Jonty Fisher
Jonty Fisher

‘South Africa’s going the way of Zimbabwe’

I’m consistently amazed — no, make that, concerned — at the amount of seemingly intelligent people who still hold this opinion. It’s easy to write off the usual suspects for comments like this, but when people in their 30s with professional careers in high-powered positions make a comment like this around dinner tables, it beggars belief. Now I’m never one to begrudge anyone their opinion, but I’d like to blow this myth out of the water.

Firstly, let’s look at presidential politics. Mugabe moved very quickly after freedom to make himself a president for life. At that stage (early 1980s), Zimbabwe was a prosperous country and the world, facing other significant issues, turned a blind eye. Mugabe also made these moves quickly, at a stage when the populace was still blindly following him and, perhaps more importantly, before democratic institutions and checks and balances had found their feet.

Zimbabwe’s Constitution at that stage was also poorly defined and malleable (it was negotiated at Lancaster House in London, as part of a peace agreement ending years of civil war), which Mugabe leveraged very well. Contrast this with South Africa. We have an immensely strong Constitution that not even Thabo Mbeki (with all his paranoia and power politics) has tried to amend through two terms, and that remained robust under all the challenges of Madiba’s presidency.

The Constitution holds independent judiciary and has been well respected by all and sundry within the ANC, the party largely responsible for it. So, 13 years after the fall of apartheid, we still have a strong and unaltered Constitution with a range of weapons against an overbearing president.

In the Loony Tunes version of Zuma’s potential presidency, these same individuals see Zuma being given free reign to change the Constitution, change the entire economic progression of the country and make himself a corrupt, benevolent ruler. How so? What will the half of Cosatu members — supposedly his bedrock of support — that don’t want him as president (Markinor study earlier this year) have to say about that? What will the plenty of power players left in the upper echelons of the ANC say about that? Will Parliament just rubber-stamp any Bill in front of it, regardless of its merit? Will the judiciary stand idly by? These individuals will confidently reply yes to such questions, but there is no logical basis for this assertion, only prejudice.

Secondly, let’s look at the economics. South Africa is an immensely more powerful economy than Zimbabwe ever was. Yes, Zimbabwe was once the “bread basket of Africa”, but that was a reference to its agricultural production, a primary good that was delivered internally and for immediate neighbours. South Africa has a developed-world, complex good economy, strong in service and manufactured goods that makes the country irretrievably connected to the international economy. Look at the pressure Mbeki is under from international leaders about the state of Zimbabwe currently, and that is on humanitarian grounds only. A South African president would find himself or herself under unbearable pressure should any of these “mistakes” be made on his or her watch. Our economy is unbelievably robust, and is infinitely more difficult to ruin as agricultural production, the cornerstone of Zimbabwe’s strength, was by Mugabe.

Thirdly, let’s look at property rights. This is a huge legacy issue in South Africa, and it is incredible how little trouble it has caused thus far. The land-restitution process, although slow, has resolved almost all of the urban land claims peacefully since 1994, with the final claims being resolved by 2008, representing a total of almost 80 000 claims. That is staggering.

Agricultural land is more difficult, and the government is short of its target of 30% redistribution by 2014. However, this process has been slow because of the government’s absolute adherence to the letter of the law, not because of any improprieties. The land-restitution process allows for a willing-buyer, willing-seller process in almost every case, except when the seller is being obstructive in selling price (where a genuine land claim has been made on his or her farm) and negotiations have failed for six months or more. In this case, the government can appoint an independent adjudicator to review the process and decide on a fair selling price for the farm, which is given to the farmer and the land expropriated. This has only happened once so far, and is a far cry of land grabs in Zimbabwe.

Land restitution is something we have to live with in South Africa. That land was taken from people under apartheid, and there has to be restitution for them. Farmers get the full price of their land, and that will not change. In my view, property rights are cemented in the Constitution, and property rights are rock solid in South Africa.

Finally, let’s look at the global situation. South Africa is a strategic player on the world stage, for its position as the economic and political powerhouse of Africa, its control of globally scarce minerals and its importance as an emerging economy for the global economy itself. There are too many players with vested interests in the country for even hints of a “Zimbabwe situation” to occur. With all that’s going on politically in South Africa at present, read the European press, how interested they are in the local occurrences. There’s too much at stake in South Africa for anything to be allowed to flounder here. Unfortunately for Zimbabwe, the same could not be said for that country at the time.

Let’s add to this rebuttal in comments, and build a solid counter-argument for the dinner-party blow-hards. It’s time this was put to bed. And it’s time these apologists put their backs into making our proud nation work, and stop wishing it to fail.