South Africa held its elections on May 7 and the victorious Jacob Zuma, was inaugurated for a second term on Saturday May 24th. It was a ceremony marked by dance, prayer, a 21-gun salute and air force flyovers.
Our President, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan was there with his entourage and I hope they took notice of the clear difference in the way the South Africans conduct their politics and what we do in the name of politics here.
There were clear issues before the electorate who turned out on May 7 to cast their votes all over South Africa. The ANC’s enduring popularity came under challenge. Its glorious past as the conqueror of Apartheid is receding into history – the elections this year featured the “born frees” who were born after apartheied and reached 18 years. The issues at stake were not apartheid but voters focused instead on the sluggish economic growth and a slew of scandals that have typified Zuma’s first term.
Africa’s most sophisticated economy has struggled to recover from a 2009 recession – its first since 1994 – and the ANC’s efforts to stimulate growth and tackle 25 percent unemployment were the major issues hotly debated.
The elections saw the rise of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a new opposition party that wants to redistribute national resources to the poor. In a spirited challenge, the ultra-leftist party led by expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema came out with a manifesto to nationalize banks and mines and seize white-owned farms without compensation.
At his last campaign rally in Pretoria he said to a thunderous applause that “London must know that we’re not scared of the queen. We shall not report to London. We will report to the people. The people of South Africa will decide how business is conducted in South Africa. We are taking everything.”
On May 7, the ruling African National Congress won the elections, continuing its political dominance since the end of the apartheid system that it had fought for decades. The party retains a comfortable majority.
All through the elections, the ethnic origins of the Presidential candidates were not the issue. Zuma did not cry out that he was being pushed out of office because he was Zulu; neither did his opponents base their claims to power because “this is our turn”. No. The issue in the debate was not where the candidate came from but what he has done or what he will do with the trust given to him by the voter. The voting itself was efficient and peaceful. The electoral body did not wake up one day to discover that the materials needed for the election were not ready or had been diverted to another destination by its own officials. There was minimum violence and unruly behavior on the part of the voters. There were no roving gangs and killer squads snatching ballot boxes and killing those who merely wanted to vote.
At the end of it all, there was no litigation. The losers knew that this was a free and fair game in which the wishes of the people were freely expressed. They accepted the people’s verdict. Let us compare each of these stages with what goes on in Nigeria. Are we anywhere near the civilised conduct in South Africa?
The campaigns are a cacophony on ethnicity, religion and region. The elections are a bedlam of incompetence by the electoral body, thugery, murder and fraud by the politicians. This produces results that are anything but the people’s verdict. That explains why there is a rush to the courts. But the judiciary also jumps into the fray, delivering judgments based on fantasies and not facts or refusing to look into the facts of the cases based on some contrived technicalities.
In 1999 a senior South African journalist, MaththaTsedu came to Nigeria to cover the elections that brought to an end military dictatorship that year. In an article published in The Guardian, he gave a very objective account of what he found to be wrong with Nigeria. I found his account so incisive that I published it in the Crystal International News Magazine which I edited at the time.
As a first time visitor, Nigeria made him both angry and sad. This is the country that fought so hard for the liberation of his people from racial bigotry. But as he put it, he found the country deeply in stuck in the mud of tribalism. In his interviews with Nigerians he reported that “for as long as the discussion was on global or even continental issues, progressive ideas would flow, but once the discussion shifted to Nigeria, every one to a man or woman became so tribal in his analysis that it shocked me. It seems at least to me that Nigerians have allowed problems that face them to take them to some origin and then stuck there.”
Fifteen years after we started the democratic journey, we are still stuck there. The South Africa that we as students demonstrated and wanted guns to go and fight for its liberation; the South Africa that we as civil servants contributed our salaries to ensure its freedom; the South Africa that we as musicians sang for its freedom is now free and moving ahead – looking at issues that effect their daily lives progressively.
Nigeria, our poor Nigeria is still stuck there – talking tribalism, embarking on mindless violence, kidnapping school girls etc. It is sad. But we should not lose hope. The South Africa we helped to liberate is still there. Maybe it is time we call on South African’s to come and pay us back. We too need some form of liberation.