Cry, The Beloved Country: South Africa

The story was too good to be true. South Africa’s white-minority “apartheid” regime, oppressing the Black majority, was long decried. Then F.W. de Klerk, a reasonable man, came to power. Nelson Mandela, leader of the Blacks’ African National Congress (ANC) was released after 27 years in prison. A great day for optimists when he marched out free, heading a parade. He and de Klerk negotiated a peaceful transition to democratic rule. Millions of Blacks voted, for the first time ever, in 1994, making Mandela president. Who proved a saintly visionary, striving to heal the nation’s wounds and uplift everyone.

Then, like George Washington (and unlike too many African leaders), Mandela retired.

Followed by Thabo Mbeki. No Mandela. Mbeki’s chief claim to fame was his denial that HIV causes AIDS, and concomitant promotion of quack remedies. The resulting death toll horrendous.

Next: Jacob Zuma.

I was flabbergasted they actually elected so obvious a rotter. (That was before America elected Trump.)

South Africa has an indirect system, with the president effectively chosen by ANC insiders. They knowingly picked so totally corrupt a man believing it would mean party time for them.

Like Mbeki, Zuma too had a crackpot health theory. In his case it was a quack notion for why his profligate sex life entailed no STD danger.

Zuma had a golden opportunity to confound expectations and become a hero, merely by being a halfway responsible president. But such opportunities are never taken. Power never makes bad men better (as I wrote awaiting Trump’s inauguration).

And so the grifters hoping to exploit a Zuma regime were duly rewarded. It was open season on the public treasury. So egregious that a new term was coined: state capture.

Zuma’s chief partners in crime were the Gupta brothers, an Indian-born trio of manipulators, to whom he gave free reign in looting public coffers. While the long-suffering Black population, yearning for better lives with their beloved ANC in power, would have to wait longer. Zuma did nothing for them; only for himself and his cronies. South Africa is a mess. Yet the ANC continued winning elections.

After two stinking Zuma terms, in 2018 Cyril Ramaphosa became president. A long-time ANC operator who also had gotten rich thanks to the post-1994 dispensation. But compared to Zuma, Ramaphosa was a saint who somewhat credibly promised to turn a page. Yet he won only by a hairsbreadth β€” over an ex-wife of Zuma. The ANC’s predatory pro-corruption wing being still very powerful.

A commission investigating state capture, headed by the chief justice, recently issued a blockbuster report detailing the rot under Zuma. Two Guptas, having skedaddled to Dubai, have been arrested there, awaiting extradition. Meantime, in 2021, an order to jail Zuma pending trial for corruption provoked gigantic riots, with hundreds killed and immense property damage that South Africa’s limping economy could ill afford.

But while Ramaphosa is indeed a vast improvement over his predecessor, his halting clean-up efforts leave many observers disappointed and frustrated. A second term for him is in doubt, given the powerful forces within the ANC still arrayed against him. And the ANC may not win its customary majority in the next election. A leading opposition party is the Economic Freedom Fighters, perhaps more accurately labeled the “Rabble Rousers” or “Economic Sanity Fighters.” While the Democratic Alliance, the moderate, middle-of-the-road, responsible opposition party struggles. Typical.

Back to Zuma. I understand greed; and friendship; sort of; but when it comes to Zuma and the Guptas it blows fuses in my brain. Okay, they were pals; “blood brothers” even, I don’t know. But Zuma had huge power independent of them. What hold did they have over him? To give them the run of the country for their own rapacious benefit? Prostituting himself to them?

Philosophers (like Epicurus) have taught that wealth, power, and fame are snares, quests that actually disserve true happiness. But “greed” is an overworked word. It’s a human universal; everyone would rather have more than less. Riches give you nice houses, food, travel, cars; sex. But there’s a point of diminishing returns. Yet what’s less understood about the rich is how wealth is a way to keep score. You want more money not to buy more stuff but to run up your score, which puffs up your ego.

But was Zuma really benefiting himself? He did get wealth and power, but earned not fame but infamy. In what kind of cramped, stunted mentality could his wealth β€” so obviously ill-gotten, indeed gotten by sacrificing everything for which anyone would actually admire someone β€” compensate for that sacrifice?

I don’t get it. I must be a fool.

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