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The Africa of Zuma

Published:Thursday | December 13, 2012 | 12:00 AM
South African President Jacob Zuma.-File
Ramesh Sujanani, Guest Columnist

Ramesh Sujanani, Guest Columnist

DURING OUR Jamaica Independence celebrations, we had a visit from President of South Africa Jacob Zuma, a person of a Zulu heritage. While here, there was a violent incident occurring at a platinum mine in South Africa which, based on what is reported, is partly controlled by Mr Zuma through his union, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and he had to hurry back.

Zuma is also the president of the African National Congress (ANC), the ruling party of South Africa; consequently, Jacob Zuma had been elected president in 2007 after defeating incumbent Thabo Mbeki at an ANC conference. At that time, Zuma was also a member of the South African Communist Party, but he left to return to the ANC when Mbeki was recalled by the ANC. The ANC believed, and a court also ruled, that Zuma was unfairly treated in his prosecution for corruption. The charges were thereafter dismissed on the grounds of interference (by Mbeki).

illustrious past

Zuma has had the distinction of serving prison sentence with Nelson Mandela at Robben Island, along with other notable ANC leaders. Zuma was in line to succeed Mbeki on the 18th of December, 2007. Zuma was ahead of Mbeki at the nomination conference, and succeeded as head of the ANC, and therefore became the titular president of South Africa. Then days later, Zuma was arrested by prosecuting authorities on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud. Apparently, there was some intent from Mbeki to press the charges, out of prejudice to Zuma. An acting president of the ANC was sworn in, the ANC ruled Mbeki unfit to serve, leaving the door open to Zuma who won the elections in May 2009 and became president of South Africa.

Zuma describes himself as a socialist, and received support from women voters and youth leaders of the ANC, seeking 'the redistribution of wealth'. Yet he was quick to assure local and overseas financiers that their investments were secure.

At this time, Jacob Zuma is not the president of South Africa; he has to wait until the people vote him in again once more, in two weeks. His party, the ANC, believes he will be returned, but allegations about political corruption and a rapist who discards HIV protection, the incident at the mine, decries his suitability as PM, and he needs to go back to the electorate. His reputation on gay rights was also unacceptable; at one time he protested their rights, and at another he vouched for them.

When at first it appeared and was reported that miners from an operational Platinum Lonmin (Marikana) mine shot and killed police officers and other miners, this rumour was put to rest when it was shown that the police were the ones who shot the miners.

social divide

While the authorities and mine owners were investigating the circumstances, rising tensions at the mine exploded in September 2012 in grisly violence as police opened fire on striking miners. Bloodstained bodies lay strewn about a field in a police response reminiscent of the ugly days of apartheid. Police have not released a death toll, but a South African Press Association reporter counted 18 corpses. It's feared more could be dead. Witnesses described the scene as chaotic, making it seemingly impossible to determine who started firing on whom first. The South African Police Service, though, issued a statement subsequently indicating its members trying to "disarm and disperse a heavily armed group of illegal gatherers at Lonmin mine" when they were fired upon. They returned live arms fire killing and wounding many. Why rubber bullets, tear gas, water hose were not used remains a mystery for a sophisticated country like South Africa.

Eventually, the miners were charged with murder under an anti-apartheid law, which surprised the community of South Africa who thought the law had long been disbanded. Returning from his visits abroad to Jamaica from the 50th Independence celebrations and from a conflict problem in Mozambique, Jacob Zuma assessed the enormity of the problem and decided to appoint a commission of enquiry.

The police maintained their self-defence stance, because of frequent provocation by miners in previous days. But the social tiger raised its growling head, making Marikana the battleground of class and culture, creating a social divide.

Zuma regained control in spite of the massacre, but his administration at the ANC is divided, so all considerations will have to wait until he returns, or is replaced.

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