By Donu Kogbara
I’m in South Africa at the moment, attending a conference called “Planning Africa”; and it’s been such an interesting experience to not only listen to speakers who want our continent to thrive but to observe, at close quarters, how the country is getting along l6 years after Nelson Mandela was released from his lengthy incarceration to spearhead the dismantling of apartheid.

The conference is taking place in Durban – a coastal city that is largely occupied by Zulus (who have a proud, warrior history); and I’m very happy to report that Durban’s Black leaders – particularly Obed Mlaba, the smart, genial Mayor of the formidably well-run eThekwini Municipality – are doing just fine and have proved that African politicians and technocrats can deliver good governance.

I made my way to Durban with a team from the Greater Port Harcourt City Development Authority (a body that was created by Governor Rotimi Amaechi to create a brand new urban area in Rivers State); and we’ve met several other Nigerians who either live here or came, like us, to participate in the conference.

Every Nigerian I’ve spoken to agrees that there is much to envy and emulate in Durban. Cleanliness, orderliness and modernity are norms. Even the waste disposal (landfill) facility we visited was neat and odour-free, despite processing several tons of rotting refuse every day. We were also hugely impressed by the fact that some of the rubbish is recycled and converted into electricity.

But every silver lining has a cloud. Nowhere is perfect. Because many racial groups regard South Africa as home, it is described as “rainbow nation”. But it’s fair to say that the darker you are here, the less likely you are to be successful.

Most indigenes are lamentably poor and crowded together in unsightly “townships”. And despite the establishment of Black rule nearly two decades ago, most of the wealth is still concentrated in White hands. Tensions also flow from the significant Indian presence (Indians tend to be much richer than our Black brethren and are often accused of looking down on the “natives”).

A Zulu lady I befriended told me that she does not share the global adoration of Nelson Mandela and is immensely disappointed in him because she feels that he “sold out” and betrayed his radical roots and his own kith and kin.

According to my new friend, Mandela was too worried about placating White “settlers” and invested excessive amounts of energy in trying to persuade them to stay in South Africa, so they could continue to play key roles within the economy. And I’ve discovered that she’s not alone in believing that

Mandela did not do enough to catapult his people out of penury and financially empower them.

While sympathising with this viewpoint and praying that life drastically improves for the still-suffering black masses, I’m convinced that South Africa has gained a great deal from Mandela’s pragmatism. The Whites possess useful skills and – let’s face it – South Africa would not be so developed without their contribution

The legions of Nigerian VIPs who rush here to buy houses and enjoy the relatively disciplined and civilized environment should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves because if they could be bothered to do their jobs properly for a change, they could make their own country equally attractive!

Response to criticisms
TWO readers have recently contacted me with complaints about the contents of this column.

One expressed extreme hostility towards President Goodluck Jonathan and accused me of sounding as if I’ve been hired to support his political aspirations.

The other said that he did not object to my pro-Jonathan stance but felt that my frequent focus on him was becoming monotonous.

It is often the case that the silent majority share the views of the vocal few but choose, for various reasons, to keep their opinions to themselves; and when I received the above criticisms, I wondered whether many other
Vanguard readers feel the same way but are too polite, busy or whatever to confront me.

At any rate, I can understand why some folks might be tired of my somewhat obsessive penchant for writing about Jonathan; and I agree, on reflection, that this column will be more entertaining if I write about him less often in future.

But I must say that it’s terribly unfair – to both me and Jonathan – to assume that I’m enthusiastically endorsing him because I am a paid stooge.

The implication is that the President is such a lousy person and useless performer that he can only attract fake allegiance from cynical journalists who have been bribed to tell lies on his behalf. And yet, nothing can be further from the truth.

For the record, I have never collected a dime from the Villa. It is also worth noting that if I was motivated by money, I would be praise-singing for IBB or Atiku – who are more famed for generously rewarding loyalists than Jonathan is!

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