Rainbow Nation in tatters.
AS THE townships burned over the past nine days, in a reprise of the final years of apartheid, and as black foreigners were hacked, beaten and incinerated in a frenzy of killings by black South Africans, it was the cartoonists who captured most neatly the heartbreak behind the savagery.
Two iconic figures in the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Anglican archbishop Desmond Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize winners, featured in the cartoons.
Tutu had famously dubbed his country "the rainbow nation" and its inhabitants the "rainbow people of God" - metaphors for the unity and hope of South Africa's multiculturalism, the coming together of people of many different races in a country once plagued by strict racial division.
Mandela had said: "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others. I detest racialism, because I regard it as a barbaric thing, whether it comes from a black man or a white man."
A rainbow dominated the cartoons. But the drawings feature people, including Tutu, gazing towards the end of the rainbow as it burns and as mobs dismember Zimbabweans, Mozambicans, Malawians and members of South Africa's smaller tribes.
The past few days have seen the rainbow nation's disintegration and the trashing of the dreams of Mandela and Tutu. Both men feature in a cartoon by the brilliant Zapiro in which they stare glumly at scarlet blood running down South Africa's rainbow-coloured post-apartheid national flag.
The blame is being laid ultimately at the door of the man who in 1999 succeeded Mandela as state president - Thabo Mbeki. His presidency has been increasingly shamed by scandal, mismanagement and deceit.
Now the pogroms, which have seen tens of thousands of migrants made homeless, with hundreds injured and at least 51 killed, have destroyed Mandela's legacy. Demands are being made that Mbeki go sooner rather than later.
Part of the damning case against Mbeki is this. He failed, in eight years of negotiations with president Robert Mugabe, to solve the catastrophic problem of Zimbabwe, South Africa's northern neighbour. Not only did he fail to solve the problem, but he has given the impression of being more concerned with appeasing Mugabe than caring for Zimbabwe's people.
While Mbeki has continually denied the situation amounts to a crisis, some three million Zimbabweans have fled into South Africa. There they have settled in poor townships where unemployment runs at more than 40% and where people have grown increasingly discontented at the lack of delivery of jobs, electricity, decent houses, healthcare and education by the Mbeki government.
"How can we as a nation expect poor villagers and township people to bear the burden of hosting refugees and sharing scarce resources with them?" asked Dr Mamphela Ramphele, co-founder of the Black Consciousness Movement with the late Steve Biko, whose son she gave birth to after he had been murdered by apartheid police.
Ramphele, until recently vice-president of the World Bank and now co-chair of the United Nations' Global Commission on International Migration, said: "Why are we surprised when they the poor say in brutal terms that enough is enough? While it is understandable that people feeling disempowered often seek scapegoats in their midst, the extent of brutality of the attacks speaks of a deeper social pathology."
The Mail And Guardian newspaper, the most outspoken media voice against government in the apartheid era, seethed about "this most devastating week for the beloved country", and used the "f" word, with a row of asterisks, for the first time in its 23-year history. "We used to be an ungovernable people, now we are also ungoverned," said the paper. "As with crime, Aids and Zimbabwe, President Thabo Mbeki refused to acknowledge the problem and buried his head in the sand once more.
"Then he got intellectual and appointed a panel to investigate the violence. Then he climbed on his plane and f***** off to Tanzania."
link : SA, a mob nation : Mail & Guardian Online
This was a reference to the fact Mbeki, yet to visit the burning townships or address the nation about the crisis, left South Africa at the height of the violence to attend an African Union meeting in Dar-es-Salaam.
The appointment of yet another investigative committee outraged many who said the roots of the violence were blindingly obvious, needing no further explanation or investigation.
The havoc was the result of a vast influx of migrants, legal and illegal, into a country suffering runaway unemployment and very high crime rates, and where the rule of law has been collapsing under a demoralised police force whose national chief is facing trial for fraud, drug peddling and alleged association with the mafia.
In any country, this would be an explosive mix, and in Mbeki's absence his minister in the presidency, Essop Pahad, Mbeki's close friend since their days as students together at the University of Sussex in the early-1960s, provoked a mixture of anger and hilarity by condemning "grave threats to progressive forces in our society" by the township's "lumpen proletariat".
This Lenin-speak was originally coined by Karl Marx, who defined the lumpen proletariat as the "refuse of all classes", including "swindlers, confidence tricksters, brothel-keepers, rag-and-bone merchants, beggars and other flotsam of society".
As Heita Mugza, a Mozambican migrant who had been in South Africa for only a month, was burned to death by the mob in Ramaphosa, a settlement in eastern Johannesburg, Desmond Tutu despaired at the return last week of the "necklace", the rubber tyre filled with petrol that was jammed over the heads of alleged "sell-outs" and set ablaze in the apartheid era.
"Please stop the violence now," said the churchman, who often intervened in the late-1980s and early-1990s to stop necklacings. "This is not how we behave. These are our sisters and brothers. Please, please stop."
Tutu reminded his countrymen that other Africans, although poor, welcomed South Africans as refugees from apartheid and allowed liberation movements to have bases on their territories, even when those countries were attacked by the white-dominated South African Defence Force.
"We can't repay them by killing their children," said Tutu. "We can't disgrace our struggle by these acts of violence. It is as if we are back in the days of the necklace. The world is shocked and is going to laugh at us and mock us. Our children will condemn us in the future."
Nearly all analyses of the roots of the mayhem came back to Mbeki.
When he took the reins from Mandela in 1999, he appeared to South Africa, the international community and to journalists who had followed his career to be not only an urbane African statesman with great intellectual qualities, but also a humble man who was readily approachable. He coined the idea of the "African renaissance", a flowering of democracy, education and economic advance on a continent which had been synonymous with disaster, state failure and widespread abuse of human rights.
"Tragically, 10 years later, Mbeki will end his term after a general election in 11 months stripped of his integrity," said The Financial Mail.
"He has protected a criminal suspect former national police chief Jackie Selebi; lied about it to the nation; and interfered with the course of both law-making in parliament and the administration of justice," the newspaper said.
"Put together with an unforgivable blunder on the policy front - the failure to plan for South Africa's energy needs - and with the corruption and power-mongering that took hold of the ruling African National Congress on his watch, the results on Mbeki's final scorecard could hardly be worse."
How, it is being asked, did Mbeki become the leader everyone wants to see the back of? And how was he so blind to not see it coming and do something about it?
With hindsight, Mbeki was out of synch from the beginning of his presidency with much domestic and international opinion on two key issues - Aids and Zimbabwe.
The first shock came when this apparently sophisticated man made startling claims that international medical science, some 99.9% of its practitioners, had it wrong and the HIV virus did not cause Aids.
He began a bizarre courtship of controversial Californian Aids dissidents and abruptly stopped trials of drugs designed to prevent mother-to-child transmission of Aids in a country with more HIV-positive people, six million, than any other. He and his spectacularly wacky health minister, Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, a proven drunkard and felon who urged consumption of beetroot and olive oil to prevent Aids, said drugs that prolonged the life of people with HIV were toxic, dangerous and killed people.
International medical experts, diplomats and financiers still recall his views on Aids with incredulity and dismiss his much-touted dream of the African Renaissance. "Those who have known and worked with Mbeki for many years believe it was his enormous arrogance that allowed him to believe he, a layman, had answers to complex problems that medical science was yet to discover," said the Financial Mail.
This same arrogance has spilled over into a host of other issues, not least his decision to suspend the head of The Scorpions, the crack FBI-style investigative team that has been the greatest success of the Mbeki years, and actually to disband the unit in legislation now passing through parliament.
The crime of The Scorpions, who have bust many domestic and international criminal gangs? To indict Mbeki's close friend, police chief Jackie Selebi, until early this year president of Interpol, on a 335-page litany of corruption charges that make a John Grisham thriller read like an Enid Blyton novel; to charge Jacob Zuma, the newly elected leader of the ANC and the likely new state president, on multiple fraud and corruption charges in connection with the country's multi-billion arms deal with European weapons manufacturers, including Britain's BAe; and to investigate successfully fraudulent expenses claims by scores of ANC MPs.
Mbeki never anticipated the Scorpions would do their job too well and indict the most powerful people in the land.
The shame of Mbeki's undermining of the Scorpions is gathering momentum, together with a catalogue of other scandals.
But the final nails in his reputation have been his handling of the Zimbabwe crisis, its spillover in the form of millions of refugees entering South Africa and the eruption of domestic resentment and violence against these migrants.
Mbeki was warned of the impending disaster four years ago when Archbishop Tutu gave the second Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand. He warned that an explosive situation was developing because of the stark differences between the rich, many of them newly empowered ANC politicians, and the great mass of the poor, whose lives have not really changed despite the demise of apartheid.
"Many, too many, of our people live in gruelling, demeaning, dehumanising poverty," said Tutu. "We are sitting on a powder keg."
Last week, the keg detonated. Millions of migrants will be unable to return to their homes in South Africa. The rainbow has been denuded of its colours and few people believe anything will get better before Jacob Zuma steps down from power.
POSTED BY CFC NEWSROOM- W.CAPE