Magazine article The Spectator

South Africa's Future Will Not Be Civil War but Sad Decay

Magazine article The Spectator

South Africa's Future Will Not Be Civil War but Sad Decay

Article excerpt

When the winter rains closed in on Cape Town I thought, bugger this, I'm selling up and moving somewhere sunny. To this end, I asked the char, Mrs Primrose Gwayana, to come in and help spruce up the house. We were scrubbing and painting and what have you when Primrose's broom bumped the dining table, and crack -- a leg snapped off, its innards hollowed out by wood-borers. I thought, uh-oh, here's an omen. Something awful is going to happen. And it has.

Nine months ago South Africa seemed to be muddling through in a happy-go-lucky fashion. The economy was growing, albeit slowly. Trains ran, if not exactly on time. If you called the police, they eventually came.

We thought our table was fairly solid, and that we would sit at it indefinitely, quaffing that old Rainbow Nation ambrosia. Now, almost overnight, we have come to the dismaying realisation that much around us is rotten. Nearly half our provinces and municipalities are said to be on the verge of collapse. A murderous succession dispute has broken out in the ruling African National Congress. Our Auditor-General reportedly has sleepless nights on account of the billions that cannot be properly accounted for.

Whites have been moaning about such things for years, but you know you're in serious trouble when President Thabo Mbeki admits the 'naked truth' that his government has been infiltrated by chancers seeking to 'plunder the people's resources'.

I knew in my bones that it would come to this, but somewhere along the line I got tired of stinking up my surroundings with predictions of doom, so I shut up and went with the flow. Ergo, I cannot say I told you so. But I have a pretty good idea why things went wrong, and it all began with 'transformation', a euphemism for ridding the Civil Service of whites, especially white males.

Under apartheid, those chaps ran everything. Clearly this had to change, but white males carried the institutional memory in their brains, and the blacks who replaced them tended to flounder. This led to what we call 'capacity problems', a euphemism for blacks who couldn't or wouldn't carry out the jobs for which they were paid. Capacity problems in turn led to crises in electricity supply, refuse removal, road maintenance, healthcare, law enforcement and so on.

Again, white malcontents have complained about such things for years, but you know you're in trouble when an eminent black journalist like Justice Malala dismisses the Mbeki administration as an 'outrage', characterised by 'a shocking lack of leadership' on the part of a Cabinet riddled with 'incompetent, inept and arrogant' buffoons.

In short, we're in crisis. Everyone acknowledges it, but somehow we never see firm corrective action. Previously we were told it was awkward for a black liberation movement to purge black appointees, even if they were useless. This year a new excuse emerged.

Back in April, around the time of the ominous table-leg incident, the actress Janet Suzman and I dined with a bossy American woman who bit my head off when I opined that our recently deposed deputy president, Jacob Zuma, would one day step into Nelson Mandela's shoes. For a foreign feminist, it was unthinkable that a man with four years of schooling and rape and corruption charges pending should become president of anything.

My explanations to the contrary were dismissed as racist rubbish, but let me air them anyway.

Zuma is a Zulu, and when he became a target for criminal investigation, many fellow tribesmen suspected he was being stitched up by President Mbeki, who was reputedly keen to eliminate him as a potential successor. Conspiracists noted that Mbeki was a Xhosa, and that various members of what we call the 'Xhosa nostra' had become billionaires as a result of their political connections, whereas Zuma's allegedly improper payments were limited to a trifling £100,000. They found it even more fishy that the sad and desperate young woman who invited herself to spend a night in Zuma's home, only to accuse him of rape in the aftermath, was acquainted with the minister of intelligence Ronnie Kasrils, a KGBtrained master of the dark arts of espionage, presumably including honey traps. …

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