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Whose South Africa is it anyway?

“All those who live in it”? Well, at least according to the Freedom Charter. Cute, don’t you think? Ah, reminds me of when I moved out of my parents’ home to pursue “first-time renting”. Though I snagged a tight-spaced bachelor unit, next door to a Celine Dion friend, who often blasted her music into the wee hours of the morning, it was all worth it and liberating because I finally had a place of my own … one that belonged to me (despite the little fact that it was Mom and Dad who were responsible for shelling out their pretty pennies on rent, utilities and furniture).

Just like the Freedom Charter, the body corporate ensured that the place was mine, simply because I dwelled there. Did that mean I was entirely free to do anything I wanted with or in the flat? Well, maybe if I did not have to constantly seek permission from or report to either my folks, the security guards, Janet (who was the caretaker), the landlord and of course, the big bosses — the body corporate — it would not have been profoundly naive to think the newly-found pad was really mine. So l’d rather put it like this: I just happened to have occupied a space that already had “owners” — those who called the shots.

So again, whose South Africa is it? Or rather, who serves as the parents, the caretaker, security guards, landlord and body corporate of our beloved rainbow nation?

China takes on SA (and the rest of Africa): 21st-century version of neo-colonialism?
Could South Africa be in the hands of China? It’s a possibility, an alarming one. Though China’s presence in the country and the rest of the continent continues to bring with it a number of opportunities, we can’t be oblivious to the storm clouds present. Given Africa’s rising productivity and economic growth, it comes as no surprise that the world’s second largest economy is actively courting the continent (SA included).

In 2009, China had become our largest trading partner. And the South African government usually welcomes the Chinese presence due to the trade offers, aid and investments without “strings attached”. This was confirmed by former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe who mentioned that the Beijing Declaration, signed in 2010, “aimed to increase trade volumes and encourage investment by both countries”. Since then, Africa-China trade reached $166 billion in 2011, while earlier this year, China pledged $20 billion in loans to SA and other African quarters, double that of its 2009 commitment. But like former colonial countries, China backs its trading relations with aid, debt relief, preferential loans, scholarships, training and the provision of specialists. I am also aware that Chinese business mostly adheres to a familiar neo-colonial pattern of resource extraction, labour exploitation and infrastructure projects that fail to emphasise the development of local capacity — all of which account for a growing feeling of disquiet that I just can’t seem to shake off as a concerned South African. I am even tempted to suggest that the presence of China on the continent is imperialistic, paternalistic and exploitative. Or am I just paranoid that we might, yet again, cede economic and political control over to our foreign investors, the economic goliaths? I don’t know.

Meanwhile in the Joburg CBD (and most townships across the country)
You are likely to find foreign nationals (many of them fellow Africans) competing with the poorest South Africans to eke out a menial living. Did I say “competing”? Well, surely if these are hot-spots of localised competition for political and economic power, then I’m afraid the locals are trailing behind.

It turns out that black foreigners in South Africa have come to be perceived as a direct threat to the future economic health of the country. They are seen to be sponging off public services while diligently chipping away at the economy for their own survival. This belief goes on to suggest that the socio-economic burden created by the influx of African migrants is unsustainable. Since then, there has been a wave of xenophobic attacks on foreign-owned businesses. In May 2009 local business people sent letters to Somali traders in Khayelitsha threatening them if they did not move out of the area within a week. And just last year, xenophobic looters left Port Elizabeth shops owned by Somali and Pakistani nationals in flames.

What this basically implies is, there is no way we are going to lose our country’s economic power to fellow Africans but when it comes to different types of foreigners, ones that come bearing fruit, it’s all good and well … right?

The government
Perhaps South Africa actually belongs to its government. Meaning, the politicians call the shots, make up rules as they please with their spin doctor (Mac Maharaj or Jackson Mthembu — your pick) there to justify all of them … you know? Just like how it is in George Orwell’s celebrated allegory on revolutions — Animal Farm. For those who have not read or heard of Animal Farm: it’s a story of farmyard animals who overthrew their tyrannical human farmer, only to discover that their leaders, the pigs, adopted his clothes, moved into his house and walked around on two legs, carrying whips, protected by ferocious dogs.

Not only have the new leaders assumed the lifestyle of their former master, they have also abandoned their revolutionary ideals: their founding principle that all animals are equal has become the cynical dictum, all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others. Sounds familiar?

The heady rhetoric of 1994, the uplifting messianic epic of Nelson Mandela, tended to mask what was really going on in South Africa. While many of us saw it as a handover of power from minority to a majority, what actually happened was a handover from a minority to another — a change of ruling elites.

So I guess South Africa belongs to a number of entities: power-hungry foreign investors, African migrants who also want a piece of the pie and generally a better life, citizens, who, like tenants in a rented flat, occupy the space, our Animal Farm-like government and possibly, Oscar Pistorius because there’s now way an ordinary Sipho from Benoni would get away with what he did.

Author

  • Sefiso Hlongwane is an intuitive, tongue-in-cheek and inquisitive writer, merely combining a life-long interest, passion and extensive experience to squeeze himself into media spaces. While the objective is to remain in a creative, energetic and discerning environment, Sefiso wants to get skin deep into an atmosphere that is conducive to exploring, researching, reporting and articulating news and thought pieces (that will not only shape his passions but give perspective on worldly issues) in the best possible way utilising acquired creative writing skills.

7 Comments

  1. Dries Dries 30 September 2014

    Nope. You’re not being paranoid at all… Do people really think the old colonial powers came splashing onto African beaches with muskets ablaze and swords flashing? No, they came with smiles pasted onto their faces, wonderful offers and talk of “opportunities”. It was only when their influence became too large to ignore that they showed their true colours. As for now, the words “US interests” are probably the scariest utterance in world politics today; in a few years time, the Chinese version will replace it, at least as far as Africa is concerned.

  2. manquat manquat 1 October 2014

    A government that does not take care of it’s people creates anger in our psyche.
    Another problem we have is a vacuum.
    The many poor South Africans who feel as if their voices are not being heard, are following populist movements like the EFF.
    When looking into their policies of redistrubtion of land and nationalisation, it seems really fair. But history has taught us that communism has failed. Neoliberal capitalism as fierce and competitive as it is, unfortunately is the lesser of two evils.
    I came to this conclusion after reading a story about Cubans lining up for food from the government. As bad as SA is, have you ever seeing long lines of people lining up for food?
    The problem we have in SA is that we don’t have money. Living in a market economy means that spending money is pivotal in getting things done.
    Our poor government cannot spend money to protect the borders and provide us with good corporate governance.
    So let’s work together to grow our economy and pay taxes so that our elected officials can protect our borders, protect our livelihoods and give us all a better life.

  3. Heinrich Heinrich 2 October 2014

    manquat ? Really ? We don’t have money?

    Just go check your local fuel supplier. See the price per litre of fuel. Check how many litres are sold nationally on a daily basis. Take 40% of that pump price value and give it to government. That is what they get. Then there is VAT, personal and company tax, import and custom duties, fines, licensing fees, property taxes etc. etc.

    Then go to the local “informal settlement”. Check the quality of life there. Then ask Mr. Ramophosa if you could visit one of his 30 houses (only those which were declared ) to check on how things are going there. Or go pay a visit to Nkandla. Or ask your beloved “elected” government officials how many millions they have spent on chartered air travel and fancy accommodation this year. Or how many properties and shares they bought offshore this year. Their offshore banking accounts – London, New York, Dubai, Beijing, Paris, Havana – you name it. Perhaps you want to try to recover the R30billion which Public Works “lost” this year.

    I could go on for days…

    But what is really scary, is what you say : “Our poor government cannot spend money to protect the borders and provide us with good corporate governance…” “… so pay taxes so that our elected officials can protect our borders, protect our livelihoods and give us all a better life”.

    Apart from reeking of Feudalism, this is just so blind. We were promised freedom and democracy – but you will be happy with an “Animal Farm”…

  4. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 2 October 2014

    Manquat …. what Heinrich said … add in the amount they pay for flippin flowers for the office, KFC, bottled water, hiring wine glasses at R200 a pop and …. yes, too much to list!

  5. Momma Cyndi Momma Cyndi 2 October 2014

    Sefiso,
    Good synopsis of the confusion we all feel. We have forgotten that we, the citizens, own the country. None of the others have a vested interest.

    The Chinese don’t care about us – they only care about China (oh and they are our biggest trade partner ONLY in the amount they sell here, not the amount they buy from here). The foreign nationals are only temporarily here to get money to send home – some of them tend to use methods of making money which are neither legal nor endearing. The government is, like every other government in the world, a bunch of parasites who are only interested in their own stomachs.

    That is reality. We do, however, have the power to change it – if we care enough to do so

  6. Richard Richard 2 October 2014

    It was quite apparent from early on that it would just be a lateral replacement of white people at the top with black people at the top. South Africa seems always to have been ruled by power cliques of whatever language or racial grouping. Mandela was nothing but a focal point, a black face, that everybody could focus on. That was enough in its day. The US went through similar hysteria when Obama was elected. The fact that neither Obama nor Mandela actually did anything other than simply slot into a pre-existing place within the social hierarchy doesn’t seem to occur to most people. Is South Africa any better off now than it was under British colonial rule? Apartheid rule? Not really, not by many measures. All that has happened is that new clothes, according to new fashions, have supplanted the old. Fundamentally, there has been no change, excepting in one regard: it is now much, much harder to effect change, because the cultural milieu within which the momentum for change resides has been swept away. It resides now only within Europe, and, marginally, North America. Humanitarian concerns matter nothing to the Chinese or Indians, and they are not interested in African sob-stories. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…

  7. Inno Dlamini Inno Dlamini 3 October 2014

    Nicely put Mfo ka Hlongwane. All this talk about a ‘better life for all’ is just a mnemonic which actually means ‘a better life for those deemed apposite.’

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