Friday, March 27, 2009

Why Jacob Zuma must win

There live, blogging the election in South Africa

South Africans go to the polls on Aprill 22 to elect their third president since the end of apartheid.

On Monday I was driven by taxi to the Capetown airport by Antoine, an emigre from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Antoine had been a student in Kinshasa when the civil war forced him to flee with twenty of his friends. They escaped by foot, traveling down through Angola and Namibia to South Africa from the Congo eight years ago.

As we sped past Table Mountain, I asked Antoine his thoughts about the upcoming election.

"Well, we better hope that Jacob Zuma wins" Antoine replied.

"You support Zuma."


Antoine thought Zuma was not capable of running the country well; that his basic ineptitude for governance would be exposed if he won; and that Zuma would not last long. Hearing this, I was confused as to why it mattered to Antoine that Zuma should win.

"You know the tribes?" Zuma was peering at me through the rear view mirror. He continued: "South Africa's two largest tribes are the Xhosa and Zulu. Now, South Africa has had two presidents since the end of apartheid: Nelson Mandala and Thabo Mbeki. Both are of the Xhosa tribe." Antoine paused. "The Zulu's say it's their turn."

"So Jacob Zuma is a Zulu."

"Zuma is a Zulu."

I asked Antoine if he would mind us not trailing an exaust-spewing dump truck.

"Yes, sorry. Right away!"


"You know Zulu? Violent!" said Antoine.

I asked Antoine to explain.

"You know Shaka Zulu?"

"But that was a long time ago." I said. "What makes you assume they are still violent?"

Antoine told me the Zulu had been responsible for a lot of street violence. He compared crime in Capetown to Johannesburg. The latter city is home to many Zulus. "In Johannesburg a mugger will think nothing of killing you," Antoine said. "He will kill you just because he can. He will fucking kill you! Just like that!" Antoine added, "But in Capetown, if you give a mugger what he wants, he will be satisfied and let you go."

"How do you know this?"

"I have been to Johannesburg many times. And when I'm there, let me I tell you, I am scared the whole time."

Antoine believed that the Zulus would rise up if Zuma did not get elected, and there could even be a civil war. Jacob Zuma has been facing corruption charges, but it is beginning to look like those charges will be dropped in advance of the election. Newpaper editorials I had read made it sound all but certain that ANC Party leader Jacob Zuma would form the new government.

Antoine asked me if I had heard about the wave of "xenophobia" in South Africa.

"They were attacking foreigners you know."

I said I had read about the attacks.

Antoine said: "People like me come here and we work. We work really hard. Foreigners like me, you see, we will do any job. We will work any hours. We work hard because we have to. The whites like to hire us. South African blacks, they have it easy. They can work when they feel like it."

"Do South African blacks blame the foreigners for taking their jobs?"


After arriving in Capetown, Antoine said that he had taken various odd jobs ("sometimes I worked 24 hours without any sleep"). His former jobs had included security guard and bouncer. In a sense Antoine had "arrived" and achieved the middle-class South African dream. He now drove a fancy new, fully-licensed taxi cab (Most cabs in Capetown seem to be unlicensed). Yet Antoine was not satisfied.

"I want to open my own business one day. That is my dream."

Antoine wanted to have his own security company. On account of the high crime rate private security is a big business in South Africa. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the police.

"Whenever I call the police, they are always late" said Antoine.

According to one estimate I heard, there are now some 20 million migrants living in South Africa. Despite the questions surrounding the country's political future, especially for educated people like Antoine, South Africa is the promised land. A place where anyone -- black or white -- who is able and willing to work hard can achieve one's dreams. A place of refuge for people from all over Africa.

In an immigration line-up at the Capetown airport, I spoke with Tim, an Afrikaans-speaking man who had recently emigrated to Germany. When I asked him about the election, he said he thought there was a good chance that some smaller parties might get enough votes to form a minority government. I told Tim about Antoine's fear of a Zulu uprising should Jacob Zuma lose.

Tim shook his head. "It would be like Greece. You know, in Athens a student got shot and there were riots. Eventually the army came in and things calmed down. It would be the same thing here."

I asked Tim what he knew about the composition of the South African National Defence Force.

"I don't know, I live in Germany now" said Tim.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Because all comments on this blog are moderated, there will be some delay before your comment is approved.