Friday, September 14, 2012

A Familiar Place

Our PM in January visited South Africa and its government, the African National Congress (ANC). You might not read too much into it if you don’t know South African politics (I am not well versed at all). However having read a little into South African history and current affairs, you might notice something – as if you’ve heard of it before.

Let’s go back a few years. History-wise, they are not entirely similar, because British, through the Union of South Africa Act, established a united South Africa but reserves political rights for white. Unlike in this country, we were never treated as horribly because of our color – not that we were treated wonderfully either.

In 1948, the pro-Afrikaner National Party got elected and begins instituting apartheid. I’m sure I don’t really need to explain what that is.

In 1961, a certain Nelson Mandela urges ANC to launch an armed struggle and in 1964 he and other ANC leaders got jailed. In 1990, Mandela is freed from prison and 4 years later he becomes the first democratically elected President of South Africa. In 1999 Thabo Mbeki succeeds Mandela and in 2009, Jacob Zuma replaced Mbeki. Jacob Zuma is the one our PM met.

Jacob Zuma by the way, was sacked as Vice President in 2005 by Mbeki after being charged with corruption and tried for rape (he was acquitted).Zuma then forced Mbeki out of office in 2008. You might think this is where the similarity lies as there is hint of resemblance to affairs in Malaysia – the Mahathir-Anwar 1998 debacle. But it’s actually quite different because Zuma won in the end.

Let’s get back to current affairs. South Africa’s economy is growing steadily since its apartheid days; however income inequality has also been growing to the detriment of those not well connected politically. Their situation is worst, I believe, with 8.7 million people out of its 50 million-population (mostly black) earning less than $1.25 a day.

There is now a phenomenon in the African country, known as tenderpreneur – describing those who get rich from government contracts or from dispensing them for kickbacks. Now this sounds eerily similar. The national Special Investigating Unit reckons that up to a quarter of annual state spending is wasted through overpayment and graft. The Auditor General says a third of all government departments have awarded contracts to companies owned by officials or their families – cow anyone? A bit too famooliar.

Those being investigated for suspected corruption include two ministers, the country’s top policeman and the head of ANC’s Youth League. Hmm, cow, Jakim and well, ex-top policeman. Let’s extend that to include AG and ex-ministers. But of course, all deny the charges, there and here.

Zuma however, has taken action having sacked two ministers, suspended top officials including the police chief and set up an independent inquiry into an arms deal. They have done more than our government in that sense.

Zuma himself is tainted by corruption charges – he was linked to the arms deal through one of his advisers who was jailed in 2005 for soliciting bribes on his behalf (he was Vice President then). Where have I heard that before? But wait, the adviser to the story closer to home didn’t get jailed. Moving on...

Now with such a record, why does the ANC get voted in year-in-year-out? Why do they control more than 2/3 of parliament? 

They invoke their legend. You cannot turn your back on legend and this is what the older generation of South Africans say. Admittedly, ANC has a powerful legacy. They got black South Africans out of the doldrums of apartheid. Much like how UMNO claim they fought for freedom. Of course ANC’s fight and UMNO’s fight is totally different - the way it was fought was also different.

The younger generation blames the older generation for electing ANC as government. However times have changed and ANC is no longer all-powerful throughout the nation. They’ve been losing seats. They’ve also lost three previously safe seats in local by-elections. The opposition is gaining ground, the Democratic Alliance (DA)’s support rose from 1.7% in 1996 general election to 16.7% in 2009.

Historically, demographically and geographically they are a different nation. But overall, they’re not that different from us. Weird eh?

*this was post was written and published in this here blog first http://suaraserak.blogspot.com in January, but since I'm not writing anything new so I thought I'd just post this again...also most information I got from Times magazine.