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Southern Africa: Mbekism, Zumaism and crossroad

By Chidi .G. Osuagwu

THE  ongoing socio-economic crisis of Southern Africa is the crisis of truth approached sideways, like the crab would. Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma are no better alternatives to each other in the objective solution of the problems of South Africa and Southern Africa.

Neither of these men, from their known roles as liberation fighters, is a coward, but they are confused; overwhelmed by problems too complex for their comprehension. Between two of them stands truth and solution to the centuries-old problem of apartheid, which is the real issue in Southern Africa.

I was in South Africa in March 2006. The University of South Africa, UNISA, had invited me to deliver a series of lectures (Tshwane Renascent Africa Lectures) around the theme of “African Cosmology: Cybercosmos”, which I had reconstructed, as a modern scientific system by the informed interpretation of ancient African symbols. The Medical University in Pretoria and Limpopo University, in the North, linked up with UNISA to get me deliver some of the six lectures in the series on their campuses.

For the two weeks I was in South Africa, I had stayed at the guest-home run by the Kuhles, an intellectual Afrikaans family in Pretoria. Another Afrikaans young man, Johannes Kruger, lecturer in Clinical Psychology at UNISA, was present, I think, in all the lectures. A long, one-on-one, discussion I had with him during a lunch-break allowed me to appreciate some of the thinking, aspiration and anxieties of most White South Africans; a wish to be understood and accepted as authentic Africans by other Africans, with whom they hoped to communicate, partner and develop a better Africa for all.

During this period, my visit-manager, the Rev Ezekiel Mkhwanazi, a Zulu Catholic priest and philosophy lecturer at UNISA, had taken me to his parish mission-house, where I had met some Zimbabwean refugees, and appreciated the hostilities towards them. They were perceived as cheap, opportunity interceptors by poor and frustrated Black South Africans, because they were more willing to take lower wages for menial jobs.

That is the resentment we saw explode into xenophobic violence of Black South Africans against immigrant Africans in 2008. Black South Africa suffers the crisis of under-satiated over-expectation! The extreme muscular expression of such frustration, also seen in the level of violence on South African streets, is partly cultural, particularly with the Zulu, a people who themselves were only recently synthesized as such, by the violent history of European pressures and environmental collapse, the Mfacane, due to catastrophic climatic changes.

A Ghanaian lecturer at the University of Ghana, Legon, and then PhD student in philosophy at UNISA, Martin Odei-Ajei, who was visiting at the time of my trip, was stabbed one afternoon, in front of the house where he was staying; his purse stolen, in broad daylight. Many Black South Africans do, also, not seem to realise the heavy price other Africans paid, even far away Nigeria as a Frontline State, to help secure their freedom. They appear, to many Africans, as ungrateful bunch of people.

Some of the complaints against other Africans are valid, though. For instance, South Africans resent the fact that West Africans, particularly Nigerians, sell hard drugs to their people. What pains them even more is that these other Africans rarely use drugs themselves (But this is not enough to obscure the fact that the same West Africans provide for Black South Africans business role models they sorely need to learn to compete with others within their own society.

My most irritating experience with South African television advertisements was the impression that the most thriving and incessantly advertised Black-run business was an undertaker corporation, a burial company, named something like ‘Bongey-Bongey’. I couldn’t imagine that kind of nonsense in Nigeria, where world-class banks, and such, are set-up and run by Nigerians).

It is important to note at this point that to think of the people of Southern Africa only as South Africans, Botswanans and Zimbabweans, would be misguided. The Ndebele in Zimbabwe are Zulu, like the Zulu in South Africa. So are Sotho in South Africa same as the Sotho of Lesotho, the Tshwana in South Africa and Botswana, Ovambo in Namibia and Angola, as Shona in Zimbabwe and Mozambique. So, if any country in Southern Africa unravels, particularly along ethnic lines, all Southern Africa might unravel.

As we will see later, this complexion of facts informs South African governments’ attitudes towards Mugabe and Zimbabwe.

My main host, and Head of the Department of Philosophy at UNISA, Prof. Mogobe Ramose, a Sotho, is a very good explainer. He had helped me put my travelling experiences into objective perspective. All these travelling, lecturing and staying allowed me to interact, significantly, with a cross-section of the South African community, to allow me form a reasonably informed opinion of the situation in South Africa. Recent political developments there, therefore, did not come to me as a surprise. What might follow is what we must try to understand and control, to realise a less violent, happier, outcome for all.

Mbekism and Zumaism

The different understandings and attitudes of sections of South African society to the ‘objective end of apartheid’ is what the recent power struggle between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma reflects. The understanding and attitude of Mbeki and his supporters can be called Mbekism; the attitude of Zuma and his supporters is Zumaism, for want of better descriptions.

Nigerian economist, Isah Momoh, recently made some insightful comment on the difference in the understanding of economics by economists and politicians, which is relevant to the understanding of Mbekism and Zumaism in South Africa: “Unlike politicians and political scientists who are concerned with the distribution and redistribution of a society’s wealth … economists are over-concerned with the size and aggregates of the society’s wealth and its direction of growth”.

The difference between the politician and the economist is the difference between Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma. Mbeki, the political economist, over-concerned with the size and aggregates of the society’s wealth and its direction of growth, grows the economy, to the admiration of Europeans and world capitalist institutions; Zuma, the Robben-island prison graduate and more political politician, concerned with the distribution and redistribution of a society’s wealth, wins the political struggle, with the support of the labour movement, communist party and disenchanted Africans. To Zumaists, apartheid has not ended. It will end when wealth, particularly land, is redistributed in South Africa. To them, Mandela only negotiated the privilege of the Africans to manage apartheid, to their own disadvantage.

Continues tomorrow

Dr. Osuagwu writes from Dept. of Biomedical Tech., Federal University of Technology, Owerri.


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