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Inevitably, the always very unequal society of the apartheid era has become a whole lot more unequal as the black elite claims more and more resources for itself. Nobody regrets the demise of apartheid and certainly no one wants it back again. But the sad truth is that its successor regime has not just failed to govern well: it has failed to preserve its own sense of national purpose from dissolving into a vast myriad of contending local and personal interests.

On the ground the result is that after 24 years of empty promises the black and Coloured rank and file have simply had enough. For the last five years per capita incomes have been dropping while poverty, inequality and unemployment grow. People feel enraged at the sight of elite corruption and they have also inherited the struggle tradition: if you feel angry, march, stone vehicles, burn tyres, burn buses — it’s the one certain way to get people’s attention. But such activity is now almost invariably accompanied by looting. Any large-scale protest march by strikers, by the trade union or by Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters now resembles a medieval army, with a following host of scroungers eager to pillage the battlefield once the fighting is over. In the modern South African case large demonstrations will inevitably have a tail of street people who loot and vandalise as they clean up behind.

It’s hard to interpret this situation. It feels as if the country is beginning to unravel, that it is slipping towards ungovernability. Perhaps it can still be pulled back together but nothing is certain. One should not forget that the different territories which make up this country were only forged into one by dint of the British force of arms: South Africa was not, so to speak, a natural country. Its future national unity cannot be taken for granted.

Enter Cyril Ramaphosa, stage right. He is in a weak position, coming from a small minority tribe, and without a significant base. He was elected by only the slimmest of margins because David Mabuza, alleged to be one of the most corrupt bosses of the Premier League, came over to his side at the last moment — and was rewarded with the deputy presidency. Ace Magashule, the equally controversial Premier of the Free State, became the ANC’s secretary-general. So Ramaphosa is hedged in on both sides by some of the worst elements of the old Zuma regime.

Under that regime, Premiers were like feudal barons, free to loot their fiefdoms. Only if they went too far and caused a peasant insurrection against them, would the king step in. And that is pretty much what has indeed happened in the North West province where the corrupt and oppressive Premier, Supra Mahumapelo, is clearly about to be forced out. Ramaphosa would doubtless have liked to see him gone some time ago but the leadership group around him are worried that this might start a chain reaction in other provinces. Magashule has deliberately hindered the investigation into Mahumapelo (the consultative meetings with local officials were often held in remote and sometimes lion-ridden places, gatekeepers kept many relevant people out, etc) and also openly opposed the VAT increase just decreed by the government. Ramaphosa seems powerless to discipline him.
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Richard Stephens
June 7th, 2018
12:06 PM
I've never heard such doom and gloom! What about all the positive things that are happening in South Africa - things that we could only dream about with Zuma at the helm!

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