Rhodesia was always a mini replica of its powerful neighbour South Africa. It had its own racial segregation though this was not called apartheid. Ian Smith was elected to stop black rule at any cost and at one time vowed “not in a thousand years”. But the inevitable happened.
Apartheid technically ended in South Africa with “democracy” in 1994 but at a huge cost to Zimbabwe which South Africa had destabilised since its independence. Though much smaller both in terms of size and economy, Zimbabwe has been a huge influence on South Africa.
The African National Congress, though a strong ally of the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front especially its junior partner in the coalition the former Zimbabwe African People’s Union, has been at pains throughout the past 20 years to convince its own people and the international community that it will not go the Zimbabwe way.
This is a sad reminder of what happened in Zimbabwe at independence in 1980. The people vowed that they would never go the way Zambia and Malawi had gone. Zimbabweans who grew up or lived in exile in Zambia and elsewhere were even called the “whenwes” because they constantly told those who had never left the country: “When we were in Zambia, we….. When we were in London, we….. When we were in … we.”
Everyone knows what happened. Zimbabwe had the worst economic decline in history. Mugabe has been in power longer than Kenneth Kaunda or Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Though the country has the highest potential for growth in Africa, it is facing a liquidity crisis and high unemployment. Inflation, its worst enemy is now in negative territory and the country is facing threats of deflation.
South Africa is touted as a shining example. It has survived 20 years without any political turmoil. But there are murmurings that the ANC sold out. It gave the people political independence while the whites retained their economic grip on the country. And the born-frees are beginning to realise that Yes, the Zumas might be in power, but someone else is calling the shots.
The much touted Reconstruction and Development Programme did not work. There are now more people living in mukukus (shacks) than prior to 1994. The much-heralded alternative Growth, Employment and Redistribution (GEAR) did not work either. More people are finding themselves without jobs. The situation is so bad that some have given up looking for jobs.
Africa Rising, a report released two months ago says South Africa now tops not only Africa but the world in terms of inequality. The inequality has risen significantly since 1994.
According to the study South Africa’s income and expenditure survey from 2005/06 shows that the wealthiest 10% of the population had 51% of income, while the bottom 10% had only 0.2% and the poorest 40% accounted for less than 7% of total household income.
“The poorest and those dominating the lower income deciles are predominantly black South Africans. At any poverty line, black South Africans are poorer,” the report says.
The report says the new National Development Plan, launched in 2012, lays out the vision for the nation up to 2030. Instead of ensuring a vision of redistribution at its heart, the NDP rests on the acceptance of high levels of inequality.
It says according to a discussion paper published by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the plan only proposes a “decrease in inequality from its current world-beating level of 69% to an excessively high 60%”.
What this means is that by 2030 the share of income going to the bottom 40% of income earners would have increased from the current 6% to a mere 10%.
It is this skewed picture that mavericks like Julius Malema are taking advantage of as the country prepares to go to the polls next month. Malema is calling for radical reforms which are all against the gods of the free market.
Put the other way round, he is mimicking Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. He wants mines to be nationalised, land to be given to the people, etolls to be abolished, and people to vote themselves out of mukukus.
Mugabe is hated by the West with a passion but is quite popular in South Africa and has on two occasions won standing ovations from the public when the West thought he would be booed for reducing the jewel of Africa into a basket case.
Indeed, everyone agrees that Mugabe has overstayed in office. But what the people are cheering is that though the economy might be in tatters, Mugabe has empowered his people. All that is left is for the economy to take off. It is for this reason that the West will not allow Mugabe to succeed in transforming Zimbabwe economically because this would be bad news for South Africa. It would boost people like Malema.
But that might be a difficult train to stop because Mugabe has already beaten the West hands down by surviving nearly 15 years of the Western onslaught. The only thing that is holding Zimbabwe’s recovery is its own people. They are too negative to see what an opportunity Mugabe has given them to pull up their own country and themselves. They are focussed on things that are not working rather than those that are, and are spending inordinate time talking about succession as if this is a chieftainship.
Young South Africans, see the potential for their country, the lost opportunities, the first and third worlds living next door to each other (Alexandra and Sandton), and soon, the born-frees will come of age. Hundreds of educated blacks will graduate from university only to find themselves without jobs, and they won’t buy the “liberation story”.
It happened in Zimbabwe. It could be coming to South Africa. And Malema is capitalising on that, with a lot of success despite attempts to gag him. And people are beginning to see through the “disaster story” about Zimbabwe.
The last happiness index survey showed that Zimbabweans were happier than their colleagues from their more prosperous neighbours, Botswana and South Africa. That cannot be allowed to continue as it will only provide ammunition for people like Malema to call for radical reforms.
*For a detailed report on why the West hates Mugabe and how he has survived, read this 22 000-word article: God, Mugabe and The West.