Our country differs from Zimbabwe in ways which ensure that we will not suffer a similar fate, says Sandy Johnston.
Johannesburg - Having spent much time in Zimbabwe, a question I am sometimes asked is whether I think South Africa is going the same way as that country, that is “the Mugabe/Zanu-PF” route.
My response always is “No chance. Our country differs from Zimbabwe in ways which ensure that we will not chart the same course, or suffer a similar fate”.
With a small economy, the means available to Mugabe to oil the wheels of his “patronage” machine were always going to be limited.
The crunch came when the cost to Mugabe of his political hangers-on increased and they became more demanding to the point that he started hitting on the private sector more and more, squeezing the lifeblood out of the economy. As a result, loss of business confidence and economic stagnation set in.
Consumer-spend, revenue from taxes, excises, etc, started to dry up.
The rest is a matter of 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.
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 that of South Africa. Will the South African pillars of democracy – the executive, the judiciary – become the personal fiefdom of a Mugabe-type leader? 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 some 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?
According to the Kenyans, the effect of Daniel Arap Moi’s 15-year reign as leader was devastating. When he took over from Jomo Kenyatta the country’s infrastructure was intact and the economy vibrant. Arap Moi changed all that. Widespread nepotism, corruption and tribalism became the order of the day.
Unless the dynamics in the political life of the country change dramatically, it’s highly unlikely that Kenya will ever recover. The political hegemony that runs the country has its hand on the jugular vein of the body of the nation.
When the governing party ostensibly lost the democratic election to Raila Odinga’s party about six years ago, the Arap Moi-Kibaki axis refused to let go of the reins of power. What amounted to a civil war on tribal lines erupted.
To prevent bloodshed, Raila Odinga’s party, the winner of the poll 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, responsibility and apparent disregard for the welfare of the ordinary people of our beloved nation?
* The views expressed here are not necessarilt those of Independent Newspapers.