Wounded Nation (article)
Image by mallix
AFTER bathing in the warm, fuzzy glow of the Mandela years, South Africans
today are deeply demoralised people. The lights are going out in homes,
mines, factories and shopping malls as the national power authority, Eskom –
suffering from mismanagement, lack of foresight, a failure to maintain power
stations and a flight of skilled engineers to other countries – implements
rolling power cuts that plunge towns and cities into daily chaos.
Major industrial projects are on hold. The only healthy enterprise now worth
being involved in is the sale of small diesel generators to powerless
households but even this business has run out of supplies and spare parts
from China .
The currency, the rand, has entered freefall. Crime, much of it gratuitously
violent, is rampant, and the national police chief faces trial for
corruption and defeating the ends of justice as a result of his alleged
deals with a local mafia kingpin and dealer in hard drugs.
Newly elected African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma, the state
president-in-waiting, narrowly escaped being jailed for raping an
HIV-positive woman last year, and faces trial later this year for soliciting
and accepting bribes in connection with South Africa’s shady
multi-billion-pound arms deal with British, German and French weapons
One local newspaper columnist suggests that Zuma has done for South Africa
’s international image what Borat has done for Kazakhstan . ANC leaders in
2008 still speak in the spiritually dead jargon they learned in exile in
pre-1989 Moscow, East Berlin and Sofia while promiscuously embracing
capitalist icons – Mercedes 4x4s, Hugo Boss suits, Bruno Magli shoes and
Louis Vuitton bags which they swing, packed with money passed to them under
countless tables – as they wing their way to their houses in the south of
It all adds up to a hydra-headed crisis of huge proportions – a perfect
storm as the Rainbow Nation slides off the end of the rainbow and descends
in the direction of the massed ranks of failed African states. Eskom has
warned foreign investors with millions to sink into big industrial and
mining projects: we don’t want you here until at least 2013, when new power
stations will be built.
In the first month of this year, the rand fell 12% against the world’s major
currencies and foreign investors sold off more than £600 million worth of
South African stocks, the biggest sell-off for more than seven years.
"There will be further outflows this month, because there won’t be any news
that will convince investors the local growth picture is going to change for
the better," said Rudi van de Merwe, a fund manager at South Africa ’s
Commenting on the massive power cuts, Trevor Gaunt, professor of electrical
engineering at the University of Cape Town , who warned the government eight
years ago of the impending crisis, said: "The damage is huge, and now South
Africa looks just like the rest of Africa . Maybe it will take 20 years to
The power cuts have hit the country’s platinum, gold, manganese and
high-quality export coal mines particularly hard, with no production on some
days and only 40% to 60% on others.
"The shutdown of the mining industry is an extraordinary, unprecedented
event," said Anton Eberhard, a leading energy expert and professor of
business studies at the University of Cape Town .
"That’s a powerful message, massively damaging to South Africa ’s reputation
for new investment. Our country was built on the mines."
To examine how the country, widely hailed as Africa’s last best chance,
arrived at this parlous state, the particular troubles engulfing the
Scorpions (the popular name of the National Prosecuting Authority) offers a
useful starting point.
The elite unit, modelled on America ’s FBI and operating in close
co-operation with Britain ’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), is one of the big
successes of post-apartheid South Africa . An independent institution,
separate from the slipshod South African Police Service, the Scorpions enjoy
massive public support.
The unit’s edict is to focus on people "who commit and profit from organised
crime", and it has been hugely successful in carrying out its mandate. It
has pursued and pinned down thousands of high-profile and complex networks
of national and international corporate and public fraudsters.
Drug kingpins, smugglers and racketeers have felt the Scorpions‘ sting. A
major gang that smuggle platinum, South Africa ’s biggest foreign exchange
earner, to a corrupt English smelting plant has been bust as the result of a
huge joint operation between the SFO and the Scorpions. But the Scorpions,
whose top men were trained by Scotland Yard, have been too successful for
their own good.
The ANC government never anticipated the crack crimebusters would take their
constitutional independence seriously and investigate the top ranks of the
former liberation movement itself.
The Scorpions have probed into, and successfully prosecuted, ANC MPs who
falsified their parliamentary expenses. They secured a jail sentence for the
ANC’s chief whip, who took bribes from the German weapons manufacturer that
sold frigates and submarines to the South African Defence Force. They sent
to jail for 15 years a businessman who paid hundreds of bribes to then state
vice-president Jacob Zuma in connection with the arms deal. Zuma was found
by the judge to have a corrupt relationship with the businessman, and now
the Scorpions have charged Zuma himself with fraud, corruption, tax evasion,
racketeering and defeating the ends of justice. His trial will begin in
The Scorpions last month charged Jackie Selebi, the national police chief, a
close friend of state president Thabo Mbeki, with corruption and defeating
the ends of justice. Commissioner Selebi, who infamously called a white
police sergeant a "f***ing chimpanzee" when she failed to recognise him
during an unannounced visit to her Pretoria station, has stepped down
pending his trial.
But now both wings of the venomously divided ANC – ANC-Mbeki and ANC-Zuma –
want the Scorpions crushed, ideally by June this year. The message this will
send to the outside world is that South Africa ’s rulers want only certain
categories of crime investigated, while leaving government ministers and
other politicians free to stuff their already heavily lined pockets.
No good reason for emasculating the Scorpions has been put forward. "That’s
because there isn’t one," said Peter Bruce, editor of the influential
Business Day, South Africa ’s equivalent of, and part-owned by, The
Financial Times, in his weekly column.
"The Scorpions are being killed off because they investigate too much
corruption that involves ANC leaders. It is as simple and ugly as that," he
The demise of the Scorpions can only exacerbate South Africa ’s
out-of-control crime situation, ranked for its scale and violence only
behind Colombia . Everyone has friends and acquaintances who have had guns
held to their heads by gangsters, who also blow up ATM machines and hijack
security trucks, sawing off their roofs to get at the cash.
In the past few days my next-door neighbour, John Matshikiza, a
distinguished actor who trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company and is the
son of the composer of the South African musical King Kong, had been
violently attacked, and friends visiting from Zimbabwe had their car stolen
outside my front window in broad daylight.
My friends flew home to Zimbabwe without their car and the tinned food
supplies they had bought to help withstand their country’s dire political
and food crisis and 27,000% inflation. Matshikiza, a former member of the
Glasgow Citizens Theatre company, was held up by three gunmen as he drove
his car into his garage late at night. He gave them his car keys, wallet,
cellphone and luxury watch and begged them not to harm his partner, who was
inside the house.
As one gunman drove the car away, the other two beat Matshikiza unconscious
with broken bottles, and now his head is so comprehensively stitched that it
looks like a map of the London Underground.
These assaults were personal, but mild compared with much commonplace crime.
Last week, for example, 18-year-old Razelle Botha, who passed all her
A-levels with marks of more than 90% and was about to train as a doctor,
returned home with her father, Professor Willem Botha, founder of the
geophysics department at the University of Pretoria, from buying pizzas for
the family. Inside the house, armed gunmen confronted them. They shot
Professor Botha in the leg and pumped bullets into Razelle.
One severed her spine. Now she is fighting for her life and will never walk
again, and may never become a doctor. The gunmen stole a laptop computer and
Feeding the perfect storm are the two centres of ANC power in the country at
the moment. On the one hand, there is the ANC in parliament, led by
President Mbeki, who last Friday gave a state-of-the-nation address and
apologised to the country for the power crisis.
Mbeki made only the briefest of mentions of the national Aids crisis, with
more than six million people HIV-positive. He did not address the Scorpions
crisis. The collapsing public hospital system, under his eccentric health
minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, an alcoholic who recently jumped the
public queue for a liver transplant, received no attention. And the name
Jacob Zuma did not pass his lips.
Last December Mbeki and Zuma stood against each other for the leadership of
the ANC at the party’s five-yearly electoral congress. Mbeki, who cannot
stand again as state president beyond next year’s parliamentary and
presidential elections, hoped to remain the power behind the throne of a new
state president of his choosing.
Zuma, a Zulu populist with some 20 children by various wives and mistresses,
hoped to prove that last year’s rape case, and the trial he faces this year
for corruption and other charges, were part of a plot by Mbeki to use state
institutions to discredit him. Mbeki assumed that the notion of Zuma
assuming next year the mantle worn by Nelson Mandela as South Africa ’s
first black state president would be so appalling to delegates, a deeply sad
and precipitous decline, that his own re-election as ANC leader was a
But Mbeki completely miscalculated his own unpopularity – his perceived
arrogance, failure to solve health and crime problems, his failure to
deliver to the poor – and he lost. Now Zuma insists that he is the leader of
the country and ANC MPs in parliament must take its orders from him, while
Mbeki soldiers on until next year as state president, ordering MPs to toe
Greatly understated, it is a mess. Its scale will be dramatically
illustrated if South Africa ’s hosting of the 2010 World Cup is withdrawn by
Fifa, the world football body.
Already South African premier league football evening games are being played
after midnight because power for floodlights cannot be guaranteed before
that time. Justice Malala, one of the country’s top newspaper columnists,
has called on Fifa to end the agony quickly.
"I don’t want South Africa to host the football World Cup because there is
no culture of responsibility in this country," he wrote in Johannesburg’s
bestselling Sunday Times.
"The most outrageous behaviour and incompetence is glossed over. No-one is
fired. I have had enough of this nonsense, of keeping quiet and ignoring the
fact that the train is about to run us over.
"It is increasingly clear that our leaders are incapable of making a success
of it. Scrap the thing and give it to Australia, Germany or whoever will
spare us the ignominy of watching things fall apart here – football tourists
being held up and shot, the lights going out, while our politicians tell us
everything is all right."
– CEDWYNN TOWEEL
11:50pm Saturday 9th February 2008