Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Is South Africa following Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe declined gradually. It wasn't an overnight disintegration. Initially there was hope. They were economically powerful and a country with regional and international significance.

Then came signs. Issues that made people shake their heads: The Matabele tragedy; the mistreatment of white farmers; the quelling of opposition. Yet all the while, hope still held strong that the sound fundamentals of the country would keep it afloat.

Now it's a mess. Cholera, starvation, corruption, intimidation. The gradual incremental signs have snowballed until the breadbasket became a basket case.

Now, those same signs are growing more prevalent in South Africa.

Signs have been about for some time. One of the strongest early symbols of South African political degeneration came at the highest levels of government with Mbeki's ignorant early response to the AIDS pandemic.

Years later, Zuma took it to a new level with his alleged rape of an HIV infected family friend, and how he showered afterwards to protect himself against the virus.

But the scary signs continue in other ways.

A year ago, a xenophobic outburst saw 60 foreigners killed and numerous others raped, beaten and tortured. Yet there hasn't been a single arrest.

Recently, the Sowetan newspaper quoted opposition leader Ms Zille as saying: "Zuma is a self-confessed womaniser with deeply sexist views, who put all his wives at risk by having unprotected sex with an HIV-positive woman."

In response to this "true" statement, Ms Zille has been accused of being racist. The ANC Youth League (could this be scarily familiar to the Zimbabwe war veterans) then released a statement threatening to take militant action against Ms Zille if she continued to talk "hogwash".

The league said it was "disgusted by remarks attributed to the racist girl Helen Zille, who when failing to defend her stupid and sexist decision to appoint predominantly white males into her Cabinet, attacks the president".

While the words didn't come from Zuma himself, time will tell how he handles the criticism of a robust democracy. Opposition by nature criticizes the government for their shortcomings. Will Zuma accept the criticism and govern well? Or will he be more like Mugabe, squashing the opposition and becoming increasingly tyrannical?

Many people around the world have the same misgivings over President Zuma's record of sexual conduct. Even if he was innocent of rape, his polygamist attitudes and indifference toward AIDS was startling. The only good news is that it's too early to tell which path he will follow.

Time will tell. In the meantime, we'll do what we always do, keep hoping.

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