The Americans elected George W Bush to the White House. They deserved every criticism they received for his bumbling, vindictive and Neanderthal foreign and domestic policies. We elected Thabo Mbeki in 1999 and 2004 — and we deserved all the opprobrium over his misguided HIV/Aids and foreign policies.
Our choice on Wednesday April 22, whatever it is, will be richly deserved by us, the voters. Let’s be clear: this vote has nothing to do with resolving the plight of the poor and the unemployed. None of the political parties have even pretended to care about this issue.
Tragically, it is the greatest single issue facing our country. Not to address it is, to paraphrase Mbeki and Langston Hughes before him, to defer our democratic dream. Not to address it will lead to this country erupting in flames.
This vote is not even about HIV-Aids. The ANC, which kept quiet or aided and abetted Mbeki when he was at the height of his denialism, is only now finding its voice on this issue. It is difficult not to say that this is mere electioneering. This is the height of hypocrisy. So we have to look at the other issues afflicting our country.
On that score, there is also no doubt now that South Africa has reached a fork in the road. All talk of fine constitutions is over. Our institutions have been raped. The reputation of the National Prosecuting Authority is in tatters. They were used by the previous ANC regime, and are now largely viewed as being used by the current ANC leadership. Every prosecution that they now undertake will be seen as a sham. Bulelani Ngcuka, Mokotedi Mpshe and Kgalema Motlanthe — by firing Vusi Pikoli — have ensured that.
The elite crime fighting unit, the Scorpions, has been scrapped. Correctional Services release criminals because, clearly, they are friends of the future president. Members of Parliament who, in the Travelgate scandal, defrauded the very institution they represent, are being protected by parliamentary officials and leaders. They walk free after defrauding taxpayers of hundreds of thousands of rands.
The opposition, except for the Democratic Alliance’s consistent voice and ability to use the parliamentary process to bring rot to light, is quite frankly a joke. The IFP is losing steam at a rate of knots; the UDM is going down rather than up; the ID is non-existent. The rest of the field is so ideologically and electorally pathetic it is not worth mentioning.
So the April 22 election is not an election. It is a narrow plebiscite. It is a referendum on the ANC rule of the past 15 years. It is yes, or no.
The ANC one has to say aye or nay to is an ANC at war. The titanic tussle between Jacob Zuma and Mbeki has torn the party apart for more than nine years now. It is not over. Recent events illustrate that our judiciary, our intelligence services, our army, our civil services, our media and virtually every sector of society are now part of this fight.
Everywhere it is the same: there are Zuma camps and Mbeki camps. Truth lies in pieces. Integrity is forgotten. Advocate Wim Trengove, one of the best legal minds in this country and, probably, in the world, summarised it in his observation of the NPA’s decision to let Zuma walk without a trial, despite the volumes of evidence against him: “In the broader context of the events surrounding it, the decision was indeed ominous.”
Underline that word: ominous. It is a word that speaks to the future, uttered by a man who cannot be accused of or be associated with the horrors of apartheid.
How did we reach this point ? Here is an excerpt from the March issue of US magazine Vanity Fair:
“With Barack Obama’s victory, a yearning for goodness and a new start — despite horrendous obstacles — is once again palpably ascendant in our country. In addition to being our first black president, he is also the coolest person in the office since John F Kennedy, a leader who can think and write clearly and speak to our better selves. He asks for sacrifice and offers to build community. He talks green and understands how to wield the power of the Internet …”
Zuma will win this election on Wednesday. Yet there is little yearning for his “new start”. Instead, we are depressed. Zuma is a man who walks into office suing the UK Guardian’s columnist Simon Jenkins for saying he is “a polygamous, leopard skin-draped Zulu boss, an unschooled former terrorist, Communist sympathiser and rabble-rouser”.
There are 23-million voters registered for Wednesday’s poll. Some of those voters were not even born when Nelson Mandela was released on February 11 1990. One wonders if, like my generation and the generations before us, they are haunted and defined by apartheid. One wonders if their vote will bear, should bear , these terrible scars?
Without a doubt though, on Wednesday, we should all vote. Are we voting for the liberation ideals we hoped for, and wanted, and had fought for, in 1990? Or are we voting for this country, this great country, that we live in today, and hope to make better tomorrow and after that? For if it is the past we are talking about, the decision is easy.
But tomorrow , as Allister Sparks once wrote, is another country. That country is about our institutions, which have been so debased , and whether we can save them, thereby, securing our democracy and our country’s future. Do we have the courage to enter that country? It is this new consciousness that we now have to face and embrace.The best you, the voter, can do is to participate in choosing which route we take.