — live spectacularly comfortably off the leftovers from his ample table.
Zuma ranks high up there in the lengthy, ignoble pantheon of Africa’s notoriously corrupt and autocratic Big Men.
You want evidence? Check the Internet and find some 4,000 references under the heading “Charges Against Jacob Zuma.” Among them, corruption, bribery, racketeering, fraud, money-laundering and rape.
So far, protected by his high office and using every possible political and legal loophole, he’s managed to stay safely in his lavish state residences — and out of jail.
Nkandla, Zuma’s private home in KwaZulu-Natal however, has become a symbol of the corruption rotting away at the presidency, the ANC government and the South African public service.
It started out relatively modestly as Zuma’s personal house. Then, after his election as president, someone in government decided it needed “security upgrades” appropriate to his position.
The estimate was that taxpayers would have to pay around 27-million South African rand (C$2.8-million) for the added security. Since then the house has morphed into a compound and costs have soared to R248-million (C$25.6-million).
That’s an astounding 914% increase in only six years.
But wait, there’s more. The government says additional millions of public money are now needed to fix shoddy workmanship and increase Nkandla’s security.
And presumably, Zuma’s comfort.
South Africa’s Public Protector (a sort of ombudsman) is Thuli Madonsela. She’s hugely respected as a rare example of public service integrity and has ruled that Zuma “unduly benefitted” from improvements to his house. He should therefore pay back at least some of the money.
The leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance party, Mmusi Maimane, sums it all up: “The only plausible assumption is that President Zuma misused the power of his office to expand the scope of the project for his personal benefit.”
Zuma himself has simply refused to pay for any of the “security upgrades” to his private home. Not the underground bunker. Not the air conditioning. Not the cattle kraal. Not the chicken run. And certainly not the swimming pool which flunkies claim is actually a “fire pool” — sitting there ready to help if the presidential house should catch fire.
All these problems may not be entirely Zuma’s fault, however.
He has an excellent excuse.
Jacob Zuma could be a sociopath.
Descriptions of sociopathy fit remarkably well with everything we know about his public personality:
A person with a personality disorder manifesting itself in extreme antisocial attitudes and behaviour and a lack of conscience.
Sociopaths are variously described as intelligent and charming. But also as manipulative, cunning, narcissistic, grandiose, antisocial, habitual liars, amoral and lacking any sense of moral responsibility, social conscience or remorse.
I’m a mere journalist and no psychiatrist. But in the course of my long journalistic career I’ve met lots of Big Men, including seven presidents and three prime ministers.
So I know something about people and power, and how people are seduced and how power corrupts.
Consider, if you will, Zuma’s speech last year glorifying his ANC party as a religion:
“God expects us to rule this country because we are the only organisation which was blessed by pastors when it was formed. It is even blessed in Heaven. That is why we will rule until Jesus comes back.
“Those that stand in opposition to me or my party are evil and must be opposed; for they stand not only in opposition to us but in opposition to God, who has appointed and blessed us as his representatives here on earth.
“Thus, my party will remain in power forever and it will not subscribe to the will of mortal men, because it rules by divine right and, therefore, until the end of time and at God’s grace.
“Nevertheless, those who would oppose me or my party cannot be allowed to govern, irrespective of the broader democratic will, and we must stand together to prevent this from happening.”
If it quacks like a duck …
Some famous people labelled as sociopaths (some were likely psychopaths too) include Steve Jobs, Robert Mugabe, Mark Zuckerberg, Sepp Blatter, Idi Amin, François Duvalier, Bernie Madoff, Teddy Roosevelt and Vladimir Putin.
Then there’s Henry Vlll, Sherlock Holmes, Othello and at least one of my bosses over the years.
The saddest thing about South Africa today is that there’s a growing resemblance between today’s ruling once-noble, ANC and its predecessor, the National Party which invented apartheid to keep people of colour third-class citizens.
Today, the same words are frequently used to describe both — undemocratic, totalitarian, tribal, corrupt, crony-ridden, immoral, incompetent, coercive etc. etc. etc.
This nation, once ruled by the fascist, racist, secret society called the Broederbond (Band of Brothers), is being taken over by a remarkably similar secret society, the ANC.
The party dictates policy and action to both the bloated civil service — itself riddled with nepotism and falsified résumés — and members of the ANC majority in parliament, widely derided as “trained seals”.
Jobs for pals, many of whom are demonstrably incompetent, is so blatant that serving or working in the government has become a national sick joke.
Much like the old jest about the scariest words you’ll ever hear: “We’re from the government … and we’re here to help.”
It’s got so bad that it’s now news when an ANC minister or department head isn’t scorned as corrupt and unworthy of high office.
There are however (thank whatever gods may be) exceptions to the rot. Up there with Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, stands Auditor-General, Kimi Makwetu.
HIs audits of national and provincial governments (as well as other public bodies) are widely respected. So when his latest report reveals more than half of the departmentshe examined submit annual performance results with “material misstatements” he’s believed.
The worst government offenders, Makwetu charges, are the departments in charge of the most essential public services — health, education, human settlements and public works. All have “largely failed the audit test”.
Which means that ever more billions of rands — supposed to support hospitals, clinics and schools, clean up the country’s appalling slums, and keep water running, lights burning and roads unpotholed — simply disappears into the pockets of the corrupt and powerful.
And yet, even with all these problems, South Africa still isn’t Zimbabwe, Pakistan or Libya.
That’s mostly because of the country’s 1997 Constitution — the supreme law of the land — which is widely regarded as one of the strongest and most democratic in all the world. Written into it are robustbarriers against abuse of power by politicians.
It can only be amended with the support of 75% of the members of the National Assembly. Fortunately though, Zuma’s ANC boasts just 60% percent of MPs. And most pollsters report support for the party is slipping.
At the same time, parliamentary opposition is loud and lively.
Noisiest is the new, semi-Marxist-Leninist, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), led by the charismatic, clownish but dangerously clever Julius Malema. The EFF won more than 6% of the votes in last year’s election. It appeals mostly to the more than 50% unemployed and angry youth in the country.
Much more mainstream is the official opposition Democratic Alliance, which won a little over 23% of the votes in that same election. It’s new leader, Mmusi Maimane, is only 35. He holds Masters degrees in theology and public administration, so presumably knows something about both God and and his fellow man.
Maimane’s not only attractive and very smart, he’s also got guts. Consider his brutal attack on Zuma in the National Assembly earlier this year:
“You, Honourable President, are not an honourable man. You are a broken man, presiding over a broken society … You laughed while trampling Madiba’s legacy – in the very week that we celebrated 25 years since his release … We will never forgive you for what you have done.”
The South Africa I left fifty-four years ago was a country without hope, surely destined to destroy itself in savage race war.
Today, it’s battered, bruised, angry, and rapidly losing confidence in itself.
But it’s the same South Africa that, because of its people’s resilience, patience, determination and willpower — with almost no bloodshed — defeated the evil that was apartheid.
I’m convinced that the people of South Africa will eventually win this battle too.
And when they do, Madiba will finally rest in peace.