Who Rules South Africa? It is a complex question that raises a whole host of other questions and possibly leaves you with unwanted answers?Who Rules South Africa is a remarkable book. There is no getting away from it. It strips away layer after layer and presents what is probably one of the most objectively critical accounts of South Africa as it is today. To surmise that it is a mere kleptocracy, or reduce the politics to the simplicity of colour, is to present the country as something that it is not. Because it is not simple, because the answers are not superficial, because interpreting it requires a concerted and in-depth understanding of the forces at play.
While the furiously liberal will argue that there are problems but by and large it is in hand, the angry conservative right will argue that it has gone to the dogs. The thrust of the population, while angry and feeling dissent, continue to support a ruling elite that increasingly deprives them of their rights. In and amongst this has emerged a middle class, formerly white and increasingly black, that live lives of ample propensity. A class of people that really are not materially affected by the vacillations of the party in power.
You cannot get away from the fact that there are people in positions of power that are corrupt, that they have pilfered the coffers of the state, and that pull the leavers of power to ensure that they stay in power.
Who Rules South Africa not only lays before the reader the complex history of the ANC and its alliance partners, but also clearly spells out the levels of power and the systemic corruption that exists within not only the ruling party, but also the government.
At the same time, this week, I read an address delivered by Roy Bennett at Oxford University. (Here is a locally published copy.) He has constructed a compelling argument about Zimbabwe that I would argue that is conclusions about Zimbabwe and consequently South Africa, could not be dismissed out of hand.
Let’s be clear here on one very important thing. At your peril do you underestimate or dismiss Robert Mugabe as a madman. It has always been evident that he is very clever and calculated and that he has created the environment in Zimbabwe in order to stay in power. What makes Bennett’s analysis of the situation that much more alarming is that he is so measured in his attack. This is a man who has suffered at the hands of the regime.
The real question that comes out of this, and Bennett warns South Africa in his address, is to what extent is South Africa in danger of suffering at the hands of a similarly despotic and kleptocratic government? In Who Rules South Africa the continued and necessary oversight of civil society and of the media is clearly identified as the reason that the government has been brought to account. But is that enough?
Keeping the politicians in line with the constitution, ensuring that there is sufficient oversight of legislation, protecting the rights of minorities and the disenfranchised, of the poor and vulnerable, surely this is the function of government and not of civil society or of the media? And yet the government, through the intended promulgation of the Protection of Information Bill, is seeking to clip the wings of activists.
South Africa is a complex country and it is now becoming evident that the powers in government are unlikely to do anything about the plight of its citizens. What then, pray tell, are the politicians in power doing?