When former president Jacob Zuma came into power he completely broke ranks with that neo-colonial white paternalistic relationship in governing the country, says the writer.
When former president Jacob Zuma came into power he completely broke ranks with that neo-colonial white paternalistic relationship in governing the country, says the writer.

Jacob Zuma is not Robert Sobukwe, but the pair share common ground

By Opinion Time of article published Feb 14, 2021

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Asaph Madimetja Chuene

Recently when President Jacob Zuma wrote his letter to the Zondo Commission, lamenting in some parts that the system is treating him the same way they treated former PAC leader Robert Sobukwe, some looked at it as an attempt to say he is wearing Sobukwe’s shoes.

Of course he is not. Neither was he trying to paint such a picture. Coincidentally, I had scribbled a piece, a week before his letter to the commission, talking about common ground between Sobukwe and Zuma.

There is a clear reason why Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe is not celebrated and deified by the system as much as other liberation struggle heroes. Sobukwe’s fight against apartheid was principled and genuine; he didn’t make room for compromises, he wanted true liberation for Africans. And in so doing, he wanted Africans to be in charge without the shrewd compromising influence by some white political activists and their handlers.

Sobukwe disapproved and completely rejected white paternalism (to be guided/directed and approved by whites in the course of liberation, either as members of the party or external players). He correctly understood that the cause for African liberation can only be successful if it is exclusively carried out by Africans in all decisions and tactics.

Robert Sobukwe, the leader of the Pan African Congress, was held in isolation on Robben Island from 1963 to 1969. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

There is no doubt that had he come to power, he would stick to that principle. Below, I quote from an extract from his speech clarifying the Pan Africanist position on the issue of collaboration:

“We have made our stand clear on this point, our contention is that the Africans are the only people who, because of their material position, can be interested in the complete overhaul of the present structure of society.

“We have admitted that there are Europeans who are intellectual converts to the African's cause, but because they benefit materially from the present set-up, they cannot completely identify themselves with that cause. Thus it is, as South African history so ably illustrates, that whenever Europeans ‘cooperate’ with African movements, they keep on demanding checks and counter-checks, guarantees and the like, with the result that they stultify and retard the movement of the Africans and the reason is, of course, that they are consciously or unconsciously protecting their sectional interests”.

It was due to his clarity, sense of purpose and clear political direction that made Sobukwe No.1 enemy of white minority rule. White minority rule didn’t end in 1994. It went underground and continued to run the ANC-led government from behind the scenes, in the likeliness of what is referred to as a deep-State.

The ANC in power, from 1994 until Jacob Zuma took over, was a government of ultra-white paternalism. This is what we call a neo-colonial State – that is when the kin & kith of former colonists are running the show behind the facade of a black government. The cause of governance during those years were firmly under the tutelage of White elite (the capitalist class) and international multilateral institutions, such as, the IMF and the World Bank.

When the former president, Jacob Zuma, came into power he completely broke ranks with that neo-colonial white paternalistic relationship in governing the country. Sobukwe would have done the same and more. And this, not corruption, is Zuma's cardinal sin. It started a war with white capitalist class that traditionally had the biggest say on how to run the country. Zuma led, rightly or wrongly, without their influence.

In doing so, Zuma needed allies which were not aligned to White Capital. The Guptas stepped into that space. Thus most of his cabinet appointments were mostly people who were not linked to white capital and he would later fire those who were trusted agents of white capital from his cabinet, such as Pravin Gordhan and Derek Hanekom, among others.

In terms of governance his allies were rather weak across the board, from national to local government which resulted in a compromised administration of service delivery and corporate governance. Frankly, if I were in his position, l would have done a lot of things differently in matters of governance.

This however gave an opportunity to his enemies (white capital) to raise allegations of corruption sharply, and began a propaganda styled reporting on corruption allegations and his relationship with the Guptas to paint him and his administration as entirely corrupt.

Given the dominance of White Capital over our mainstream media, the propaganda penetrated so deep that even pre-school children held a belief that Jacob Zuma is a corrupt president who stole our money to build his homestead in Nkandla. In short, the propaganda campaign was a massive success.

What is disappointing in this whole episode is that many black people, educated and not, didn't realize that former president, Jacob Zuma, was absolutely correct on principle of consolidating political and economic power to black people as Sobukwe would have done.

This is the ultimate goal of the liberation struggle. He may have gone wrong in terms of strategy and tactics, but his aspirations were not corruption but to continue the mission of the liberation struggle, hence his love for struggle songs.

If we are to be finally free and Independent as Africans, we must allow ourselves to make mistakes in governance and learn from them. In other words, we can build on the principle of Africa for Africans. That is, to build on our strengths in governance while critical over our failures and seeking ways to overcome.

Going back to white paternalism, as it is the case now under President Cyril Ramaphosa, is taking the struggle for our people's liberation backward. Black excellence is possible; we have many talented administrators who, given a chance will make our people proud as Rwanda is doing today under the Stewardship of President Paul Kagame.

Perhaps it is now even more plausible why Solly Mapaila would call Sobukwe an Apartheid sellout and mobilize forces to oust Jacob Zuma. Reading from his media interviews about Zuma, and his comments on Sobukwe, it is not hard to pick-up some deep-seated hatred he had for both.

In many ways, President Zuma is not Robert Sobukwe. The one was a staunch Pan-Africanist and intellectual, and the other, a freedom fighter and shrewd politician. The common ground between the two is their clarity on genuinely liberating Africans and the harshest treatment they were subjected to by white minority control, which is now in full swing under Cyril Ramaphosa’s regime.

Chuene is a Public servant and a founder of Establishment for Political Redress (EPR).

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