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Elections, Personalities, Divisions

An ex-President challenges an incumbent and defies courts, with his daughter lauding violent demonstrations. The incumbent President is beset with financial wrongdoing claims. Democratic institutions are under pressure. The legal system is being questioned. Populist policies espoused, claims of fascism being bandied about.

No, I am not talking of the USA, that would be impertinent for a foreign observer. However, the South African political environment shows remarkable similarities to that of the USA.

A brief history: When democracy dawned in 1994 President Nelson Mandela pushed the “Rainbow Nation” theme, seeking to involve all ethnicities around the popularly negotiated Constitution. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, sought to bring the populist elements of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) around Jacob Zuma on board. This ex-underground intelligence leader has a strong following among the Zulu nation and used this platform to overthrow the intellectual Mbeki.

Zuma’s Presidency was soon tainted by allegations of corruption. He was forced to appoint a Judaic Commission that delivered damning evidence. Zuma testified, then refused to comply, ending up with a judgment of contempt of court against him. His arrest and imprisonment in July 2021 led to violent protests, wide-scale destruction and the deaths of some 350 people.

Lindiwe Sisulu, daughter of one of the anti-Apartheid greats, member of Parliament since 1994, and member of the Cabinet since 1996, recently criticized her government for not having brought benefits to the populace. She challenged the legal system for being ‘a holdover of colonialism.’ She was dismissed from the Cabinet and was lionized by the Zuma faction.

Divisive rhetoric was central to the 2019 General elections, but the Black First Land First party with an openly anti-white platform gained only 0.11% of the popular vote. However, a vocal faction of the ruling ANC, the so-called Radical Economic Transformation found a common cause with the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) under the leadership of the proto-fascist Julius Malema. He recently celebrated the 10th birthday of his party amidst challenges to his leadership as Commander-in-Chief- of his Ground Forces. The Marxist-Leninist EFF still struggles to break through the 10% vote barrier. Malema’s public performance of a song entitled: “Kill the farmer, kill the Boer” as did Zuma years ago caused outrage and renewed legal challenges.

At the same time, the Opposition Democratic Alliance held a National Convention to seek unity and solidarity around the national values. Of course, this was immediately criticized as pushing up a crop of old male leaders.

Despite massive unemployment, South Africans still get on with each other, ethnic tension in the street is low, and people remember that the radicals, in 2019, gained little support. However, drought looms, and when crops fail, government falls.

And so while we observe the American political drama, South Africans follow local media with trepidation.

(The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author.)

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