Levi Kabwato
Levi Kabwato

Is SA the next Zimbabwe?

The simple answer is, no. I’ve attempted to answer this question once before, in 2009. My argument at the time was that South Africa had a strong Constitution, which ensured the country stayed on democratic course. Unlike Zimbabwe, post-apartheid South Africa has endeavoured to consolidate democracy by empowering independent institutions such as the judiciary.

Soon after independence in Zimbabwe, an astute Robert Mugabe made sure that he amassed a significant amount of personal power through legislation such as the Presidential Powers (Temporary Measures) Act, allowing him to pass laws without having to go through parliament if such laws are meant to urgently deal with an emerging crisis or one that has already developed.

In a normal state, this is not a problem, especially considering how other world leaders have had to act in the face of crisis. But, when paranoia governs the conduct of your leader, this law can be used to pursue undesirable and anti-democratic ends such as overturning judicial rulings via presidential decrees.

In 2009 the Democratic Alliance (DA) used, some would say successfully, scare tactics to mobilise votes against the African National Congress purportedly to prevent the latter from manipulating the Constitution for its own benefit. A careful analysis shows, however, that even if he had secured a two-thirds parliamentary majority so dreaded by the DA, there was — and still is — no way President Jacob Zuma could ever change the Constitution, given the sober-headedness and robustness of institutions such as Parliament itself and the judiciary.

Interestingly, that same year, 2009, the figure of Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe seemed to lurk menacingly behind the then incoming chief justice, Sandile Ngcobo, and this had quite a number of people uncomfortable. Their fear: Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke was being deliberately overlooked for the post of chief justice because he was one of the judges who had complained to the Judicial Services Commission about Hlophe, alleging that the latter had tried to improperly influence the outcome of cases before Moseneke and two other judges, cases involving corruption charges levelled against Zuma. Could the same script have been used again this year, albeit with a slightly different cast, but achieving the same outcome — block Moseneke’s ascendency?

Contrast this with events leading up to the forced resignation of Zimbabwe’s former chief justice, Anthony Gubbay, in March 2001. A year earlier, a number of judges had ruled against the chaotic, Zanu-PF-led land reform programme but the police commissioner, Augustine Chihuri, repeatedly failed to comply with rulings requiring him to enforce orders for farm invaders to vacate the farms.

In November that same year, so-called war veterans marched to the supreme court, forcibly entering the building while chanting Zanu-PF slogans and calling for out-of-favour judges to be killed. They were not met with the full might of the law.

A recently launched report of the International Bar Association (IBA) makes the observation that “since 2000, the Government [of Zimbabwe] has appointed to the bench judges with previous connections and known sympathies to Zanu-PF. These have also been recipients of land that the government has seized under its controversial land allocation programme”. Renowned Zimbabwe lawyer Sternford Moyo remarked, at the launch of this report, that incidents were rife of judges who failed to pitch or arrived late for court hearings as a result of their farming engagements.

While the judiciary in South Africa has showed admirable character of strength it has also made remarkable blunders. A case in point is Judge Colin Lamont’s ruling banning the liberation song Dubul’ iBhunu (Shoot the Boer) insisting rather that those who sing this song (predominantly blacks) “pursue new ideals and develop new morality”. Analysed within the discourse on colonialism — which it must — the judgment shows glaring contradictions between itself, the Constitution used to justify it, and the history that informs that Constitution.

Since colonisation happened in three distinct phases; dispossession of land, introduction of cash economies and military invasion, it is not difficult to appreciate the role played by violence in achieving all those ends on the part of the oppressor. Understandably, the oppressed also had to use violence, albeit at a lesser degree, to oppose domination in order to protect their own humanity which was under serious threat.

But in asking a formerly oppressed people to “pursue new ideals and develop new morality”, Judge Lamont is invoking a fourth, and arguably more dangerous, phase in the process of colonisation; the colonisation of the mind.

“The colonisation of the mind,” writes Pal Ahluwalia, “is manifested in the manner in which a people’s history is denied and they are made to feel inferior and incapable of challenging colonial order. In this way, the national identity of a people is denigrated and made non-functional. The colonised are rendered not only economically dependent but also psychologically dependent, thus making them the subject of colonial power”.

This is the (dis)order Zanu-PF pretended to be fighting in the post-2000 era — and for the wrong reasons too. The scales had fallen off Zimbabweans’ eyes and it became apparent that the former ruling party’s political hegemony could be seriously challenged. The party had to defend itself. Hence, you could always bet on Mugabe proclaiming “Zimbabwe will never be a colony again” every time he opened his mouth in misplaced attempts at invoking the violent and destructive imagery of colonialism.

Quite critically, however, Mugabe failed to understand one simple truth: that you cannot right a colonial wrong with another wrong. Having inherited colonial instruments of repression and wielding a monopoly on violence, his land-reform programme became exactly that which it opposed and lost credibility. Radio and television propaganda drives spoke the truth: “the land is the economy and the economy is land” but that was as fallacious as a regime could be because we all know that no farming happens on TV, radio or indeed newspapers if no one is actually tilling the land and planting crops.

Needless to say, judges who ruled against farm invasions were characterised as being in the pockets of white commercial farmers, for how could they deny that land reform was a post-colonial necessity that had urgent appeal in order to redress the economic imbalances introduced by colonialism?

Addressing captains of industry early this week, President Jacob Zuma insisted there would be no Zimbabwe-style land grabs in South Africa because his country’s Constitution guides its citizens on what to do. He is right.

But, if Judge Lamont’s ruling is to be read as an attempt at denying the former oppressed their history by creating a legacy of silence (“develop new morality”) around their painful suffering, loss of land, dignity, pride and humanity then there is an urgent need to uncover and recover the truth of all those apartheid repression experiences in order to constructively move forward. Clearly, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had its pitfalls.

It is also incumbent upon leaders such as Zuma to stop pandering to shallow and malefic white fear, which is unnecessarily causing alarm and deep despondency through organisations such as AfriForum. Zuma should begin to actively lead the streaming of new forms of consciousness that can allow the former oppressed to reclaim — and not deny — their history and as a result be able find springboards to effectual self-expression in tandem with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations but with the single-mindedness and awareness of fostering the collective ownership of the nation together with their former oppressors. To achieve this, they don’t necessarily need new morality or ideals, just their humanity.

Therefore, the pursuit of social and economic justice in South Africa should not adopt a racist outlook, which denies whites or the so-called beneficiaries of apartheid their citizenship and human rights because this is their country too and they have an important role to play in contributing to its development.

This is the mistake Zimbabwe made and that is exactly how the erstwhile breadbasket of Africa has ended up with the curious and profoundly instructive case of one Roy Bennet, a white Zimbabwean farmer who was dispossessed of his land and cannot be sworn in as deputy minister in the current inclusive government setup simply because of the colour of his skin. No type of justice undermines one’s citizenship or humanity.

Perhaps unwittingly, Judge Lamont’s ruling has opened up critical space for robust debate and deep reflection on the future of a non-racial South Africa as it was envisioned in the Freedom Charter. This space must not be left void. South Africa will not become another Zimbabwe but it is quite critical that the institutions that guard the spirit and letter of the Constitution always be guided by the sacred principle of promoting social and economic justice in doing so.

That, in any society, is the ultimate struggle.

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    • Philemon Macheza

      Thank you very much for this interesting piece. I agree with you on some points and strongly disagree with you on other points. I agree with you when you say that South Africa is unlikely to go the same path that Zimbabwe went. However, i strongly disagree with you on your analysis of the Zimbabwe land reform programme. The land question by its nature in Zimbabwe and South Africa is a political question, that cannot be dealt with by the courts (judiciary) but rather it can only be dealt with by the political organs of the state, in this case, the legislature. This is why you see that in Zimbabwe an act had to passed by parliament for compulsory aqcuisition of land. There is no way in the world where you have seen judges meddling in the jurisdiction of other organs of the state. Whether parliament by means of enactment of Amendment 17 erred is another matter. However, the role of judiciary in all this is to ensure that decisons made by political organs are proportional to the intended objective. This they can also do by looking into the constitutionality of any government action vis a vis the fundamental rights due to the affected individuals. Strictly speaking, there was no fundamental right that was infringed upon in the case of the white farmers. That having been said, i have also to register here my own opinions on the land reform programme. In principle it was a good idae, but the problem that i have with it, was its implementation and the failure by government to re-imbu

    • Sterling Ferguson

      What have been going in Zim. could very well happen in SA because this country is following the same path of Zim. and Nigeria. The author talks about the South African’s constitution but, history has show that in most African countries when the ruling parties lose an election the rulers figure out a way to stay in office. The constitution in SA don’t give the people the right to directly elect any of the leaders in the South African government so nobody is held accountable. The people in the government have been caught stealing from the government and nothing is done to them because they are too big to touch.

      Moverover, you said that the ruling that Judge Lamont made was a bad ruling about the son “shoot the Boers”. What would happen if the whites in Europe or the US start singing shoot the blacks in those countries?

    • Sadza ne Huku

      Wise words, and good analysis. Zvakanaka, chamwari yangu!

    • Simj

      Surely Lamont invoking the fourth stage of colonialism is a bit of a stretch. The ‘boer’ rule of RSA to which the song refers is post-colonial and has very little to do with pre-colonial history or identity.

      The colonisation of the mind occurs when the newly economically disadvantaged colonised person realises that in order to survive he/she must buy into the colonialists economic and cultural model.

      As John Dube’s father was a Reverend it can be safely assumed colonisation of the mind happened long before the ANC was established.

      Social and economic justice can only be pursued by liberal politicians, judges and constitutions only protect the ideals of the liberation.

    • Haze

      Experience of African thought includes encountering the concept of people paying taxes to a government that sings songs about killing them.

      But what is truly mind-boggling is that the majority of white people in SA accept this, albeit some with a bit of grumbling, and carry on with their daily lives in effect supporting a government which is not only totally corrupt but supporting a whole people with a totally bizarre and alien mindset. Is this really the environment you want to raise your children in?

      To Mr Kabwato: the pursuit of social and economic justice in South Africa can only be achieved via Colonial values. That is, your national, provincial and local government leaders must start making a distinction between public and personal funds. Simply put, to stop stealing from their own people.

      As an example, it is not about Mr Mugabe ‘righting a wrong with another wrong’. It is about little incidents such as Mr Mugabe winning the Zimbabwean National Lottery.

      Once you have got that right you can begin to explore the more difficult parts of Colonialism such as Maxwell’s Equations (ie. the stuff that drives your cell phone). You have to learn to walk before you can run.

    • ALI


      Your comment “While the judiciary in South Africa has showed admirable character of strength it has also made remarkable blunders” is factually incorrect. The judge made a ruling on a law promulgated by the ANC itself, and the judgement was 100% correct in this regard.

    • Mike

      It is nonsense to say that banning the song “Shoot the Boer” is about denying people their history. The song is being sung today not to celebrate history but to stir up hatred of white people, in order to justify taking property (land, mines etc.) by force.

      Singing this particular song is all about furthering the racist agenda of Malema and his cohorts. It is focused on the future of the country, in order to divide it along racial lines just as has happened in Zimbabwe.

      There are many black people in SA who believe that this is justified because of the colonial and apartheid past; they are not seeking reconciliation or a non-racial society, but a black nationalist ascendancy very like the one in Zimbabwe.

      As we can see from Zimbabwe, there is no protection to be had through a constitution and courts when those who control the police and army set themselves against these mechanisms.

    • ae

      Was this article about SA not becoming another Zim? Or was it Levi’s take on Judge Lamont’s judgment? It all seems so one sided, and no acknowledgement given that there could be intended hate speech. Should we not Try and take a balanced view!

    • http://www.cindynel.co.za peter nel

      Don’t put any money on it Levi. S.A is slowly sinking into the quagmire where dictatorship is the only way in which the ANC can gain and sustain control. The people are becoming restless and the futile hope that the ANC will change and deliver is being accepted as a pipe dream. Neither the knowhow nor the political will exists in their administration.

    • Judith

      Excellent paper. It sets the record straight as to the SAcan Constitution, judiciary, Parliament and government. Particularly interesting and spot on is the argument about the (continued) “colonisation of the mind”. It places not only the ill inspired judgment of Judge Lamont in the right light, but the whole tendency – so often also found on these blogs nowadays – by a certain white opinion to consider that reconciliation means wiping the slate clean (and continuing like before as far as they are concerned…), rejecting all responsibility for the past. And even claiming victim status in the present dispensation! True, neither Zuma nor anyone else should feel obliged to pander to such opinion that freely negates past injustice, humiliation, repression and suffering.
      The TRC did analyse that past in their final report, but its emphasis on only particular gross violations of human rights in its public performances plus the refusal of FW De Klerk, PW Botha and other past leaders to accept moral responsibility for apartheid (and what went before) has facilitated such divisive, eveh immoral attitude and critique. No ‘slate’ can ever be wiped clean, it would be foolish to try to. On the contrary: all must read what’s written on it! Perhaps time has come to fill the huge gaps left by the TRC?
      And yes, Mugabe’s politics have always been very different from the ANC’s. Since independence that has been obvious throughout.

    • Psalm

      Levi, touché!

    • Paul Barrett

      I lose respect for anyone’s argument about ‘shoot the boer’ when they stoop to the ridiculousness of claiming that Lamont’s judgement is any of the following:

      A blow to freedom of speech.
      An attempt to deny, revise, or delete history (aka creating a legacy of silence.)
      Colonisation of the mind.

      Rational thought cannot lead one to conclude that any of these claims are true. No one has yet presented a single piece of logical evidence for any of these claims. Such reactions are emotional, not rational.

      Beyond that, I think you are correct in the conclusion that our constitution combined with our judiciary (Zuma, Malema, and others’ attempts to undermine both notwithstanding) are a potent safeguard against descending into Zim style insanity and chaos.

    • Tony Blair

      People are not made for laws, laws are made for people. As such, they are constructs of the political, economic, cultural and historical factors that make up a society. Hence, we shall continue changing laws to suit our political, economic, cultural and historical circumstances. Like it or not, the law is there to push a political, economic, cultural and historical agenda. Which means when the time is right, South Africa shall go the Zimbabwe route.

    • Kadimang

      It does seem like Levi is losing touch with the South African reality as it is unfolding. Some ANC leaders have alredy expressed the sentiment (e.g. Ramatlhodi) that the constitution is a hindrance to their agenda. The direction taken in weighing appointments to institutions such as the JSC with ANC sympathisers/embedded people is telling – future appointments to the judiciary especially to the Constitutional Court will be dictated by the party and not the spirit of the constitution. How do you explain the secrecy bill? The constitution is our only protection and since they know that they wont be able to amend/ change it, having lost their 2/3 majority, they will simply undermine it by populating the Constitutional Court with their (non-card carrying to give semblance of being non-partisan) members who will never again rule against the government. Watch the judicial appointments that are going to be made from now on under Mogoeng – he understands his mandate from the party. Explain the Dalai Lama debacle! Wake up bra, when you write as an academic, you must always treasure objectivity. Don’t be an apologist for the ANC. PS: I;m an ANC member and can see the direction it is taking under the present leadership.

    • Peter Joffe

      Is not the Secrecy Bill (Press/Media Gag) the first step to changing the constitution and no one will know about it until its too late?
      Our Constitution is indeed good and strong but the Government can change it when and if they please. If, God forbid, people like Malema become more powerful and promise the earth to all that have little, just like Mugabe exchanged land for votes, so too it can happen in South Africa. Is South Africa becoming like Zimbabwe? I think so and it is well on the way. The signs are there, the noises are being made and we have no good leaders to see things don’t get out of hand. The police, the courts, the prosecuting authority, the public protector, the schools and the institutions of higher learning are all in the process of, of have already been corrupted. Media Freedom is next and by hook or by crook, the ANC will protect itself from all critisism and crimes from within their ranks. In what other “Democracy” do we have a president who may well be guilty of 158+- crimes?? Mugabe is guilt of 1,000’s of crimes but as he controls all the apparatus of state, he is untouchable. Many in the ANC too are ‘untouchable’ and even though we know what their crimes are they carry on regardless. Zuma says that he is in command but neglected to say of what? Perhaps he meant his lavish household in KZN?

    • X Cepting

      @Philemon – “Strictly speaking, there was no fundamental right that was infringed upon in the case of the white farmers. ” You are going to have a hard time explaining this to the dead farmer’s families, killed by Mugabe’s expropriation team, the “veterans”

    • Morena

      Well, you posed an important question, and gave a near correct answer (though without qualification), but then went comatose thereafter; the result is fantasy-land stuff. Surely something must have given you reason to pose the question, and I doubt that wanted to crap on Zimbabwe. Governments across the globe are not manned by angels or people infused with extra ordinary divine attributes to care for the governed; so it would be naïve to assume that they will not mismanage the affairs of government, simply because of protective laws. Just the other day the ANC in Gauteng admitted to dirty money propelling people in leadership positions; once in government what hope is there for clean, accountable and transparent government? Citizens are safer from tyranny when they exercise their civic responsibilities, of holding governments to account through various outlets. South Africa will not go the way of Zimbabwe to the extant we are prepared and able to hold government to account.

    • john vorster

      Will South Africa follow the same way as Zimbabwe?
      turn the clock back to Mugabe,s statement 25 years ago of ”no retribution”!
      Rather ask the question: ”Why should South Africa be different to Africa?” Are the people asking this question blind and deaf? Do two wrongs make one right? Just whre were they for the past 18 years?

    • david hurst

      Well, we all have opinions. This appears to be a puff-piece whose thesis is that the institutional rigor and foundation of the Judiciary, and as well the political process, will stand up to behind closed doors determination of Party uprights to use their prerogative to in time not only control the Judiciary, from magistrate up, but to radically disembowel, in the nicest, wisest way possible, the Constitution. In a democracy, one would like to see a process in which counter views are most public, but this is not the case. So, from control of state run media, to public media, though not a major factor in voting trends, the latter in particular, absolute majority missed by a percent or two, nor the concrete foundations of a law abiding society, the Judiciary, preclude the ANC stamp on how business is carried out, by law. What are they trying to do, with curtailment of free speech, and what did they do and are doing with the Judiciary, we do not need to even guess what is coming regarding the constitution. A party in power until Jesus comes, this is what goes on behind closed doors and silencing open dissent.

    • http://www.thoughtleader.co.za/ Cypres

      What happened in Zimbabwe is a revolution gone wrong or poorly managed.
      Constitutions mean nothing when there is injustice. There were constitutions during slavery, colonization and apartheid. You can wish that wealth and land be shared fairly but those who have a lion share always want to keep their share by any law shield or any means necessary. SA can turn worse than Zimbabwe or find a better solution than any majority that has been oppressed for decades or centuries. The tossed coin is still in air so nobody can predict what will happen. The truth is that 10 per cent of SA population owns 90 per cent of farming lands and the economy. The remaining 90 per cent are not happy with that especially about how all that has been historically acquired. Singing laws or brandishing constitutions in such situation is like doing a similar thing during the slave trade or the Berlin conference. We all wish things to go smoothly but all the ingredients for an ugly turn are also there and are not that much different from what existed before the French Revolution. I bet French land owner at the time were protected by laws too.

    • http://ThoughtLeader Foster Low

      Sorry to disagree, but we are well on the way to becoming another Zim – like state.
      The Secrecy Bill will muzzle the free press, and we are losing count of the number of succesful commercial farmes, both black & white, who have been murdered already.

    • http://southafricana.blogspot.com Dave Harris

      Unfortunately, your knee-jerk comparisons between SA and Zimbabwe plays right into the hands of stereotypes currently propagated about African countries. Both democracies have distinct histories and very different liberation struggles but the opression and brutality was similar.

      You are spreading misinformation if you allege that SA whites are being denied their citizenship by the government. What gives rise to such ludicrous claims?

      Land reform, is by far the most pivotal of transformation initiatives to redress past injustices. This however, has come to a grinding halt since claims have become mired in legal bureaucracy and the utter failure of the insulting willing-buyer-willing-seller model.

      Lamont’s idiotic judgement is indicative of the caliber of apartheid educated judges that’s more proof to why our justice system needs to be overhauled. his judgement is not only a blow to our hard fought for free speech rights, but also polarizes and sets the stage for further confrontation and costly legal battles at the taxpayers expense.

      Non-racialism is not possible without acknowledging the scale of the damage wreaked by apartheid and then cleaning up the mess. All is asked for is a level playing field for all – this is what economic justice is all about. It has nothing to do with denying whites citizenship!

    • Jack Sparrow

      Of course SA is following the Zim model but colonisation by China is well underway. Why else would the ANC bow and scrape to their new colonial masters. Wakey. wakey, just like their forefathers, the chiefs of yore, they’ve sold their subjects into slavery for a few personal trinkets.

      As for land reform, I see Cypres and Dave Harris push the old tired lie that whites own 90% of the “farming” land (clever that Cypres; much more lies unfarmed, but was previously very successfully farmed, in government and black hands). As for Harris, well he cannot face the fact that corruption and incompetence have slowed land restitution. But it’s happening apace; you just refuse to face the facts.

    • http://zimbabweinpictures.com Levi

      Many thanks for all the comments. I have taken time to reflect on all inputs. Perhaps let me also state that leaving the ANC – and Julius Malema – out of this argument was deliberate because South Africa is much bigger than any institution or individual.

      @Haze i agree with you when you say: “the pursuit of social and economic justice in South Africa can only be achieved via Colonial values. That is, your national, provincial and local government leaders must start making a distinction between public and personal funds. Simply put, to stop stealing from their own people.” But this will mean that the ANC government will have to lead some kind of political education drive, although that will be met with some strong reservations.

      More fundamentally, however, what needs to be recognised in this pursuit is the agency of the poor. Unfortunately, the poor in South Africa are seen as violent criminals who threaten the established order; just look at the way service delivery protests are handled and reported by the media! The obvious is, of course, that the wealthy (and in S.A these will be your beneficiaries of apartheid) will always feel that the prevailing order is good and must not be challenged.

      I finish by stating that the space that has been recently opened by developments such as Judge Lamont’s ruling must not be left void because these current struggles are more social than they are national and therein lies the opportunity to use the Zim case as instructive.

    • john carter

      Sir, saying that Judge Lamont’s ruling denies the former oppressed of their history is total BS and you know it. Why can’t you not look pragmatically at the reasoning and the context and understand that it is benefical towards a future fair and progressive South Africa. No one is saying stop learning about Steve Biko, the Rivonia trials, the massascres in Sharpeville and Soweto. Why would you think this. You obviously have an agenda, because to make such a misguided sweeping statement as that is just silly. Also, white fear manifests itself in the fact that South Africa is one of the most violent places on earth. No amount of apartheid invoking will stop the fact that it is a Modern South African problem. One that the goverment has COMPLETELY failed to placate. The rape statistics do not lie. Is that a pure direct product of Apartheid? It doesnt seem to happen in other poor countries in the world. So no, we wont go the way of Zimbabwe, but closer to Venezuela or Nigeria or the states of Northeastern India. Lawlessness.

    • Jalisa Bittle

      So Cal residents beware you may have been scammed by Andrea Ramirez and her staff when she ran a mortgage shop called Fidelity Financial in Rancho Cucamonga. Call the authorities if her or one of her staff members scammed you. Read the other postings regarding Ms. Ramirez and her staff. They never use real names.