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South Africa’s wrestle with its past and future

By Owei Lakemfa
TURMOIL. That is  South Africa’s  state of mind. The manifestation of this, is violence at all levels; from the streets and campuses, through xenophobic attacks to last week’s battles in the hallow chambers of Parliament. The country  is caught between Post-Apartheid Reforms  that have in a quarter of a century, failed to deliver promised change, and implementation of the core principles of the 1955 Freedom Charter, a document which has been largely, side-stepped.

On February 11, 2017  Namelodi Sundows in Pretoria, defeated Orlando Pirates 6-0. The predictable follow up was  bloody clashes in which at least one was killed and many injured. In other parts of the country, nationals of other African countries were being attacked in  what has become a recurrent circle of xenophobic attacks. In 2008, 62 non-South African blacks were murdered in such attacks, some of them, roasted in fires. Another such scene was re-enacted in 2015. This year, February 24 has been fixed as the date of another major attack.

National Assembly speaker Baleka Mbete (top) speaks near South African President Jacob Zuma (down) during a session of questions to the president at the South African Parliament in Cape Town on November 23, 2016. Zuma faced questions about South Africa’s possible downgrading by financial rating agencies, his connection to the Gupta family of businessmen, and student protests in the country. The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) political party, who have disrupted several of these Presidential Answer sessions, boycotted this sitting. AFP) –

The campuses have been on the boil. In October 2016, over half the universities in the country became centres of violent battles between students and law enforcement agents with the latter using stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. The students who burnt down buildings especially at the leading University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, engaged in long  drawn bloody battles. In contention is rising school fees and  lower state funding  for education. Education is seen as a major way of ending Apartheid era inequalities. With tuition fees alone  in a place like Witwatersrand going for $3,700 minus accommodation, transportation and books, it means tertiary education is being priced out of the reach of the majority black students.

Yet,  education  is a core principle of the Freedom Charter which states that: “Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children; Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.”

President Jacob Zuma in explaining why his administration is reneging on this, told Parliament last week: “Students and their parents should understand that the needs for services such as water, sanitation, early childhood development and good public transport also have to be addressed, alongside access to quality higher education and training.”

Perhaps, no violent confrontation typifies the state of South Africa better than  the Thursday February 9 battles in the Parliament when President Zuma went to deliver the State of the Nation Address.  It was a militarised Parliament that  played into the hands of the opposition  which did not  want Zuma to address them on account of his  indictment for corruption by the  courts.   Led by the  Economic Freedom Fighters, EFF,  which has 25 of the 400  Seats, the opposition turned the Parliament upside down. They called President Zuma an “incorrigible man, rotten to the core” “a  criminal and constitutional delinquent”. Their claimed freedom of speech to them, meant that the President would not deliver his Address, so the Speaker directed they be evicted. After the brawl, the Parliament settled down only for the Democratic Alliance, DA, the second largest party in Parliament to resume the  disruptions. Then the DA which has  89 members, walked out before Zuma’s speech.

Against the back drop of the Centenary of the birth of Oliver Thambo, the liberation fighter who   led the ruling African  National Congress, ANC, in exile,  Zuma  lamented that after 23 years independence, 72 percent of the top management positions are occupied by the minority Whites, 10 percent by the majority Blacks, while the Indians with 8.7 percent and the Coloureds with 4.7 percent followed.

Indeed the economy was a major issue in the liberation struggle. The Freedom Charter declared  that: “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, shall be restored to the people; The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole”. But the fundamentals of the economy have not changed. Zuma  lamented that: “Only 10 percent  of the top 100 companies on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange are owned by black South Africans”. So the ownership system remains essentially as it was under Apartheid.

Land was the major issue over which the people went to war. The minority Whites seized South African lands  from the Black population  over time culminating in the  1894 Glen Grey Act. But the main seizures came under the Native Lands Act of 1913 under which the majority Blacks who are  the indigenous people, were restricted to ownership of only 7 percent of the land.  This was increased to 13.5 percent in 1936. The Freedom Charter  in reaction to this brazen robbery, proclaimed that: “Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger”

Sadly, the report of President Zuma  last week is that: “Only eight million hectares of arable land have been transferred to black people, which is only 9.8 percent of the 82 million hectares of arable land in South Africa.” The implication is that  there is no major change. In contrast to South Africa, Zimbabweans despite the sanctions of the West and several attempts to strangulate their economy, have addressed the Land Question.

It is primarily over land and the economy  that a party like the EFF is despite its rascally nature, drawing more members and supporters. It had 1,169,259 votes in the 2014 general elections, and 3,202, 679 votes in the 2016 Municipal elections.

In contrast,  those of the ANC are diminishing;  between 2004 and 2014, it has 30 less seats in Parliament. The ANC might not have failed, but it has failed to meet the expectations and needs of the people; it might also be losing steam. It has two options, either to continue in its old way of non-fundamental reforms and eventually losing the people, or  making a radical turn by implementing its core objectives as captured in the Freedom Charter.  In ending his Address, Zuma quotes the late Thambo: “Working together as fellow South Africans, we have it within our power to transform this country into the land of plenty for all, where the nightmare of apartheid will just be a faint memory of the past.” To realise this, the ANC must change.

Despite the foregoing,  today, there is not much alternative to the ANC in South Africa; the DA will work for the status quo, the EFF behaves more like a rascal than a political organisation with well thought programmes or strategies while . The Inkatha Freedom Party remains essentially an ethnic party. The fate of South Africa, hangs in the balance.

 


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