To Zuma, Malawi represents the worst of Africa and a city named after a white man the best of what is un-African, writes Prince Mashele.
In his memoir You Must Set Forth At Dawn, Nigerian author Wole Soyinka alludes in melancholy vein to “the stressful bane of the mere act of critical thought within a society where power and control remain the playthings of imbeciles, sycophants and predators”.
When we suggested previously that Jacob Zuma was a ruralitarian whose unrefined mind posed dangers to our nation, some people protested.
Last Monday at Wits University, Zuma said: “We can’t think like Africans in Africa. It’s not some national road in Malawi. This is Johannesburg.” This was a clumsy attempt to persuade the people of Gauteng to pay for e-tolls.
Among the blacks who were in that academic hall at Wits, there certainly must have been African students from outside South Africa.
These students were told by a black president, who himself spent decades enjoying the hospitality of African countries during apartheid, that their countries were inferior.
During apartheid, whites used to regard South Africa as a European outpost on a dark continent, a white island of civilisation in a vast ocean of African barbarism.
In Zuma’s mind, Malawi represents the worst of African backwardness, and the city named after a white man, Johannesburg, represents the best of what is un-African.
This is precisely what successive white racist regimes in South Africa wanted blacks to think.
In other words, Zuma is a living example of the success of the occident in colonising the minds of the African people.
As Steve Biko aptly observed: “The traditional inferior-superior black-white complexes are deliberate creations of the colonialists.”
There is thus a sense in which we must feel sorry that Zuma’s mind is what it is; his is an unconscious display of the successes of the white man’s art in mental engineering.
But we must dig deeper to understand the fuller meaning of Zuma’s statement at Wits University, that we must not “think like Africans in Africa”.
Given that he is a president, it is impossible not to call to mind the diplomatic implications of Zuma despising the African condition.
Even long before the next AU summit, some among our ambassadors on the African continent will probably be summoned to explain precisely what Zuma meant by saying, “It’s not some national road in Malawi”.
Other African heads of state are not stupid, they will not buy the “quoted out of context” mantra of The Presidency, a phrase taken seriously by only Mac Maharaj.
Whatever our ambassadors may say, they will not succeed in reversing the extent to which Zuma has dented the image of South Africa.
We must not forget that, in 2008, we witnessed a dangerous wave of xenophobic attacks perpetrated by black South Africans.
To the victims of this dark chapter of our recent history, Zuma’s use of Malawi to ridicule Africa can only reopen the wounds of xenophobia that were yet to heal. These Africans must be wondering: what has happened to the African renaissance?
As Zuma limps from one verbal blunder to another, the Africans he despises are reminded of the political drama of Idi Amin, that fool who once said: “Sometimes people mistake the way I talk for what I am thinking.
“I never had any formal education – not even a nursery school certificate.”
Beyond Africa, Western leaders can only smile wryly, revelling in the spectacle of a black president who thinks Johannesburg is not an African city.
This brings us back home, to ponder the identity confusion twirling in Zuma’s head.
When he looks upon the black people of South Africa, what does Zuma see? Black Europeans? People who must not think like Africans in Africa?
What of the leopard skins Zuma wears occasionally when he marries yet another wife? Is it the case of a European lion wearing an African skin?
What about Zuma’s frequent recourse to African culture in defence of polygamy?
Is this a mere trick in the book of someone who wants to be like King Solomon, that sordid king in the Bible who had 700 wives and 300 concubines?
All these questions are thrown open by Zuma’s call for South Africans not to think like Africans in Africa.
He clearly does not think of himself as an African. If he does, he most certainly does not conceive of himself as being from Africa.
Where exactly does Zuma think South Africa is? Does he have any idea of basic geography?
Are we suffering the consequences of a lack of formal education, or the absence of a nursery school certificate?
When Kenyan literary giant Ngugi wa Thiong’o wrote his book, Decolonising the Mind, few would have counted Zuma among those whose minds needed decolonisation. We now know.
The tragedy, though, is that Zuma is older than 70; the chances of him learning anything new are extremely limited, especially regarding the more sophisticated matters of identity.
The question is: what must South Africans do? Should we listen to Zuma, and not think like Africans?
Well, Mr President, it is impossible for us not to think like Africans – we are Africans.
The dazzling lights of Johannesburg will never change the reality that geography and history tied our fates inextricably with the lot of other African countries.
South Africa is as much an African country as is Malawi. Johannesburg is as developed as it is, not because white colonialists wanted Zuma to enjoy smooth roads; the modern amenities of the city were meant for the exclusive enjoyment of whites.
Mr President, you may not have the opportunity to know that, under white rule, the white citizens of Johannesburg were never made to pay for the use of well-tarred roads. Today, the so-called free people of South Africa are forced to pay for e-tolls.
What, then, must be done?
The best thing South Africans can do is not to ignore Zuma; they must teach him the history and geography of this continent.
Part of the free historical lesson to be delivered to Zuma is that the people of Malawi, the ones he is insulting, toiled underground, day and night, in the mines of Johannesburg, building the very city that Zuma today feels proud to own.
There is hardly a country in southern Africa whose citizens did not build Johannesburg.
And by the way, the e-tolls that Zuma is forcing us to pay will also affect the Malawians he thinks have nothing to do with e-tolls.
Beyond just educating him, the people of South Africa must tell the whole world that Zuma does not reflect us. His limitations are not ours. Black people in South Africa are not like Zuma.
If we do not disown Zuma, the black people of South Africa run the risk of being painted with the same brush, as a bunch of ignorant people who do not know where Africa begins and ends.
If the African people of South Africa were to be identified with the way Zuma thinks, the collective pride of the nation would be shattered beyond repair.
This is a situation we cannot afford as Africans, living in Johannesburg or Lilongwe.
Soyinka was indeed correct: critical thought cannot stand the pain of imbecility when it is in power – be it in Nigeria or the rest of the African continent.
* Mashele is executive director of the Centre for Politics and Research and a member of the Midrand Group
President has said sorry to the sister people of Malawi, and both countries now consider the matter closed, says Obed Bapela.
ANC president Jacob Zuma’s recent attempt to explain the importance of the e-toll infrastructure and the user-pay principle produced unintended consequences because of a comparative reference to Malawi and Johannesburg road infrastructure. Obviously, in an election season, the manner in which the president’s remarks were reported was bound to draw the ire of all – including bigots, our detractors and critics who have pitted their fortunes against the ANC and its president.
All Africans must have been similarly incensed by the reports, especially in light of the intentional absence of the context in which this remark was made. Comrade Marius Fransman, in his capacity as Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation, met with Malawian President Joyce Banda. President Zuma has, on his part, apologised to the government and people of Malawi. South Africa’s explanation was accepted.
Both countries now consider the matter closed.
South Africans and their government, however, cannot allow election posturing to sidetrack them from the important work we are engaged in with our sister countries – to tackle Africa’s development goals with an objective of realising a prosperous and united continent.
We must doggedly reject any attempt by our detractors to misrepresent our views and thus undermine our long-held and valued relationship with Malawi and other countries on the continent.
The ANC, led by Zuma, this weekend hosted a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity/African Union. These jubilee celebrations, convened under the theme 2013, a Year of Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance, paid tribute to the founding fathers of the OAU as well as reaffirmed and celebrated our unwavering commitment to championing the African cause. Since its founding in 1912, the ANC has dedicated itself selflessly to African solidarity, a humble servant and tool for the liberation of her people.
This attack on the bona fides of Zuma is designed to cast aspersions on the ANC’s progressive internalism which, as we reiterated in Mangaung, is the prism through which our movement views the world. It is undisputed that the development and prosperity of the continent has been and remains the central objective of our international perspective and policy for purposes of advancing the African Renaissance.
Unlike some of the vocal naysayers though, ours has not been a reawakening of Africanism at the behest of the artificially-created storm in a teacup through misrepresentation. It is only through the interrogation of the tangible actions of the ANC government under the stewardship of Zuma that perhaps the real intent, import and posture of a shared relationship with Africa in general, and Malawi in particular, can best be understood.
Relations between our government and Malawi are healthy and are forever improving. Some of the milestones in our relationship have been marked by the signing of a memorandum of agreement on skills development, higher education, conservation and defence co-operation, among others. The second session of the Joint Commission for Co-operation (JCC) between South Africa and Malawi took place in September 2012 in Pretoria. Both countries regard the JCC as being vital to strengthening relations and to create an environment for a focused and well |co-ordinated engagement in the areas of trade, tourism, mining, sports, culture, technology, health, agriculture, etc.
The ANC government values the proactive and significant role Malawi plays, as part of the family of nations on the continent, in the development of Africa. Among others, this shared and mutual respect was evidenced by the visit Malawi President Joyce Banda paid to the chairwoman of the AU Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, when Malawi pledged its full commitment to working with the AU towards the infrastructural development of Africa.
At this meeting in 2012, Banda committed to supporting the AU chairwoman in the attainment of the objectives she has set herself to achieve.
South Africa, through the office of Zuma, has worked around the clock with the government of Malawi to ensure that energy problems, specifically around fuel, were adequately resolved.
In July 2012, Zuma and Banda concluded an agreement, according to which officials from the ministries of finance of both countries would meet to discuss issues pertaining to foreign exchange and other treasury-related matters. These are but some of the many agreements and actions taken by the two governments to ensure co-operation and friendship.
The ANC has never faltered in its resolve to contribute to building a better Africa and world. Continental solidarity has been the epicentre of our international relations policy. The ANC government, led by Zuma, has continued – guided by these values and resolutions of the party – to place the African agenda as a priority in our continuing quest to eradicate any vestiges of the legacy of colonialism and imperialism on the continent. The first state visit undertaken by Zuma was to an African country – Angola.
Zuma has been sanctioned to lead the North-South Development Corridor, which is a key project concerned with African infrastructural development. The accomplishment of this task will lead to an African continent that is properly linked and will accordingly facilitate without impediments, intra- and inter-trade among various nations.
The North-South Development Corridor project builds on the existing initiatives South Africa already participates in to improve infrastructure in many countries, including Malawi. These initiatives see the extension of roads, tolls, ports and other infrastructural necessities in line with our vision for a prosperous and interconnected Africa.
At the opening of the Brics summit in eThekwini, Zuma attributed the inclusion of South Africa in the bloc to Africa. This was a clear indication that South Africa does not consider itself an aloof state in Africa which flies high and solo in the Brics partnership, having abandoned the African agenda. It is clear that South Africa, under Zuma, is practically and with its resources a champion of Africa’s development.
Again, our critics who today want to crucify Zuma for his light comment about Malawi have criticised these and other interventions by the ANC government, including our peace-keeping missions and many other initiatives to work with the people and governments of Africa out of the stubborn and debilitating challenges of poverty, unemployment, disease, underdevelopment and inequality.
As we remember Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo, a gentle giant and colossal tower of our Struggle for liberation, we never forget the critical support he and the ANC received from the people and leaders of Africa and elsewhere. The ANC was rightly recognised as the legitimate representative of the people of South Africa in the OAU, and its Liberation Committee on behalf of the peoples of Africa played an immeasurable role in the attainment of the freedom South Africans enjoy today.
Opportunistic and fleeting commentary, which short-sightedly is designed for political point-scoring and to drive a connived agenda against Zuma, should never elevate itself to a paragon of virtue at the expense of the African agenda to which the progressive peoples of South Africa, Zuma and the ANC have resolutely committed themselves.
Yet another issue will arise which will invoke the ire of the chattering classes and while that goes on, we will continue with the work to realise the noble ideals of the AU, as encapsulated in its Constitutive Act, promoting unity, solidarity, cohesion and co-operation among the peoples of Africa.
Undoubtedly, the African cause shall triumph.
* Bapela is chairman of ANC NEC Sub-Committee on International Relations
** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers