Message from the Rainbow nation

(By Thompson Taiwo)

As glamorous as ANC’s dream of a just and prosperous nation is, a number of black South Africans, few ANC’s populist leaders and some critics believe that Mandela’s presidency achieved less than its promised as the black majority still writhe in pains of ravaging poverty and pass the night in shacks and shanties. He was also accused of spending ample time seeking reconciliations with the white at the expense of the collective well-being of the natives. To the purveyors of this sentiment, Mandela was a symbol of freedom not equality. They believe that the power to vote without corresponding economic independence is as rotten as the apartheid machine.

THE day Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela embraced the long-beckoning hands of death, an unprecedented outpouring of tributes trickled down like tears from those who loved and marveled at his nerves as well as a class of white supremacists that saw his courage to liberate his people as an affront. He knew where he wanted to stand and be counted, among the deities of the Zulu and pantheons of the all-time greats of the Xhosa. The elixir that guided his personal conviction was his uncommon humanity, stubborn zeal, unmatched grace and forgiving spirit. Some commentators with their prophetic tongues have asserted that such inimitable leader only comes once in a generation but Mandela spanned two generations with his bespattered mud of resistance and unbending sacrifice for a people straddled between the grinding wheels of apartheid. He was emblematic of what is lost on current collection of leaders, scattering across the continent like a broken egg.

  With Mandela gone and buried in the requited hearts of his people, there is need for a deep reflection on whether it is freedom yet in his beloved country, on behalf of whom he submitted his youthful sparks in exchange for manacles and solitary seasons or it is freedom next time for black South Africans (My apologies to the Australian-born journalist John Pilger). Second, the electoral chances of his African National Congress (ANC) as South Africa goes to the polls this week, and what lesson Nigeria, whose general elections berth about 11 months away, can learn from a credible election in the rainbow nation.

  At the infamous Rivonia Trial of 1963/1964, where Mandela and other nine leading lights of the African National Congress (ANC) opposed to the apartheid system were slammed with four broad charges bordering on sabotage and treason, which marked his second odyssey to prison and would announce him to the world and destine him as the first black president of a democratic South Africa, he eloquently traced the genesis and kernel of ANC’s struggles for a united, non-sexist, democratic non-racial nation founded on equity and stoutly defended its political positions and military actions of violent protests as a response to the repressive laws that criminalised race by consigning blacks to the dregs of social strata. After intense legal fireworks, seven of them, including the leading resistor, Mandela, were condemned to life in the white court but won the moral victory in the worthless black court of public opinion. The longest-serving political prisoner in the annals of South Africa, Nelson Madiba, was released 27 years after and was elected president in 1994.

   As glamorous as ANC’s dream of a just and prosperous nation is, a number of black South Africans, few ANC’s populist leaders and some critics believe that Mandela’s presidency achieved less than its promised as the black majority still writhe in pains of ravaging poverty and pass the night in shacks and shanties. He was also accused of spending ample time seeking reconciliations with the white at the expense of the collective well-being of the natives. To the purveyors of this sentiment, Mandela was a symbol of freedom not equality. They believe that the power to vote without corresponding economic independence is as rotten as the apartheid machine.

  It would be recalled that in 1994, the African National Congress (ANC) promised to embark on radical social and economic changes which would elevate the near-animal status of the black through what was tagged the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). The economy was to be purged of its apartheid colouration through the nationalisation of major sectors of the economy. About 20 years down the line, the ANC government, according to critics, was said to have achieved less transformation in terms of the socio-economic conditions of the black population. The white minority continue to enjoy the healthy share of wealth of the country as was the unchallenged norm during the apartheid era under P. W. Botha, the Big Crocodile.    However, in the post-apartheid era, there has been an emergence of a new generation of few black bourgeoisies that rose from the ashes of apartheid which constitutes a drop in the mighty ocean of black liberation. Going by January 2014 edition of New African, it was reported that while average white household income has risen according to government statistics, average black household income has fallen by 19 per cent, descent from one level of poverty. It also appears that the black population has not been adequately intellectually empowered to stand up to the modern economic dominance of the white South Africans as the nation’s education sector struggles for identity.

   Mandela’s baby, the ANC, has been consistently dogged by war of personalities and ideas even while he was alive and this has led to sharp divisions among the powerbrokers of the party. Julius Malema, the ousted ANC Youth League leader, has since formed a left-wing party, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) that is angry for change in the status quo ante, particularly in the area of land redistribution. Perception in some quarters is to the effect that the current ANC Administration has strayed from the ideological foundation upon which it was built at the genesis of the liberation struggle. Its leadership has been repeatedly accused of corruption, nepotism, poor governance, among others. Just a few weeks ago, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela let out a revelation that President Jacob Zuma benefited from non-security upgrades to his Nkandla home which is to the tune of $23 million, but Zuma has brushed aside the allegation but was in the end indicted by a panel of investigation. The main opposition party, Democratic Alliance (DA), has been feeding fat on this allegation and the resultant indictment in order to make political proceeds from it ahead of this week general elections and if possible use the instrumentality of the Parliament to sack him from office. For the opposition, this may be an ambition taken too far. Some analysts, however, believe that the shrinking popularity of the ANC can be anchored on the dwindling moral values of its leadership and the frailty of Mandela’s health while he was alive.

   As South Africa prepares for yet another election this year, the ANC’s path to victory is tortuous. Its sins before many South Africans are enormous. Its shoddy handling of the Marikana shooting of 34 protesting black miners by the police, which is reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, land redistribution and negative media reportage being courted by the ANC’s top brass who are busy enriching themselves, may be the greatest undoing of the party at the polls. Despite the threat to the ANC’s hold on power, it is widely believed that the Mandela phenomenon will enhance its waning electoral strength. Most voters will likely see the next election as an opportunity to honour the awesome memory of Madiba. Also, the elections have placed another epaulette of challenges on the shoulders of South Africa to flaunt again its democratic credentials to the world and reassure the international community that it could hold itself in the wake of Mandela’s exit.

  As many black South Africans have reservations about the political will of the ANC to lead them out of the woods, they perceive the Democratic Alliance (DA) under Helen Zille as a brainchild of the old apartheid foot soldiers whose likely mission is to bring back a host of memories of man inhumanity to man which was the signature of Botha’s reign. After all, the party plays host to powerful personalities in whose palm South Africa breathes and creaks.

   In fairness to the ANC’s critics, it is not untrue that a majority of investments in the country are in the hands of international capital, thereby creating two classes of citizens: One that is extremely rich, another that is tragically poor. Also, a sprinkling of white settler minority control about 79 per cent of lands while their black counterparts battle themselves to share the slim barren reminder. However, according to a government mid-term review report released in 2012 by the Minister in the Presidency for Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation, Collins Chabane, in Pretoria, between 1994 and 2011, South Africa transferred over 6.8 million hectares of land to people dispossessed under apartheid. This, according to the report represents 27 per cent of the government’s target of transferring 24.5 million hectares by 2014. The ANC government also believes that black is leading in business ownership with about 69 per cent but critics argued the percentage does not translate into significant wealth creation, underpinning their claim with the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) report which indicates that 17 per cent of businesses are black-owned while 31 per cent are foreign-owned.

   While the criticism leveled against Nelson Mandela may be said to be relevant regardless of their authors, it is an undeniable fact that the history of racial discrimination and equality is as old as man and the struggle to reprieve it is a continuum. It takes more than a presidency of five years to halt injustice of many decades. Even the American society with its level of sharp sophistication finds it nearly improbable to stamp out the evils brewed by colour and nationality. The black South Africans should appreciate political freedom as the first proactive step to economic autonomy and the worst post-apartheid era is better than the best of Botha’s regime. Mandela has thrown down the gauntlet by setting his country on the path to greatness and prosperity. It was never reported that he stole a penny from the treasury of his beloved country; rather he built on the superstructures of the white supremacists and laid a solid foundation for South African economy. It will do him some good in his grave if the current generation of leaders can legally stage a walk to second freedom.

   The credible conduct of 2014 South African elections by the nation’s election umpire, the Electoral Commission (IEC), whose reputation in election management is unsoiled, may inspire Nigeria, the second largest economy on the continent after South Africa, to rediscover itself and shake off its unenviable dossier in election management in the next year’s general elections by returning power to the powerless conscience: the people. It is an incontrovertible fact that since return to civil rule in 1999, Nigeria’s electoral space has been a theatre of war, banditry, brigandage, desperation and shenanigans. The quest for power as Niccolo Machiavelli observed in The Prince has not been guided by morality. The politics of small minds has taken over the territory of great minds. No government has been singled out to have conducted a free and fair election except for the questionable encomiums they heap on themselves through their commissioned observers. How many of the so-called elected public officers can confidently say they got their mandate from the people: Perhaps, just a handful, in a disturbing system where an election’s umpire itches to auction its soul to the highest bidder. One can only hope Nigeria gets election matters right in 2015 because the feelers from the gubernatorial elections conducted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as a buildup to 2015 elections are not really promising as they are fraught with allegations of unholy fraternity between INEC officials and some unscrupulous politicians. Or what manner of song will you dedicate to an INEC official in charge of Idemili North in the last governorship election in Anambra State who bolted away with election materials only to resurface later without any cast-iron justification.

   If INEC knows its onions and the moral burden it carries, it should as a matter of urgency insulate its staff ahead of 2015 polls against systemic and institutionalised virus that has inexorably pooh-poohed the country’s effort at nation building. The greatest tragedy of an electoral system is for an umpire to wear partisanship on its sleeve and nurture such in its heart. If Nigeria is serious about reassertion of its place in the comity of nations in Africa, it should start leading by example in all spheres of its national life. No righteousness is meager.

 Taiwo is a passionate Nigerian youth  and social commentator based in Lagos.

“Opinion pieces of this sort published on RISE Networks are those of the original authors and do not in anyway represent the thoughts, beliefs and ideas of RISE Networks.”

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