Friday, April 24, 2009

South Africa rewards scoundrels and thieves

According to the BBC the South African election seems to have granted the ANC the two-thirds majority needed to amend the Constitution - again. On the bright side, it appears to be a relatively free and fair vote. On the downside, it shows just well the ANC has branded itself as the only political party that can do good for the black majority, and how it has branded the Opposition Democratic Alliance as racist (it is anything but), and the Thabo Mbeki breakaway (though he is not standing) party COPE as a wasted vote.

The ANC has gone from being a rebel terrorist movement (which brutally treated those within its ranks who did not follow the party line - shades of Zanu-PF) to being a dominant party in a liberal democracy. However it is one where the executive dominates the legislature, almost treating it as a formality, and where the President treats the Constitutional Court with contempt.

In South Africa, the separation of ruling party from state, executive from legislature, and judiciary from executive, legislature and party is highly blurred. However, this is far too complex for many South Africans to follow. It is also something the state owned and controlled broadcast media largely ignores - the SABC is by and large the mouthpiece of the ANC.

Zuma's past is known - there is ample evidence of him having extremely questionable financial dealings, he treated his rape trial with an appalling misogynistic attitude. He said he prevented AIDS by having a shower, and he is quite the polygamist (4 wives and 3 fiancees), as well as being homophobic.

None of this bodes well for any substantive change in South Africa. The main beneficiaries of ANC rule have been ANC rulers, now including the convicted fraudster and promoter of murder (necklacing) Winnie Mandela. ANC MPs have remarkable levels of wealth and so called "black empowerment positive discrimination" appears to have benefited relatives and friends of ANC MPs and high ranking officials, and their businesses, not the tragically poor underclass - who remain largely as they were.

So where now for the state with the second highest murder rate and highest HIV infection rate in the world? It wont become Zimbabwe - yet - the economy is far better run, and liberal democracy hasn't been quashed, it just has a playing field rather tilted in one direction.

What should Zuma do? Well I'll leave that to the Economist of last week:

He should state unequivocally that he will not propose a law to render the head of state immune from criminal prosecution. He needs to resist the temptation to elevate some of his dodgier friends to high judicial posts. Parliament needs more bite to nip the heels of the executive; the present system of election by party lists shrivels the independence of members and needs reform. To curb cronyism, all MPs, ministers and board members of state-funded institutions should register their and their families’ assets. He should also keep the sound Trevor Manuel as finance minister. Finally, Mr Zuma should ask his government to revise, perhaps even phase out, the policy of “black economic empowerment”. This may have been necessary 15 years ago to put a chunk of the economy into black hands. But its main beneficiaries now are a coterie of ANC-linked people, not the poor masses.

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