Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why Africa Has Gone To Hell

White Zimbabweans used to tell a joke—what is the difference between a tourist and a racist? The answer—about a week.

Few seem to joke any more. Indeed, the last time anyone laughed out there was over the memorable headline “BANANA CHARGED WITH SODOMY” (relating to the Reverend Canaan Banana and his alleged proclivities). Zimbabwe was just the latest African state to squander its potential, to swap civil society for civil strife and pile high its corpses. Then the wrecking virus moves on and a fresh spasm of violence erupts elsewhere. Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, even Kenya. Take your pick, for it is the essence of Africa, the recurring A-Z of horror. And as surely as Nelson Mandela took those steps from captivity to freedom, his own country will doubtless shuffle into chaos and ruin.

Mark my words. One day it will be the turn of South Africa to revert to type, its farms that lie wasted and its towns that are battle zones, its dreams and expectations that lie rotting on the veldt. That is the way of things. Africa rarely surprises, it simply continues to appal.

When interviewed on BBC Radio, the legendary South African jazz musician Hugh Masekela spoke of the 350-year struggle for freedom by blacks in South Africa. The man might play his trumpet like a dream, but he talks arrant nonsense. What he has bought into is a false narrative that rewrites history and plays upon post-colonial liberal angst. The construct is as follows: white, inglorious and bad; black, noble and good; empire, bad; independence, good; the west, bad; the African, good. Forgotten in all this is that while Europeans were settling and spreading from the Cape, the psychopathic Shaka Zulu was employing his impi to crush everyone—including the Xhosa—in his path, and the Xhosa were themselves busy slaughtering Bushmen and Hottentots. Yet it is the whites who take the rap, for it was they who won the skirmishes along the Fish and Blood Rivers and who eventually gained the prize.

What suffers is the truth, and—of course—Africa. We are so cowed by the moist-eyed mantras of the left and the oath-laden platitudes of Bono and Geldof, we are forced to accept collective responsibility for the bloody mess that is now Africa. It paralyses us while excusing the black continent and its rulers.

Whenever I hear people agitate for the freezing of Third World debt, I want to shout aloud for the freezing of those myriad overseas bank accounts held by black African leaders (President Mobutu of Zaire alone is believed to have squirreled away well over $10 billion).

Whenever apartheid is held up as a blueprint for evil, I want to mention Bokassa snacking on human remains, Amin clogging a hydro-electric dam with floating corpses, the President of Equatorial Guinea crucifying victims along the roadway from his airport.

Whenever slavery is dredged up, I want to remind everyone the Arabs were there before us, the native Ashanti and others were no slouches at the game, and it remains extant in places like the Ivory Coast.

Whenever I hear the Aids pandemic somehow blamed on western indifference, I want to point to the African native practice of dry sex, the hobby-like prevalence of rape and the clumps of despotic black leaders who deny a link between the disease and HIV and who block the provision of antiretrovirals.

And whenever Africans bleat of imperialism and colonialism, I want to campaign for the demolition of every road, college, and hospital we ever built to let them start again. It is time they governed themselves. Yet few play the victim card quite so expertly as black Africans; few are quite so gullible as the white liberal-left.

“On the eve of this millennium, Nelson Mandela and friends lit candles mapping the shape of their continent and declared the Twenty-first Century would belong to Africa. A pity that for every one Mandela there are over a hundred Robert Mugabes.”

So Britain had an empire and Britain did slavery. Boo hoo. Deal with it. Move on. Slavery ended here over two hundred years ago. More recently, there were tens of millions of innocents enslaved or killed in Europe by the twin industrialised evils of Nazism and Stalinism. My own first cousins—twin brothers aged sixteen—died down a Soviet salt mine. I need no lecture on eggplants and neck-irons. Most of us are descendents of both oppressors and oppressed; most of us get over it. Mind you, I am tempted by thoughts of compensation from Scandinavia for the wickedness of its Viking raids and its slaving-hub on the Liffe. As for the 1066 invasion of England by William the Bastard…

The white man’s burden is guilt over Africa (the black man’s is sentimentality), and we are blind for it. We have tipped hundreds of billions of aid-dollars into Africa without first ensuring proper governance. We encourage NGOs and food-parcels and have built a culture of dependency. We shy away from making criticism, tiptoe around the crassness of the African Union and flinch at every anti-western jibe. The result is a free-for-all for every syphilitic black despot and his coterie of family functionaries.

Africa casts a long and toxic shadow across our consciousness. It is patronised and allowed to underperform, so too its distant black diaspora. A black London pupil is excluded from his school, not because he is lazy, stupid or disruptive, but because that school is apparently racist; a black youth is pulled over by the police, not because black males commit over eighty percent of street crime, but because the authorities are somehow corrupted by prejudice.

Thus the tale continues. Excuse is everywhere and a sense of responsibility nowhere. You will rarely find either a black national leader in Africa or a black community leader in the west prepared to put up his hands and say It is our problem, our fault. Those who look to Africa for their roots, role-models and inspiration are worshipping false gods. And like all false gods, the feet are of clay, the snouts long and designed for the trough, and the torture-cells generally well-equipped.

I once met the son of a Liberian government minister and asked if he had seen video-footage of his former president Samuel Doe being tortured to death. ‘Of course’, he replied with a smile. ‘Everyone has’. They cut off the ears of Doe and force-fed them to him. His successor, the warlord Charles Taylor, was elected in a landslide result using the campaign slogan He killed my ma, he killed my pa, but I will vote for him. Nice people. Liberia was founded and colonised by black Americans to demonstrate what slave stock could achieve. They certainly showed us. Forgive my heretical belief that had a black instead of a white tribe earlier come to dominate South Africa, its opponents would not have been banished to Robben island. They would have been butchered and buried there.

When asked about the problem of Africa, Harold Macmillan suggested building a high wall around the continent and every century or so removing a brick to check on progress. I suspect that over entire millennia, the view would prove bleak and unvarying.

On the eve of this millennium, Nelson Mandela and friends lit candles mapping the shape of their continent and declared the Twenty-first Century would belong to Africa. Whatever. Meantime, the vast natural resources have been frittered and agricultural production since independence has halved. A pity that for every one Mandela there are over a hundred Robert Mugabes.

Visiting a state in west Africa a few years ago, I wandered onto a beach and marvelled at the golden sands and at the sunlight catching on the Atlantic surf. It allowed me to forget for a moment the local news that day of soldiers seizing a schoolboy and pitching him head-first into an operating cement-machine. Almost forget. Then I spotted a group of villagers beating a stray dog to death for their sport. A metaphor of sorts for all that is wrong, another link in a word-association chain that goes something like Famine… Drought… Overpopulation… Deforestation… Conflict… Barbarism… Cruelty… Machetes… Child Soldiers… Massacres… Diamonds… Warlords…Tyranny… Corruption… Despair… Disease… Aids… Africa.

Africa remains the heart of darkness.

Africa is hell.

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ANC Centenery,The Good, the Bad and the Great

The ANC is 100 years old today. From a struggle against power, to wielding it, we take a look at the past presidents of the ANC.


John Langalibalele Dube

DUBE was elected in absentia as the founding president of the South African Native National Council, which later became known as the African National Congress, in 1912.

Educated in the United States, Dube was one of the pioneering African leaders during the missionary era in the then Natal.

He was deeply influenced by Booker T Washington, by then the most prominent moderate African-American intellectual and leader in North America.

The success of Washington's Tuskegee Institute inspired Dube, on his return to South Africa, to form his own industrial school in Ohlange, near Durban - which is still in operation. He also established Ilanga lase Natal, a Zulu-language newspaper still in existence.

As ANC president, Dube mounted a stiff resistance campaign against the enactment of the Land Act of 1913 that severely limited land ownership by Africans. His contemporaries, however, felt he had compromised heavily on the principle of segregation when he led a delegation to London to protest against the draconian legislation.

Though he opposed the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910, he was later perceived as having betrayed the struggle when, in 1930, he openly toyed with the idea of supporting the then government's discriminatory bills in the hope that this would result in more funding for development projects.

He had already been ousted in 1917.


Sefako Makgatho

NELSON Mandela named his son after Makgatho, a teacher educated in England, who was also a blood relative of the famed chief Sekhukhune of the Bapedi tribe.

He was president of the Transvaal Native Congress, which merged with other organisations to form the ANC. He was also a founder member of the Transvaal African Teachers' Association.

During his tenure the movement adopted many of its insignia and slogans. These include the black, green and gold colours, Mayibuye iAfrika (Africa must come back) as a slogan and Nkosi Sikelel'iAfrica as its anthem.

The ANC under Makgatho was viewed as mainly passive and characterised by petitions rather than resistance. But these should not negate Makgatho's own involvement in resistance campaigns. He led a successful campaign in Pretoria against a government regulation that banned Africans from walking on city pavements and confined them to tarred roads with passing vehicles a constant danger.

He also led resistance to the extension of pass laws to African women.

ZACHARIA MAHABANE (1924-1930 and 1937-1940)

Zacharia Mahabane

IT is difficult to understand why Mahabane served twice as ANC president, given his backward views on the right to universal franchise.

His official biography says he was called back to rescue a movement that had declined in membership under Pixley ka Isaka Seme. But Mahabane's willingness to compromise on the demand for Africans to be included in the common voters roll ultimately defined the crisis of the ANC at the time: a party led by missionary-educated, aristocratic Africans who were willing to accept the idea of a qualified franchise. Such an approach would not have resonated with the masses. Mahabane believed that a separate voters roll for Africans would have been acceptable if whites found the idea of a common voters roll too menacing.

JOSIAH GUMEDE (1927-1930)

Joshua Gumede

HIS stay in office was short-lived, largely because of his attempt to turn the ANC into a socialist party soon after visiting the Soviet Union.

"I have seen the world to come, where it has already begun. I have been to the new Jerusalem," he declared on his return from the communist country. This angered ANC aristocrats, who included chiefs and kings who were suspicious of communists and their opposition to monarchy. They conspired to oust him in 1930 and replace him with Seme.



ONE of the founding leaders of the ANC, he had served as the movement's first secretary in 1912.

His ultra-conservative and traditionalist views made him, in the eyes of chiefs and other party leaders, a perfect replacement for Gumede. But his attempts to turn the organisation into economic self-help units and to revive the House of Chiefs failed spectacularly.

In fact Seme so alienated the broader masses that Mahabane had to be brought back to revive an organisation in steady decline.

DR ALFRED B XUMA (1940-1949)


HE is often remembered in the ANC as the first party president to be ousted by the ANC Youth League, but what often gets left out is that it was under his leadership that the organisation began its march to becoming a mass-based liberation, as opposed to a club of the educated elite.

It was during his tenure as president that the ANC entered into a pact with the Natal and Transvaal Indian congresses - setting the foundation for non-racial struggles as well as the ANC's involvement in alliance politics.

The one-time school teacher, who later became a European-trained gynaecologist, was also at the helm of the ANC when the decision to form the youth league was taken.

But Mandela, Oliver Tambo and other youth league leaders later turned against him when Xuma refused to lead the organisation's disobedience campaign against racist laws.

DR JAMES MOROKA (1949-1952)


PROBABLY one of the worst ANC presidents, Moroka came to power on a youth league ticket - having been fetched from home by Mandela's group after they failed to find a suitable challenger to Xuma.

Arrested under the Suppression of Communism Act and with the prospect of a lengthy jail term looming, Moroka denounced the principles of non-racialism. He was summarily expelled from the ANC.



ANC headquarters in downtown Johannesburg are named after Luthuli and it is easy to understand why. A great thinker and a selfless leader, Luthuli's sacrifices and commitment to peace earned him the Nobel Peace Prize.

However, he angered some of the more militant members of the ANC with his insistence to adhere to non-violent protests. It was also on his watch that the Pan Africanists, led by Robert Sobukwe, broke away to form the Pan-African Congress.

OLIVER TAMBO (1967-1990)

Oliver Tambo

TAMBO's greatest achievement was to keep the ANC intact during its most trying period in history when it was banned and forced to operate from exile. Not many liberation movements re-emerge out of such an experience united.

In exile, Tambo had to deal with a number of serious challenges, including mutinies by members of the ANC's armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe as well as an attempt by eight of its former senior leaders to form a breakaway party. Over and above this, the party had to deal with regular infiltration by apartheid state agents.

There were also countless arrests and murders of political activists, the June 1976 student uprisings and impatient calls for the ANC to take a more hardline stance to bring about freedom. But Tambo, a shrewd thinker, also had the foresight to realise when the time had arrived to begin talking to the ruling National Party to pave the way for democracy.

NELSON MANDELA (1990-1997)

Nelson Mandela

THE most famous and most decorated of ANC presidents, Mandela is a trained lawyer who spent 27 years in prison for fighting apartheid. He later became South Africa's first democratically elected president.

He was instrumental in setting up the ANC Youth League with Walter Sisulu and Anton Lembede when they grew impatient of the ANC's soft stance in the face of growing state aggression. He was arrested along with other political prisoners and charged in the famous Rivonia Trial, before being shipped off to Robben Island.

When the ANC was unbanned and he was released from prison, he adopted a more nonracial approach. Mandela had the difficult task of allaying minority fears of a black government and maintaining the ANC intact. He also initiated a massive reconstruction and development programme aimed at uplifting poor black communities.

He later delegated many of his executive duties to his deputy, Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded him both in the ANC and as head of state.

THABO MBEKI (1997-2007)

Thabo Mbeki

THE son of Rivonia trialist Govan Mbeki was educated at Sussex University during his more than three decades in exile. Highly intelligent, Mbeki was groomed for leadership from a young age. Tambo took him under his wing and passed on to Mbeki the traits necessary for running a successful political organisation.

When he became president in 1999, Mbeki pushed through more conservative macroeconomic policies and encouraged the accumulation of wealth by blacks through the policy of black economic empowerment. He surrounded himself with loyalists and flirted with controversial ideas, especially in respect of HIV/Aids.

Although the ANC grew during his tenure, Mbeki failed to read the initial signs of discontent among the rank and file. It would cost him dearly. It was also under his leadership that the rot that has set in in the ANC - the scramble for tenders and government contracts - began at local level.

In his second term, Mbeki alienated the ANC's alliance partners who criticised his leadership style and the economic policies of his government. But it was his treatment of his deputy, Jacob Zuma, that resulted in an uprising against him, with the youth league at the forefront. Zuma ousted him as ANC leader in Polokwane in 2007 and a year later the ANC removed him as president of the country following a court judgement in favour of Zuma, who was facing corruption charges.

JACOB ZUMA (2007-)

Jacob Zuma

ZUMA, who has no formal schooling, grew up as a herdboy in rural KwaZulu-Natal. He later joined the ANC and was imprisoned on Robben Island for 10 years. Zuma left the country after being released and went on to head ANC intelligence in Swaziland. Upon returning to the country he worked closely with Mbeki during negotiations that paved the way for democracy.

Zuma then led the organisation in KwaZulu-Natal, where he was instrumental in brokering peace between warring ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party members. He was elected deputy president of the ANC in 1997. Mbeki fired him as deputy president of the country in 2005 following the conviction of his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, for fraud. Zuma spectacularly toppled Mbeki two years later and took over as president in 2009.

In his four-year tenure as ANC president and in the two years that he has ruled the country, Zuma as alienated the youth league, some Cosatu leaders and powerful ANC figures. He has reshuffled his cabinet twice and has had some of his appointments successfully challenged in courts. Zuma will deliver the centenary address of a party highly divided, crippled by the sins of incumbency.

Under him the ANC also has to deal with a more disillusioned electorate and the growth of the Democratic Alliance, especially in traditional ANC areas.