We all know how President Robert (Bob) Mugabe has been responsible for governing Zimbabwe into a country ridden with poverty, unemployment, and intimidation. A country without free elections. A country whose unbelievable potential has been squandered. Yet for the first 10 years or so from when he took power in 1980 as Prime Minister, the country prospered. It was rich in minerals, an exporter of food, and had an excellent education system. In 1987 he became President, and the allure of power became too great, and he is still president 24 years later, well past his sell-by date.
|Robert "Bob" Mugabe|
Perhaps the issue for which Mugabe is best known is the eviction of Whites from their farms and the redistribution of the farmland to “war veterans”, apparently those who took part in the struggle against White domination of the country. However, many of these “war veterans’ weren’t even born at the end of the Rhodesian Civil War. The tragic outcome of the land redistribution policy was a catastrophic decline in agricultural productivity. The “war veterans’ had no clue how to grow crops. The once wonderfully productive land now lies largely useless.
On the other hand, South Africa, after the democratic elections in 1994, took a different approach. Land that could be shown to have been taken by Whites from Black communities was bought at fair market value and given back. Although this has also resulted in previously productive farmland declining in productivity, the method of redistribution has largely been successful and without major issues.
The question, of course, is whether this will continue to be the case.
|Julius "Juju" Malema. Photo: Gary van der Merwe|
What raises my doubts is the growing influence of Julius Malema, known as Juju, who is the head of the youth league of the ruling African National Congress (ANCYL). He is charismatic and very confrontational. He also purposefully appeals to the large number of unemployed and poor in South Africa – even while maintaining a lifestyle of which anyone would be envious. He is building a large home in one of the most affluent areas of Johannesburg; he drives in some of the most expensive cars; and he openly says that the poor don’t worry that he is rich.
It is also unclear how he can afford such a lifestyle, because the salary of his job in no way could support it. Perhaps that he is currently under investigation for bid rigging suggests how he has managed this.
But it is his position on a number of issues that raises concern. First, he proposes nationalizing the rich mines of South Africa. I certainly agree that the country should benefit from its resources, but history generally shows that government-run mines do not prosper.
Second, he is now calling for the expropriation of land without compensation. This not only scares all the non-Black South Africans (Whites, Indians, Chinese, and Coloureds (of mixed blood)), who comprise 20% of the population, but will certainly adversely affect investment in the country. More worrying, his current position is that the whole country was stolen from the Blacks. It is irrelevant to the situation that southern Africa was inhabited by the Khoisan before either the Blacks or Whites arrived. It is also irrelevant that Blacks did not inhabit large tracts of what is now South Africa. What is relevant is that his call appeals to so many who feel (erroneously, in my opinion) that they have nothing to lose.
Third, he now is calling for the nationalization of other sectors of the South African economy, which will also negatively impact outside investment. Again, history shows that without external investment, countries like South Africa decline in affluence, and it is the poor who suffer the most. South Africa’s neighbour Zimbabwe is the obvious and most recent example.
Unfortunately history and logic do not enter into the equation. Juju appeals to millions of people who quite rightly have much to complain about. Even though evidence that his approach will not work is right on their doorstep (for example there are an estimated 3 million Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa, mostly illegally), their desperation makes them gravitate to Juju. What have they got to lose?
And I think this is bad news for the country.
What is also troubling is that Juju is trying to export his brand of politics. Recently he advocated that his Youth League actively support the opposition party in Botswana, another South African neighbour. For the past 45 years since independence, Botswana has been regarded as one of the leading lights in Africa. It is peaceful, democratic, and prosperous. The government enjoys a 50-50 partnership with DeBeers in the mining of diamonds and has used the proceeds to improve the infrastructure of the country.
Why does Juju want to change the Botswana government? It is difficult to figure out. Is it because the President, Ian Khama, is of mixed blood? Is it because the country is peaceful? Or is it because Juju wants to spread his influence. It is hard to understand. What is interesting is that final arguments are set for today in an internal investigation run by the ruling ANC that Juju has overstepped his limits and is bringing the reputation of the ANC into disrepute. What this really means is that the senior ANC members are worried that Juju poses a threat to their own power. We are all waiting impatiently to see what the outcome is.
It is easy for me to dismiss Juju as a troublemaker and leave it at that. But he is rapidly gaining in influence, which is very worrying for those of us who believe that the current government is doing a pretty good job.
Personally, I think that if Juju and his policies prevail, he could very well become another Mugabe – enjoying a lavish lifestyle at the expense of the well-being of the country and its citizens.
Will he prevail?
Juju will only gain in popularity if the ANC fails to address more aggressively issues of unemployment and poverty in the country and if it fails to hold him accountable for any transgressions, such as bid-rigging.
He is thumbing his nose at the establishment, and I am nervous that he is going to get away with it.
Stan - Thursday