< South Africa's Uncertain Political Future

Transcript

Friday, October 21, 2011

BOB GARFIELD:

In this week's Economist, an article headlined “A Can of Worms” began thusly: 

“Yet another South African chief of police and at least two ministers look set to bite the dust in the latest swirl of corruption scandals to hit President Jacob Zuma’s government

A couple of weeks ago the ugly headlines concerned the government's denial of a visa to the Dalai Lama who wished to join Archbishop Desmond Tutu on the cleric’s 80th birthday. The ruling ANC party, however, feared for offending its trading partner China and snubbed the exiled Tibetan, sending the venerated Tutu into a rage.

ARCHBISHOP DESMOND TUTU:

This government is worse than the apartheid government because at least you were expecting it with the apartheid government.

BOB GARFIELD:

Meanwhile, you can open a newspaper or turn on a radio in South Africa without being confronted by ANC Youth League boss Julius Malema, a militant populist espousing nationalization of the mining industry and marginalization of the white minority still disproportionately wielding the nation's economic power, this in the starkest of terms. Here he is berating a BBC reporter for being an agent of white oppression.

JULIUS MALEMA:

Don’t come here with that white tendency of undermining blacks giving whites work!

BBC REPORTER:

That’s rubbish.

[REMARKS UP AND UNDER]

BOB GARFIELD:

And here is Malema singing the struggle song Shoot the Boar, which translates as “Shoot the White Farmer.”

JULIUS MALEMA:

Shoot to kill!

[CROWD RESPONDS]

BOB GARFIELD:

Seventeen years after the largely peaceful overthrow of apartheid rule. South Africa and its ruling ANC seem to be at a crossroads. One path leads to the gradual evolution of capitalist democracy, messy and checkered but guided by constitutional law. The other leads to political chaos, or worse. The chaos is already encroaching, as the corrupted Jacob Zuma administration struggles to deliver jobs, education and even the most basic services to its poorest citizens.

The “worse” looms in the presence of Julius Malema, whose rhetoric evokes eerie echoes of Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwe liberation that itself, more or less 17 years later, began mutating into a brutal racist dictatorship.

Last week as western broadcast hosts are wont to do, I parachuted into South Africa for a glimpse. But first I spoke with a reporter who has covered the country for years. Andrew Meldrum is GlobalPost's deputy managing editor and regional editor for Africa.

ANDREW MELDRUM:

Since the end of apartheid, the ANC government has taken a generally pro-business economic policy. The big business of South Africa, mining, in particular, they have been able to carry on with business as usual and they've done very well.

However, the ordinary black South African worker has not benefitted very much. Employment hasn't grown and their housing is still very bad. The services they get, the education they get have not improved. In fact, by many measures their standard of living has actually eroded since the days of apartheid.

This is where a demagogue can come in and start to point fingers and blame whites or blame others, and it can get ugly.

BOB GARFIELD:

And there is such a demagogue on the horizon right now.

ANDREW MELDRUM:

There is a demagogue, Julius Malema, who is a, young firebrand. He’s not from the anti- apartheid struggle; he's too young. He is one of those who’s picking up the banner and singing very inflammatory songs.

BOB GARFIELD:

His vision is very much a Mugabe vision, of confiscation of agricultural land from white farmers and redistribution of wealth, not necessarily in a democratic fashion.

BEN ZIMMER:

It's not just confiscation of farms. He's also talking about nationalization of South Africa's mines, it’s gold, it’s diamonds. It's the largest employer and it's a major producer of wealth. And to say that these would become nationalized and taken out of the hands of private, mostly white owners, is very inflammatory.

BOB GARFIELD:

Hugo Chavez, and then some.

ANDREW MELDRUM:

And then some. We could even say Fidel Castro or Robert Mugabe. I mean, you know, it would put him in the league of those.

BOB GARFIELD:

And what is the medium for the rhetoric for nationalization, for confiscation, for furthering the class struggle?

ANDREW MELDRUM:

It is at rallies, it is in song, it is in posters that are carried on the street. It is in the unions that are marching to protest low wages or the South African Communist Party, which is a major ally of the ANC government.

 It is in discussions that you hear on radio talk shows. It's all pervasive. You hear it in different ways all the time.

BOB GARFIELD:

It's clear that under Botha, the South African Broadcast Corporation was entirely under the thumb of the apartheid government. Is it equally true under the ANC and its – and the series of presidents that the SABC is cowed by the ruling regime?

ANDREW MELDRUM:

No, it's not equally true. However, the ANC government has recently re-submitted a bill to Parliament that many say is akin to old apartheid laws on secrecy. And so, there still is a danger of very strong state control.

BOB GARFIELD:

Okay so, you are a government broadcast channel that is the most important voice in news for a large diverse country. And you are facing populist dissatisfaction, entrenched ownership interests, which are the backbone of the economy, chiefly white and a president with both a heroic past and a checkered past, who is nominally a socialist but wishes [LAUGHS] for the economy to function. What kind of line do you toe when you’re the SABC news?

ANDREW MELDRUM:

Its had to shift because, first of all, there was the kind of golden era of Freedom for All when Nelson Mandela was president and there wasn't strong control of what the line should be, and there was just, a big switchover from the old apartheid voices to the new liberation voices.

But once Thabo Mbeki became president, he started trying to control very strongly the line that the SABC would put out.

Jacob Zuma has a new group of people that he has appointed into the SABC at executive positions, but it’s still widely seen as the government mouthpiece.

BOB GARFIELD:

Andrew, as always, thank you very, very much.

BEN ZIMMER:

Well, thank you Bob. It’s been a pleasure.

BOB GARFIELD:

Andrew Meldrum is the deputy managing editor and Africa editor for GlobalPost.