One of the most striking characteristics of the run-up to South Africa’s elections has been the indecent rush to endorse Jacob Zuma by the country’s political class. Almost as soon as the national prosecutor announced the dropping of corruption charges against Zuma, the number of people claiming to be his friend increased dramatically. No obstacle was left to stop him becoming President, and so the mob hurried to prove they had been on his side all along.
That entailed very publicly sticking the knife into Thabo Mbeki, most commonly via open letters to the press and media. These missives denounce Mbeki as man of corruption for having instigated the charges against Zuma for political reasons, and for using his high office to persecute a colleague. They do not deliberate on whether the charges against Zuma had any validity.
Many of those rushing to proclaim their support were once close friends of Mbeki. In South African political circles, it seems the elections exist primarily to determine whose arse to lick in order to preserve or advance one’s own position.
Meanwhile, a huge statue of Nelson Mandela, the symbol of the brave new South Africa, looms over a square named in his honour. It is smiling as it presides over a public space dominated by the luxury cars of the rich and powerful, and extremely difficult to access as a pedestrian. The area is Johannesburg’s Knightsbridge, a vast pageant of South African consumerism and wealth. When Mandela came to power, he was symbolic of the idealism of his long-beleagured countrymen, and hopes for genuine change – for re-distribution of wealth, for the poor and oppressed majority to finally be represented.
But Mandela’s statue now watches over an elite class for whom the prevailing aspiration is to be rich and to retain one’s closeness to power by whatever means. A class which will get the leader it deserves in Zuma. Yet the majority of South Africans, who remain trapped in horrific deprivation, deserve so much more.