Sandy Johnson looks at the parallels between South Africa under Jacob Zuma and Kenya under Daniel arap Moi.
Johannesburg - Having spent a lot of time over the years in Zimbabwe, a question I am sometimes asked is whether I think South Africa is going or will go the same way as Zimbabwe, that is, the “Robert Mugabe-Zanu-PF route”.
My response always is, “No chance, my friend, our country differs from Zimbabwe in ways which ensure that we will not chart the same course, or suffer a similar fate.”
With such a small economy (the Zimbabwean economy at its height, when it functioned, was roughly the size of the economy of Pinetown, KwaZulu-Natal), the means available to Mugabe to oil the wheels of his “patronage” machine were always going to be severely limited.
The crunch finally came when Mugabe’s political hangers-on increased in number and became more demanding, to the point that he started hitting on the private sector more and more, squeezing the very lifeblood out of the economy.
As a result of this and the resultant loss of business confidence, economic stagnation set in.
Consumer spending, revenue from taxes and excises started to dry up.
The rest is a matter of recorded history – privately-owned farms and businesses were taken over, banks were interfered with, mines were “nationalised” and Mugabe’s Reserve Bank began printing money in huge quantities to pay the government’s wage bill.
Will we produce a “Mugabe-type” leader? Could a similar sequence of desperation politics occur in South Africa? I don’t believe so. Why not? Our history is different, our demographics are very different.
The background and history of the territory and nation now called Zimbabwe are very short in terms of time and transient in nature when compared with those of South Africa.
Will the South African “pillars of democracy” – the executive, the judiciary – become the personal fiefdom of a Mugabe-type leader? No, I don’t believe so.
May it be, however, that South Africa represents a closer parallel to Kenya? That nation is a country with a longer history, comprising about 45 million souls, with a broad, balanced demographic spread.
Certainly more similarities exist than between South Africa and Zimbabwe.
Could we end up with a Daniel arap Moi-type leader? Does this represent a far greater danger? As opposed to the Mugabe scenario, is a Moi scenario a more clear and possible danger?
According to Kenyans, the effect of Daniel arap Moi’s 15 years as leader of their country was devastating.
When he took over from Jomo Kenyatta, the country’s infrastructure was intact and the economy vibrant.
Moi changed all that. Widespread nepotism, corruption and tribalism became the order of the day, infiltrating every facet of national life.
The country’s infrastructure, comprising transport, the national power grid, education, and health services all but collapsed, and remain in a parlous state to this day.
As things stand, unless the dynamics in the political life of the country change dramatically, it’s highly unlikely that Kenya will recover – it more likely will continue down a slippery slope.
The political hegemony that runs the country has its hand on the jugular vein of the body of the Kenyan nation.
When the governing party ostensibly lost the democratic elections to Raila Odinga’s party about six years ago, the Moi-Mwai Kibaki axis refused to let go of the reins of power.
What amounted to a civil war along tribal lines erupted – but this didn’t bother Kibaki at all.
To prevent huge bloodshed, Odinga’s party, the winner of the election on the votes counted, stepped aside by accepting the “prime ministership” of the country – lower in authority to “President” Kibaki.
Our dilemma in South Africa is how do we stop the Jacob Zuma-led express train of corruption, lack of accountability and responsibility and apparent disregard for the welfare of the ordinary people of our beloved nation?
The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers.