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There’s no difference between Zuma in prison or in Nkandla; our lives are not going to change in any meaningful way

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

While I understand the venom towards Jacob Zuma, it does not excuse us from using him as a distraction in dealing with the plight of black South Africans. Black people are crying, let’s not ignore it to our collective peril. If you think what we experienced during the July riots was dangerous, wait until the masses come to that simple realisation that we can simply take.

When a baby cries, usually it denotes hunger, pain or irritation with something or someone, and the quickest way to shut the baby up is with a pacifier or a baby dummy. What am I getting at you may wonder?

Well, just two months ago, all hell broke loose in Mzansi and many of our white citizens felt a huge sense of anxiety and fear. This is it, some exclaimed. Finally, the militant showdown predicted by so many, for years. The blacks have had enough and our private property, our businesses and indeed ourselves are in grave danger. Let us rally around and protect ourselves and our communities.

Almost immediately we saw some white and Indian compatriots gather outside in their respective streets, armed and ready to retaliate if needs be. A frenzy of discussions, reflections and seminars took place to understand these phenomena. The sheer destruction and looting, the anger that engulfed the process, sent shivers down our spines. We are next!

Conspiracy theories abounded, of sabotage, insurrection and/or a failed coup attempt. Ministers were at each other’s throats to define it and what their respective roles were in it in order to quell it.

And for a brief moment, the slightest of seconds, our white compatriots dared to ask the real questions. For just a brief moment, they confronted the ugly truth of the historical injustice meted out over centuries against their fellow black men and women. What must be done? How do we avoid a repeat of such devastation and indeed, how do we avoid slipping into another Zimbabwe. We stand to lose it all. All our white privileges, our private property (land) and for the most part, our ill-gotten inherited wealth.

In the end, we as South Africans stood together black and white, we looked beyond the past and envisaged a united future. We said, not in my name. But this required us all to redouble our efforts in confronting the difficult questions and working towards a shared future. One of equality, free from abject poverty and where most of us live in relative dignity.

But because things calmed down so quickly, because blame was apportioned so fast, complacency crept back in and before you knew it, we were back to pretending that all is well in Mzansi. A Cabinet reshuffle and a R350 grant to the poorest in society and all is well again. Bravo!

No more difficult questions nor difficult acknowledgements of the historical injustice. Instead, we do what we do so well as whites, as liberals and as the middle class, we deflect attention away from the real problems and away from us and we give importance and credence to frivolous things such as the medical parole of an old former president of SA, Jacob Zuma.

While the youth and frustrated unemployed poor in our country are crying due to our triple challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty. While they vent their anger through looting and destruction, we hand them a pacifier to make them stop crying. Make them forget about the real questions, the skewed structural nature of our economy. The fact that large tracts of land remain in white hands, that the largest share of economic might remains in white hands and that the private sector, both schooling and healthcare, by and large, serve their needs and therefore they need not worry about the public sector at all. That public sector is a government problem after all.

I get that we are all upset with Zuma, he made a joke of us as South Africans. He, in only nine years, reversed our gains on so many fronts. As I stated previously, when we pray for the rain, we must deal with the mud. Zuma was the rain which many thought would bring prosperity and growth, hence so many supported the unceremonious and callous departure of Thabo Mbeki in 2008, but instead we got the mud of dirty politics, political killings, corruption, junk status and State Capture.

Ironically, in my opinion, many of you supported this move because Mbeki was a black president asking the difficult questions. He was the one who reminded us of the historical injustice at every turn. He spoke of such a dangerous thing called black pride and the African Renaissance. He had to go, why? Because these were the uncomfortable questions we so desperately want to avoid. And so, Zuma was a good alternative at the time. Little did we know.

I understand the venom towards Zuma, but it does not excuse us to use him as a pacifier  in dealing with the plight of blacks in South Africa. Blacks are crying, let’s not ignore it or ignore it to our collective peril. Because if you think what we experienced two months ago was dangerous, wait until the masses come to that simple realisation that we can simply take, like we did in July. And I hear you talking about a failed state because one of the indicators is being able to provide safety and security to one’s population, but what if that security is provided at the expense of the majority? What then?

So let us stop pretending that we are so appalled with the short incarceration and subsequent medical parole of Zuma. Our lives are not going to change in any meaningful way whether he is in prison or at his homestead in Nkandla. What is however going to meaningfully change the lives of the poor and downtrodden is an honest and sober taking stock of what exactly represents historical injustice and how we collectively must make sacrifices to find lasting solutions.

This is what the Zuma medical parole debacle represents as far as many are concerned. A mere pacifier or baby dummy, and we will not fall for it. Do the right thing! You know you must. DM

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  • Really, Oscar it seems you know nothing about economics and avoid identifying the failed ideology that keeps the poor poor! I am sure most middle class black families felt the same as the uncaring whites you use to illustrate your piece. You have lost the plot!

  • What is the right thing? You don’t say. Zuma is an irrelevance to the future. Your column is premised on assumptions that aren’t true today. Do you even live in SA?

  • Oscar, we know that there is inequality, that the country is a powder keg and that things need to change and quickly so.
    But it is YOUR master crook, your ex-president whose thievery and deceit has made a bad situation worse. For those of us who are deeply involved in creating a better and more just SA it is disheartening to see that Zuma’s trickery prevents justice from being done. The same applies to a large part of your beloved party, crooks getting away with murder. Do you lay the blame for the political killings we are seeing in KZN at the doors of the whiteys? We have a president who sits on his hand and appears to be afraid of his own shadow. Have you ever considered that if he would do the right thing and sort out the Augean stable, he could ignore the RET faction and other ANC crooks, because millions of right-thinking South Africans would follow him. But don’t worry whatever the outcome, one thing is sure the ANC will end up on the dung heap of history.

    • Why are you all so much against what Oscar has to say? It’s mostly perfectly true. Us whites haven’t missed a beat since 1994 – we are mostly still in our smart suburbs, mostly still have jobs, mostly control the wealth of businesses. The poor people here and indeed in the world are a huge problem for which very few are thinking about workable solutions except for the ludicrous trickle down idea. At a local community level there is much that can be done and that is why these elections could be vital. Start thinking of solutions and stop vitriolic criticism!

      • Yes, precisely!! For us (not just whites, btw!!!) who continue to live a middle class existence, corruption causes inconvenience, anger and stress at most, but for the poor it causes devastation, hunger, even loss of life! How DARE Jacob Zuma and the ANC get away with being the enablers of that corruption and not be punished for it!??

      • Agree with you. But I would like to see some concrete plans to get us out of this mess. It won’t help for me to hand over everything I have to someone else who is (much much) poorer than me. The tax system is supposed to be the thing that would help – that is redistribution in action when it works properly. We hand over huge amounts of money and the people who are already earning huge amounts take the money and spend it on imported SMEG appliances! If those billions were not stolen, more people would be employed, more people would be able to buy more essentials and more honest work could be created…And then, maybe, at some point, more people would be able to build their own houses…and create more jobs….

    • I agree totally with Herman, if Ramaphosa took action against the many ANC miscreants and actually put the country before party and state, and put deeds to words, he would find enough new support to keep him in power, minus the thieves and liars he currently protects through his refusal to do the right thing for South Africa.

  • Every single day that Zuma does not spend in jail is an indicator to the many, many others like him that they can get away with criminality that borders on treason and get away with it.

    It is putting Zuma in jail and keeping him there that will allow public money to go where it is meant to, instead of to luxury car dealerships, expensive hotels, crates of the most expensive booze, harems of lovers, and off-shore accounts.

    And that is the correction which will give dignity back to the masses through social upliftment, education, jobs, roads, working transport, a working health sector and every other damned thing that the ANC has robbed them of for the past 27 years!

    Honestly, I am dismayed that this utterly nonsensical drivel can find an outlet for publication on a medium such as DM.

  • Don’t think I don’t get the inequality and catastrophe part, but:
    It is said that the black middle class is now equal to or exceeds the white middle class. At the top end of course, there are a myriad of black tenderpreneurs to balance out the rich whites. Why is Oscar then charging only the whites with having ill-gotten gains and not sharing it?

    • Maybe because he’s racist?

      His imaginative interpretation of whites’ supposed reactions to the unrest, being ripped from our comfortable cocoons to ostensibly be confronted with the realities of “historical injustice” for once, tells me exactly how little he knows of the lives of average, middle-class whites.

      The author writes that “[o]ur lives are not going to change in any meaningful way whether [Zuma] is in prison or at his homestead in Nkandla”. If by “our” he means middle-class South Africans (and yes, of all races), then he is correct.

      Isn’t it very, very ironic then, that it is precisely the lives of the masses that could conceivably change in a very meaningful way if Zuma is jailed as he deserves, considering such a very important public punishment could be the catalyst for further punishments of high profile criminals, resulting in a stemming of the tide and an eventual halt of the corruption that is precisely what is robbing the poor of their very basic human rights.

    • The ANC were democratically elected to govern a non-racial South Africa and have been in power for more than 25 years. The effect of the old apartheid system is regularly thrown at the whites and used as a justification for everything that is not right in the country. Now the majority have power over the minority, they have imposed their own “apartheid” system, the BEE system. So sometime in the future when all the contributing whites have been replaced by incompetent, dishonest cadres, possibly in the next 25 years, Oscar will be writing about the failed country as a result of the “black over white apartheid” laws imposed and applied to ostensibly “balance the racial books”. The mere ease with which unqualified blacks get appointed to executive positions they cannot even hope to fulfil is apartheid in reverse. Maybe Oscar can give us some clarity on that as well, seeing the old apartheid era is so much on his radar when he writes these articles.

  • It is the very “peoples government” – the ANC – which is keeping them poor and uneducated so that they can be fed lies and believe them. The one thing the ANC fears the most is an educated population which is why they have so many campaigns (via EFF and others) to vilify the “whiteys” as we see through their drivel due to 3000 years of education in our culture.

  • Oscar is so far off the mark it’s just not true. Ask an ex Zimbabwean who saw everything owned by the whites taken away and given to the blacks. Let another 50 years pass and without good governance nothing will change as far as poverty is concerned, race aside. Read all the excellent books written on Africa to understand the problems with factionalism and tribalism across the contenant. Without good governance in the long term, no amount of sharing and atoning for something that took place decades ago will reduce poverty.

  • I’m missing the principle involved here and the important consideration that all are equal before the law. Zuma is/was the chief architect of much of the current malaise our country faces; the plight of black compatriots . Yes, economic inequality goes much further back. White South Africans can’t deny that. That’s why many of us voted for change, supported it and work for it. But the real pain is that Zuma and the ANC sold this country’s people down the river; aggravating poverty and creating conditions for a civil war. This is what Zuma and the ANC must face. This is the legacy of selling their souls for filthy lucre and a system of cadre deployment and cronyism. What I will take away (thank you, Mr Van Heerden) is the urgency of our situation. I will remember that at the polls.

  • Its the principle of the matter. Jacob Zuma thumbed his nose at SA’s courts and should take the consequences. We can (and should) still have all the discussions that you mention while he is in jail. And incidentally, I was very unhappy to see Thabo Mbeki go. In my opinion, he asked the right questions and there should have been more debate at that stage already. His biggest fault was his Aids denialism. The thousands that died as a result of that are, unfortunately, part of his legacy

  • When you do a wrong, knowingly, you must face the music. JZ should spend the next 9 years in the worst jail available. That is what he deserves !

  • I’m afraid you have completely missed the point Oscar.
    It is the rule of law and especially the courts and the constitution that should be our guiding light.
    Zuma has turned his back on the rule of law and made a mockery of our constitution.
    We cannot ignore the untold damage he has done to our beautiful country and her beautiful people.
    To do so is to demonstrate that looting is just fine.
    I do hope that Animal Farm (by George Orwell) is still a prescribed book in our school system. How true is that quote:
    “All animals are equal, but some are ‘more equal’ than others.” – like your all your leading ANC pigs feeding at the trough at the expense of the poor.
    How is it possible that you, and past supporters of the ANC are not seething with anger – at *your* government??
    How is it possible that Nkandla was not the first property looted?

  • His incarceration is not a dummy, but a symbol of justice talking it’s course. By the way, the only thing that will save this country is for us to rid ourselves of the parasite pretending to be our saviour. That is, the wholly criminal organisation referred to as the ANC. The poor & downtrodden will only benefit then, along with the rest of us.

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