Simon Barber
Simon Barber

OK, doctor, how are you going to spin this?

These are interesting times for those of us in the business of explaining South Africa to rest of the world.

Here’s what our current politics look like to someone who reads the Washington Post or the New York Times and listens to National Public Radio (that would be your high-end United States news consumer): The party of Nelson Mandela is about to choose as its leader, and presumably as the next president of the country, Jacob Zuma, whose campaign song is Bring Me My Machine Gun, whose advice on HIV-avoidance is “take a shower”, and whose good friend and financial backer is in jail for soliciting money from people who wished to be in Zuma’s good graces when he was deputy president of the country.

Of course, this may be a terribly unfair characterisation. And so indeed the explainers will have to declare should the results of the voting by ANC provincial branches turn out to be fully predictive. In the meantime the message has to be that panic is not in order. South Africans and their politics have a way of getting to the precipice, looking over it and finding a way not to jump.

What is going on here, one says, is a family feud. These are the bitterest kind, and generally the most impenetrable to outsiders. However, the family in this case is a decent one. It has a lot of good people in it and if the past is prologue they will resolve things in a productive way.

How, one is asked? Well, here’s one scenario. The provincial vote shows there to be a strong groundswell of opinion within the party that Thabo Mbeki should not have a third term as ANC president. It does not say quite as much about the durability of Zuma’s support were Mbeki to leave the race. That would open the door for compromise on a more easily explainable winner.

The capacity for creative problem solving is an important facet of the South African brand.

  • Dumisani Mkhize

    Simon Barber is right about the family feud scenario. What I believe causes it is that the ANC, and indeed the movement as a whole, has lost sight of the enemy. They have no clue who is a friend and who/what/where is an enemy. They are so used to being united against a common enemy. Now, without an enemy they have to look within themselves to find one. And boy, what an interesting find – the enemy seems to be the leadership. But of course they can’t agree among themselves. Until they find an enemy outside the movement, this family feud is not going away anytime soon.
    At least Joel Netshitenzhe has acknowledged that they have failed to resolve the divisive issues that have plagued the movement. It’s a start.

  • Jonn

    Read your own writing Simon Barber, and you will notice that you yourself are spinning the deeds of the ANC.

    When will we find a journalist, still in this country, with enough integrity to state the truth outright?

    That is, the ANC who obtained world-wide support and came into power based on the propaganda that the previous government and all it’s citizens of a particular skin colour were a bunch of racist supremacists and that the ANC would do a much better job if elected, is, in reality, doing a far worse job than it’s predecessors. Unfortunately the failings of the ANC to run this country in the manner promised is accompanied by murderous crimes running into the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and corruption and incompetence running into billions of Rand.

    That unfortunately, is the bottom line and no amount of spinning will change it.


  • Gregor

    John, I don’t think your statement is supported by the facts, from an economic standpoint, the South African economy is stronger than its ever been. Trevor Manual and Tito Mboweni have done a fine job of managing the economy. I think the focus on education is also going to pay off over the next couple of decades. Once everybody has had a fair education, its going to be difficult to hoodwink people into voting for unsavory characters. That said, George Bush still won in the states, so even in a “developed” country, intellectually challenged candidates can still gain power….Democracy and the bell curve are at cross purposes with one another. The only solution is to raise the median point through education. The average Japanese IQ is 110 compared to 100 in the US. It would be interesting to see where we are these days…

  • John

    Well put Dumasani – We’ve totally lost direction.

    Simon, you put it very clearly But remember the African honeymoon was over when Bush was elected in 2001. The conservatives in power in the US right now don’t care much for Africa so one can hear the offhand comments about Uncle Jacob at the various political receptions round Washington (and board rooms in New York too).

    This is only partly a vote for Zuma. It is also a vote against the failed policies of the incumbent. The masses believe that a Zuma Government will provide more than the failed Mbeki one.

    Pity we can’t get a real meaningful opposition that can appeal to the masses. People are rightly claiming that South Africa is just another corrupt African One Party State.

  • John Bond

    Gregor – I missed your post because we replied at the same time and maybe I need to take issue on a small but important point

    Our economy has performed VERY poorly. How can I make a gross statement like that.
    – Resource rich emerging markets world wide have grown at an average of 8.5% over the last 5 years (World Bank Figures). We have finally reached 4.3% (SA Government Figures). No one can challenge the resource issue as we are one of the leaders in resources in the world. The emerging part? Well, are we emerging or are we going backwards… (Please guys, don’t make any comments about going back to the bush. I find them objectionable)
    – Our employment levels are still below 1994 on a per capita basis.
    – If one takes out the government grant corrects for inflation, our poor are much worse off.

    So what have we done right? Well… er… ah… Let me think about it and come back to you next year.

  • Jonn

    Thanks for your accurate and informative comments, John Bond.

    I see that your own statements are not factual but rather subjective, biased and emotional, Gregor.

    To comment briefly on your postings.

    1. Taxation for SMEs, of which I am one, now exceed 120%. That’s right; unless you are dishonest you cannot make it in business. So Trevor is not doing such a good job after all. Tax money is being used for, amongst other things:
    • To replace the billions lost through corruption, fraud and incompetence.
    • The fund the millions of illegal immigrants and refugees streaming through our borders who do not pay taxes put receive grants.
    • To fund the many freebees and grants such as social grants which are encouraging unemployment, a national lack of birth control leading to massive overpopulation problems and a chronic lack of facilities such as housing. Are you aware that, in South Africa, it is common practice for school girls, sometimes not even 13 years of age, to pay young boys to impregnate them so that they can fall pregnant and leave school to live on child grants?
    2. I own a few colleges and have been in the education game all my life. Education has always been available in South Africa for the so-called previously disadvantaged. However, under the previous government, pupils were burning and boycotting their schools under instigation of the ANC thereby depriving themselves of an education. Today’s education are of a lower standard else many previously disadvantaged pupils will not pass but now many of their teachers, also previously disadvantaged, are drunk in their classrooms and have sexual affairs with their pupils, for favours.

    The above are all proven facts in South Africa.