Can the ANC really still tout itself as the vanguard of our sovereignty, a repository of our national pride, asks Mcebisi Ndletyana
‘The ANC shall not allow South Africa’s Constitution and sovereignty to be undermined by these latter-day colonialists,” the party said, angrily.
Its fury followed the publication of a story in the Sunday Times on February 3, in which five overseas countries were reported to have complained to President Cyril Ramaphosa about the levels of corruption in the country.
Through their embassies, they warned that South Africa ran the risk of failing to attract investment if it did not deal decisively with corruption.
The governing nationalist movement did not see the warning as an expression of mere concern from investors and historical allies.
Rather, it received them as imperialist meddling that smacked of contempt for South African sovereignty.
“Who the hell do you think you are to tell us what to do!” That’s really what the ANC’s response meant.
For a nationalist movement the overreaction was nevertheless understandable. Nationalists are quite proprietorial about their countries.
This stems from their previous denial of ownership. That’s what colonialism entailed. Europeans took over Africa claiming it to be theirs.
This implied that Africans were lesser beings – an injunction that Africans vehemently rejected.
They resisted through several wars. Subsequent generations rose up, too.
Sovereignty, therefore, was an affirmation of a birthright. Through self-government, Africans could demonstrate their competence, shaping their countries according to their own visions and becoming the best they could be.
Advice from former colonial powers, who previously thought of you as a lesser being, easily lent itself to being seen as an imposition of tutelage. It touched a nerve in the nationalist psyche.
That said, I have been wondering lately, however, whether our nationalist leaders can still lay claim to being the protectors of our sovereignty.
And, here I’m not using sovereignty in a strictly legal manner to imply independence.
In the context of South Africa’s anticolonial history, sovereignty also implies national pride and belief in the self.
Having defined sovereignty in this manner, I have come to doubt if our nationalist leaders remain the vanguard of self-determination.
This doubt arises from three instances: Two happened under Jacob Zuma’s tenure and the third is unfolding now.
The first instance relates to state capture. A critical objective for any previously conquered people is to regain ownership. Restoring ownership goes beyond civil liberties to the means of livelihood.
This is what the idea of black economic empowerment was meant to achieve. It affirms the birthright of the natives to the natural wealth of their country.
In giving preference to the Guptas, an immigrant family, the governing nationalist movement trampled upon this principle.
What was even worse was that the Guptas even usurped executive authority, dictating to the head of state, a supposedly proud nationalist, how he should constitute his executive and what they should get.
The rightful claimants to the wealth of the country were shunned.
This effectively meant the economic resources were not returning to their rightful owners, but were being given away to outsiders. They were literally selling our country away – bebethengis’ ilizwe.
Then president Jacob Zuma insisted that the country procure the services of Russian companies to install nuclear stations.
This was not entirely strange, as countries do business between one another and South Africa had insufficient energy supply.
What was odd, however, was that the services of the Russians came at a price, estimated at a trillion rands, that the country could not afford.
Our head of state, even though he was the ultimate guarantor of our wellbeing, would not be dissuaded.
Instead of listening to reason, Zuma insisted that Treasury bypass the normal parliamentary process to benefit the Russians, while risking bankruptcy in the process.
It took a court decision to stop him from bringing ruin upon our country.
Why would a head of state insist on ruining his own country for the benefit of a foreign country?
This is what was puzzling about that decision. It was more than just about promoting trade relations.
The answer was not clear-cut. The stubbornness suggested a degree of indebtedness to the Russians.
This made one wonder if the decision had more to do with personal, than national, interests.
Zuma’s ailing health pointed to a stronger possibility that personal interests motivated the nuclear decision.
Zuma was reportedly poisoned and got medical attention in Russia.
This was extremely odd. South Africa has one of the most sophisticated health systems. Our medical staff is sought after the world over.
Even foreigners, as far afield as Europe, come to South Africa for treatment. What kind of poison was this, and where did it come from, that our globally recognised medical facilities and staff could not cure?
The only plausible answer is that the Russians were not only familiar with the poison, but also had the antidote.
The Russians decided whether Zuma lived or died. I’m not sure if the Russians used their antidote as leverage to force Zuma into a nuclear deal or whether Zuma was so grateful for the cure that he was willing to bankrupt his own country.
Zuma’s poisoning and the Russians coming to his rescue had implications for our future.
Deputy President David Mabuza apparently suffers from ill health due to poisoning and his illness made headlines in November.
His spokesperson, Thami Ngwenya, attempted to provide a fanciful answer, but effectively confirmed that his boss was indeed on sick leave.
The secrecy lent credence to the speculation that it was poisoning and that the Russians, as they did with Zuma, were again on the rescue.
Mabuza will possibly remain deputy president after the elections and is likely to succeed Ramaphosa as president.
Given the similar circumstances with Zuma, how sure are we that Mabuza will not behave in a similar manner towards his healers?
Can the ANC really still tout itself as the vanguard of our sovereignty, a repository of our national pride?
Ndletyana is associate professor of politics at the University of Johannesburg
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