South Africa post-democracy bears an uncanny resemblance to many scenarios in post-apocalyptic fiction. Massive existential shake-up? Check, apartheid’s spectacular collapse. Survivors rebuilding and trying to find ways of living in a much-changed world? Check. A cast of would-be heroes, actual heroes, anti-heroes and villains? Check, check, check and check. So it might not be unreasonable to think these fictional accounts of the future might cast some much-needed perspective on where we are.
In David Brin’s novel, The Postman, the protagonist, Gordon Krantz, undertakes a perilous journey across bandit-infested lands to meet with George Powhatan, a hero and seasoned warrior by anyone’s account. In risking his own life to meet with Powhatan, Krantz hoped to convince the hulking champion of champions to join the battle to save the town of Corvalis, a spark of civilisation amid post-apocalyptic desolation, from radical survivalists determined to embed feudalism and make serfs of the populace. To Krantz’s disbelief, Powhatan refuses despite the lure of being a central figure in something that could be game changing, not just for Corvalis’ populace, but for all of humanity.
Brin, through Krantz’s dream of a conversation with Benjamin Franklin, infers this of Powhatan’s reluctance to rush to potential glory: “It’s said that ‘power corrupts’, but actually it’s more that power attracts the corruptible. The sane are usually attracted by other things than power. When they do act, they think of it as service, which has limits. The tyrant, though, seeks mastery, for which he is insatiable, implacable.”
I am reminded of this by the power struggle currently being waged in the centenarian, and some would say senile, African National Congress. While the party has within its ranks men and women like Powhatan – strong, principled and just – it is the power-hungry and militant survivalists that have risen to the top. Without having admitted such intentions, these survivalists have set out to establish a system of “neo-feudalism” so they may share the resultant modern fiefdoms among themselves. And, like bad apples, these survivalists attempt to co-opt those who may stand in their path into their way of life.
Premier Cassel Mathale’s Limpopo is one such fiefdom. There has been no shortage of scandal emerging from the province, the latest being the report that Mathale has been divvying up plots of prime Polokwane real estate among his vassals. Add that to the endless list of tender-related irregularities and actual instances of massive corruption found in the province by the auditor-general and other watchdog institutions, and you will understand that Mathale held on to the ANC Limpopo chairmanship during the December electoral conference by the hair of the skin of his teeth. Not because he failed the people of the province, but because he and his cohorts now seek to replace the incumbent party leader they once supported militantly with one they hope will allow them to continue their self-enrichment.
So as the Hawks circle, the Public Protector attempts to, well, protect and Section 100 of the Constitution is invoked, let us not be tempted into believing that something is finally being done to end the wanton plunder and performance failures. Au contraire, my dear serfs. What we are witnessing is a battle among feudal lords for control – fought not with swords and longbows, but using the checks and balances in our Constitution.
But Limpopo is not the sole fiefdom where plunder goes on unchecked. Eastern Cape, for example, is a hotbed of corruption and administration failures. Health, education and just about every other area that is a provincial administration competency is in crisis. Yet because of the provincial administration’s loyalty to the ANC’s ruling faction, the big changes in leadership needed for the province to function have been slow to happen, if at all. See, along with that of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape ANC’s vote in the party’s upcoming national conference in Mangaung could prove key to who controls the country come 2014, which is why the ANC’s ruling faction has trodden carefully in the province.
Delivering the ANC’s annual 8 January address, president Jacob Zuma spoke of taking urgent and practical steps to end factionalism within the party, but was scant on details of how this would be achieved. He also failed to note the irony. Factionalism is how he survived rape case upon corruption scandal to lead the party. Zuma’s political career is dependent on factionalism and, short of wiping out other opposing factions like a mob boss, he can never free himself of it. This is why, for all his ingratiating rhetoric, Zuma will never be able to end factionalism within the ANC.
“Who will take responsibility?” is the refrain in The Postman.
In our scenario, it could be said it was supposed to have been the Powhatans within the ANC. But they’re battle-worn and have lost much, including their fighting spirit. Hamstrung by being on the inside – one of the so-called sins of incumbency – they fight now for the smaller things that maintain the semblance that our hard-fought-for freedom is still intact. Like Krantz, we can risk life and limb, cross bandit country to convince them to join the battle to save the country. We can spill gallons of ink penning impassioned columns pleading that this is not the South Africa they fought for. Or we, serfs, can realise that we are not serfs at all.
“Constitutional checks and balances…won’t mean a thing unless citizens make sure the safeguards are taken seriously,” says Brin’s fictional Franklin. How we, citizens, actually make sure the safeguards are taken seriously is perhaps the subject of a separate column, but Franklin answers the question of this one. Our post-apocalyptic parallel is not a Tina Turner song and this is not the “Thunderdome”. The country’s salvation is not contingent on the emergence of a streetwise Hercules. Label me an idealist if it pleases you, but it will not detract from the truth of this. You, my fellow South Africans, should take responsibility. DM
Osiame Molefe is a writer with a keen interest in the space where personal and societal ambitions intersect with technology, politics and economics. That intersect right now, in South Africa, has brought him to observing, researching and writing on racial and gender inequality, and how well, or poorly, dialogue around these issues takes place. His column deals with these and issues tangential. When he is not writing news, analysis and opinion, he reads speculative fiction and writes some, too. Rumour is he single-handedly keeps the South African sparkling wine industry afloat. In a former life, he worked as a chartered accountant in New York, Bermuda and Johannesburg, but has since fled that industry in pursuit of a life less grey. He holds a bachelors degree in accountancy from Rhodes University, but don’t let that fool you into believing he has a head for numbers. He does not.
All tortoises are actually turtles. Some turtles however are not tortoises.