South Africans hero-worship Mugabe: Cause for concern?

via South Africans hero-worship Mugabe: Cause for concern? 2 October 2014

Almost one year after the death of former President Nelson Mandela, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the man who went to jail for 27 years has been fading as a role model in his own country. Instead, many South Africans hero-worship Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. This is the stark message contained in this gripping analysis about why President Jacob Zuma and others of his ilk are incredibly popular among the majority of voters. Economist Cees Bruggemans and his associate Prof Willie Esterhuyse trace back through history in search of answers to the political dynamics at play in the modern South African economy. – JC

By Cees Bruggemans & Prof Willie Esterhuyse*

Every society has been shaped by its past. What we encounter as our legacy is what has been bequeathed to us by those many generations that preceded us.

When handed the baton, we have to carry on. With the structures, training and talent granted us. In important respects on auto-pilot, determined by what previous generations have laid down. But in critical ways by our own inputs, as we in turn decide what to change, what to challenge, what to leave (for now).

Each one of us in our own specific way. And this aggregated higher in ever greater formations until at the pinnacle of society we encounter government for the people, by the people, of the people, often concentrated in one or more hands. Torch bearers. Leading the Way.

Such leadership positions are important. In providing example and giving direction, offering assistance in interpreting the rules of the game, inherited and freshly coined. For better and worse.

It is on this critical score that the past 60 years (and longer) has offered us mixed messages, as much externally as internally. It behoves us to keep that record fresh in mind, that we may know to do the right things, even after, not unlike Americans, trying every other alternative first.

For the past five hundred years, Western Civilisation has been the dominant change agent in the world. Its initial expansion phase was marked by deep internal conflicts, with Spanish attempts at domination in the 16th century followed by Dutch and British expansion in the 17th, in turn followed by serial contests with France in the 18th, and this extending into the 19th as the modern Germany took shape.

Throughout there had been external challenges aplenty, from the Ottoman Empire in the 16th and 17th century, and Imperial Russia in the 18th.

This process of internal and external challenges to Western Civilisation greatly intensified to an unprecedented degree during the 20th century.

First by Japan, in 1905 when it took on Russia and decisively bested it in a critical navy battle. Then in 1914 when Europe tore itself apart in major war, followed by economic dislocation and poor policy in subsequent decades, followed by yet another major European clash that drew in much of Asia and North America as well.

After which a third clash followed, this not a hot one but a Cold one, in which the main ideological belligerents (Russia and America) did not clash directly but in which they did participate and had allies fight as proxies, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the Middle East, but also in Africa, Latin America and other parts of Asia.

These conflicts were between nation states, but also between systems. In modern times between democracy and authoritarian dictatorships or religious belief systems. Between systems favouring market capitalism, whether or not modified by social democracy, and command systems devoid of such decentralized workings.

In the process old role models (especially colonialism and imperialism) died (indeed frequent deaths, with old ways perhaps still not quite ended when considering Russia, Iran, Chinese stirrings and modern day Caliphates in the making) and freedom gained, spreading extensively, shaped by British and French revolutionary examples and in the image that especially America had cast in its formative years, but building on what it encountered in every location it made its influence felt.

Sometimes countries first adopted the modernising examples offered by Lenin, Stalin and Mao before opting to overthrow these in turn, or reform them from within.

Deng in China was such an internal reformer from within communism. The passive peaceful resistance of Gandhi in India was the direct alternative route.

In a matter of decades, and after much war, most of the world won its freedom or was set free, and was invited to adopt modern constitutions and workable economic systems where previously only a handful of powers had reigned.

For some, this represents the withdrawal and decay of the West, as global balances of power shift decisively. To others, the arrow of history points less clearly. Are we instead witnessing an ever greater modernization and revitalisation, as much internally in countries and regions as externally between them, and its trandencending influences reflected in shifting power balances and centres of gravity in what has become in our time a global Civilisation?

South Africa was a strange mixture of all these processes. Elements had challenged British imperialism in its Great War (1899-1902), losing that conflict but gaining for the first time territorial integrity, and within the decade qualified self-government in Union.

In the process, only a partial modernization was achieved, with society remaining fragmented, and this centrally embodied in the Land Act of 1913.

This incomplete reform became retested from 1960, with South Africa stepping out of the British Commonwealth, declaring a Republic, and British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan warning its leaders about the Winds of Change blowing in Africa.

Instead of taking these signals to heart, Verwoerd escaped into the past, by formalising the apartheid fortress. In subsequent decades it was subjected to corrosive challenges, from within and without, until in 1994 a fully inclusive democracy was founded, with Nelson Mandela its first President.

That, however, only proved to be a beginning for South Africa’s new young Constitution. For Mandela only served one term, after which followed Mbeki and Zuma.

Meanwhile across our northern border, Robert Mugabe had become leader of post-colonial Zimbabwe at a much earlier stage.

Mugabe is an important figure in this discourse, for he is a kind of Verwoerd, in the manner in which he has chosen to interpret the rule of law as bequeathed to him, and recasting it in ways that suited him better.
Hendrik Verwoerd is regarded as the person who conceptualised apartheid.

Hendrik Verwoerd is regarded as the person who conceptualised apartheid.

This sets the scene for our present day challenges. For whereas Mbeki still followed in the footsteps of Mandela, in recent years it apparently has become increasingly doubtful in whose footsteps and in whose image we choose to govern and develop.

Significantly, growing numbers of poor South Africans, excluded young South Africans, and successful professional middle class South Africans hail Mugabe as the leadership example to follow.

This, to say the least, is a disturbing trend, for it seems to favour lawlessness, corruption and arbitrariness as its defining context to effect change, as opposed to the rule of law and constitutionalism favoured by Mandela/Mbeki.

This apparent contrast in offered role models seems to be getting starker by the day, as government proceeds to reinvent the rules governing its conduct while being challenged every step of the way by those favouring strict adherence to Mandela/Mbeki’s brand of constitutionalism.

This, frankly, is no different from the much larger challenges playing out globally this past century, with the main choice being between sensible constitutionalism favouring freedom and the rule of law as compared to the arbitrariness of selective interests.

For the third time in only half a century, South Africans are apparently being offered an ever starker regime choice, between one based on the Mugabe/Verwoerd view of history and their narrow world, and the much broader vision of Mandela/Mbeki Constitutionalism.

One would hope that more leadership voices be heard in this crucial matter where major decisions loom and the long-term future will get shaped while we watch.

As things stand, South Africa today is being subjected to a refined form of coarse “roofbou” (literally meaning agricultural rapacity, exploitative farming such as overgrazing or overcropping, impoverishing the land so that its sustainable carrying capacity diminishes and crop yields collapse).

Early agriculturalists didn’t have the benefit of fertilizers and other modern farming techniques to keep the soil productive. Instead, in a time of sparse population and much unused land, they would plant crops or graze cattle until the soil was exhausted, after which they moved to new lands, and would start a new cycle.

In parts of Africa and Latin America this parasitical approach to farming still remains the practice to this day.

But not only ancient agriculturalists not knowing any better indulged in these practices. Modern day governments sometimes have also shown similarly tendencies. This has been especially so when military coups or populist democratic power shifts sometimes allowed deeply flawed and incompetent people to take over the government of a luckless country, using state levers for ideological pursuit or own enrichment, treating their societies and economies as private fiefdoms, mismanaging resources even when the country was well endowed and could do much better, at worst leading it to total destruction in war or otherwise milking the country at large dry, at the expense of the general welfare.

Examples are what happened under Hitler in Germany, under Mobutu in Zaire, under Peron and today under Kirchner in Argentina, under the Great Leader in North Korea and under Chavez in Venezuela.

These are only the worst modern examples. There have been many more lesser ones, too, but all following the same principle with similar outcomes, invariably costly to the general welfare.

Such piratical excesses, whether public or private, have to be ultimately reined in if the general welfare is to benefit more centrally, transforming poverty and backwardness where it lingers, placing all of society firmly on the road to inclusive economic and social upliftment after having won political sway.

On this crucial dimension, South Africa in recent years appears to have started to lose its way. It is not too late to regain its earlier purpose encapsulated by the promise of inclusive democracy gained in 1994.

In order to give Democracy a chance of succeeding we need a strong state, rule of law and democratic accountability. SA in recent years gives the impression of severe backsliding on all three scores. This regression can be reversed. It will need determined torch bearers to do so.

* Cees Bruggemans is a consulting economist with Bruggemans & Associates and Prof Willie Esterhuyse is a political commentator.


  • comment-avatar
    just saying 8 years ago

    From my own interactions with them I find the ignorance of most South Africans about what is happening elsewhere in Africa to be quite staggering. Similar to that of many Americans, many of whom know little of what happens outside their own state. Obviously the 2 million odd Zimbabweans living in RSA have done little to educate their hosts about living under the corrupt & incompetent rule of Mugabe. At the rate Zimbabwe is imploding Mugabe admirers will soon get a wake up call. Thank goodness there is democracy in RSA so we see Zuma being buffeted from all sides i.e. the public protector, the Democratic Alliance, Julius Malema etc.

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      Phunyukabemphethe 8 years ago

      Even within people of the same country. Check Zim for instance; there is so much ignorance of each other between the different provinces. People in Matebeleland think Mashonaland generically speaking, is better developed, yet apart from Harare this not true.

      In Shona speaking provinces; there seems to be a general belief that everyone in Matebeleland is Ndebele and the numbers of the Ndebele and their influence is extremely exaggerated.

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    Tsuro 8 years ago

    Definitely SA is on route to Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Cuba etc and Malema will become more popular as ANC stubbles and the next leader will probably pursue populist policies to outdo Malema or else Malema makes a surprise victory. Anyway things go in cycles and SA is probably where we were 20 years ago and will likely take the same route especially if they do not educate their people and improve their standard of living

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    Rukweza 8 years ago

    It’s easy to be zimbabwe it might take less than 6months but very difficult to be mzansi

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    Hey whether they hero worship him or not it does not change the fortuned of this country. The average black South African is pretty basic in thinking. For as long as they see themselves outside the economic main stream they will continue to yearn for a strong arm and destructive leader like Mugabe to come and deal with the white establishment.

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    Bazur Wa Kumuzi 8 years ago

    The Apartheid culture and tradition amiongst the hard-core racists and their black DA stoogies make Mugabe, Zuma and others popular amongst the blacks. Judges like Madonsela and all those who enjoy or are burnt on embarrassing the black leadership in South Africa are campaigning for the likes of Mugabe. I urge the ANC to speed up the radical ways of pushing out the whites no matter what it takes then they will realize that racism is foolish. No matter what the ANC does to be reasonable the DA take as a weakness. Julius Malema would be dead if he were in Zimbabwe. Him and and his gang would be castrated but they abuse the moderate path that the ANC has chosen in an effort to accommodate everyone. To hell with the so called rainbow nation that is making the struggle against apartheid and all the sacrifices a joke. That is the language racist and hooligans will understand not sanity or constructive engagement or criticism.

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    Bazur I hope to God the South African the issue more subtly than our gang this side. If the SA governents puts its priorities right instead of going into a feeding frenzy they can redirect the economic wealth of that country for the betterment of the majority.
    its a major challenge but as anyone will tell you there are so many esys to skin a cat. Your way would have catastrophic results for that country and the region if mot the whole of Africa.

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    Mixed Race 8 years ago

    @B W Kumuzi-I am a bit confused with some of your facts-
    1-You refer to Mandosela as a judge when her current job is the public protector which protects the interests of the public against those who want to break the current rules and regulations as per their constitution.What is wrong with that?Have you followed her well presented findings on most of her cases properly with no bias mentality?
    2-In a proper democracy all parties have equal rights ie opposition parties and the ruling party, therefore they have the right to challenge the ruling party through courts with no fear.Remember that in a true democracy,legislator,judicial and executive work independently to ensure true checks in the implementation of the country’s constitution.
    3-S Africans are not docile like us,therefore if the ANC implements hash policies which lead to further economic decline they might face more serious problems from the masses.I do not think they are naive and misguided to implement what you suggest without using real common sense and wisdom.
    4-S Africa may live to regret taking some miscalculated advice from their northern neighbour.We are a global world,therefore rainbow policy is the best, unless you are protecting your inferior qualifications.Tribalism or racism can be stopped using their current constitution without any problems.Never stoop down to your former enemy’s evil level by doing exactly what he did to you,otherwise you conquered him to replace his evils with your worse ones.

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      @Mixed race Brother, that is why I was so disappointed when you decided to stop contributing on this forum. You come out with such good contributions. Short of praise for anyone on this kind of a forum all we can do is talk like we used to in the buses. I am glad you are back in full force. Hopefully we can get more of those that were here coming back. We need to talk so that we get healing. @Bazur Wa Kumuzi you always get deep. I just love it. Guys keep it up. After all who are we? ZIMBABWEANS. Today I say respect to you all.I am Doctor do little.

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    Ndebvu Mukomichi 8 years ago

    Interesting-South african hero worshipping Bob!
    Meaning they also like his disciple Juju!

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    Baba Jukwa's Tokolshe 8 years ago

    If the South Africans want to worship Mugabe – they will create their own Tokoloshe that will also come after them. The Tokoloshe will deal with South African Mugabe Mujibas if they carry on with this nonsense.

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    Munya Makota 8 years ago

    SA has a vibrant democrasy. The education system didn’t and still presents a challenge for political change. Obviouslythe ssituation isn’t helped by the high levels of corruption. Again this is a phase all nations go through leading to political awakening
    Truth be said the sect nine institutions and the judiciary have saved the country, it would have been another Zim.
    Ppl in general are politically illiterate being nanipulated easily despite levels of education Zim is another example.
    The difference between the two countries is the level of understanding. Whereas a zimbo appreciates value and the role of government that of creating an enabling environment, here government is seen as a provider. I don’t think that the majority of people admire Bob perse bt reality is that there’s racism at an unacceptable level tweny years after independence and ppl yearn for equality. Some want drastic change which unfortunately is not possible because of the constitition and to some extent an unwillingness on the part of the ANC because they don’t want to upset capital. South Africa is blessed with an abundance of natural resources which has also shielded it. Bt the question is for how long. Lastly there’s nothing wrong in demanding capital to share after all resources are depleting and fast. So its not that Bob is admired but reality sinking. Bob was right but went overboard and ended up eating our children. Resources must be shared.

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      Don Cox 8 years ago

      The best route to prosperity is to encourage the growth of small businesses. Taxes should be kept low for small and medium companies.

      Help with training in IT, safety, etc should be provided.

      All without any restrictions based on skin colour or language.

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    revenger avenger 8 years ago

    Zumaland. Mugabeland. Laughing stocks. Examples of pompous arrogance. Kikikiki. Really third rate authors give them 14/100 for trying to impress

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    Nduru 8 years ago

    I think even Grace Mugabe would have written a more coherent article. This is a load of hogwash by these supposed ‘experts’.

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    Phunyukabemphethe 8 years ago

    Black South Africans hail Mugabe each time he visits South Africa, not because he is a good leader, but because of the manner he treats whites.

    South Africa has about +6 million whites – a total of the whole of Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland populations put together. Roughly half Zimbabwe’s total population as a whole. This is the biggest number of a white population any African country has ever heard even during colonial times. South African whites are far more entrenched both socially and economically in the country. They are not linked to any colonial power and therefore regard South Africa as home.

    It is the Apartheid racial policies of the past, that has made it every difficult for the new ANC black government to overhaul the whole socio-economic edifice without risking the destruction of the economy. Over and above that, racist attitudes and abuse against the majority blacks and the black government still continue to this day among these same whites. The Bantu education of the past has also made it difficult for the government to shake the system since very few qualified blacks were available to run the sophisticated South African economy.

    For this reason alone, Mugabe’s railing against the white world is a boon for the black South African’s self confidence. However, if you ask them – none of them would be willing to live under a Mugabe government. Despite his many shortcomings, President Jacob Zuma is still a much better option – where it to come to that Hobson’s choice!!