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Those who have been through crisis points in their lives know that the first step to recovery is admitting there is problem, that the situation is unmanageable. The paradox is that only after such utter surrender can the solutions begin. There are reminders everywhere. I had a couple this week that the Zuma Administration is some way from grasping reality. One was a passionate soccer administrator who tried to explain away the $10m bribe SA paid FIFA officials to host the 2010 World Cup. Another is recently appointed Eskom chief Brian Molefe’s emotive defence of the indefensible Russian nuclear power project that threatens to bankrupt SA (but enrich the already enriched). RW Johnson’s explains in some detail in his classic How Long Can SA Survive that the end of Apartheid was engineered abroad. Hopefully international pressure will play a similar, desperately required job of sobering those who desperately need it. Here’s a precis of what the British are reading about South Africa in the influential Times of London this morning. – Alec Hogg
The Times of London, one of Europe’s most influential newspapers, carries a hard-hitting report this morning by Jenni Russell, one of its star columnists. She pens a scathing attack on the current state of South Africa headlined “Zuma is enemy of blacks and whites” where the writer shares first-hand experiences, concluding that she fears for the country’s future.
Russell is a powerful voice in the UK media where she is a well known broadcaster and columnist for The Times, The Sunday Times and the Evening Standard. She is respected in Whitehall, serving as a member of the independent expert panel advising the UK Government on the initiation and publication of Serious Case Reviews. In 2011 she won the Orwell Prize for political journalism.
Her column today kicks off with a description of Saturday afternoon’s suspicious armed robbery at the Sandton Fire station: “Social media has many pictures of smiling children sitting on firefighters’ knees, next to elaborate fireman-themed cakes. Families felt safe there. No longer. Distraught, suspicious parents report that all the firemen had left before the robbery happened, that the CCTV was unaccountably dead, and that the robbers had plenty of time to leave before the police turned up.”
Although the robbery did receive some media coverage, this kind of incident appears to have become so commonplace in SA that victims, concerned that their experience would be repeated, took to Facebook.
One of them wrote: “We feel so violated and aggrieved at the fact that we were at our most vulnerable with our children. We were a gathering of about 35 children and 40 adults and we feel that we were intentionally targeted. We have contacted the fire station to arrange a meeting with the commander as we have a number of questions to be addressed; namely that; the perpetrators knew there was a party at the station despite no signage/balloons in front, no fireman were on site, the cctv cameras were not working, the lady at the call room claims she didn’t have the police phone number, airtime or a siren/panic button to notify anyone, they seemed to know all areas of the station and was it coincidental that the robbers left just in time to avoid the fire department, police and security. We feel obliged to make this a public notice so that it will not happen to someone else. The Sandton fire department is fully booked for the month of November and we must ensure that our incident becomes public knowledge.”
Russell uses the robbery to highlight the reality of life in the country and expands by telling her readers: “From top to bottom, South Africa’s institutions are quietly crumbling, disintegrating under the weight of inefficiency, indifference, underfunding and corruption. In the same weekend 2,000 angry, frightened residents of a black township in the Cape protested outside a courtroom in support of a community leader accused of murder. Residents say they have been forced into carrying out half a dozen vigilante killings of suspected rapists, murderers and drug dealers because there is no police station and no policemen for the 40,000 residents, despite years of pleading.”
She shares a chilling personal experience: “In the Cape village where I was staying this week, a village of both Cape Coloureds and whites, the same problem is emerging. Two drug-dealers have moved in, selling highly addictive crystal meth. Everyone knows who they are and what they are doing. Everyone is frightened that this peaceful rural settlement will be wrecked by the consequences: desperate addicts, robbery, crime.
“Six weeks ago dozens of people marched down the main street begging the police to act. But the local policemen are too scared to respond. They fear retaliation from urban gangs. The villagers are being abandoned. This country is already one of the worst in the world for serious crime, and now it is going backwards. The basic functions of any democratic state — keeping order, dispensing justice, responding to people’s needs — can’t be counted on.”
There is no doubt in Russell’s mind – nor those of the 230 year old newspaper’s millions of readers – where the blame lies. She maintains: “In the past six years, since the election of the known bribe-taker President Jacob Zuma, progress has spun into reverse. South Africa has become, in the words of a leading trade unionist, a predator state, rather than one that serves its people. A tiny minority of black politicians and businessmen have misused their positions to become extraordinarily rich; extreme inequality has scarcely budged.
“Zuma, his allies and the ANC hierarchy are unembarrassed by their plunder. The president has faced several charges of corruption and one of rape. A parliamentary investigation has found him guilty of diverting millions of rands in public money to his own residence. Zuma mocks these accusations while destroying or neutralising institutions that dare challenge him. The elite anti-corruption police unit that investigated him has been disbanded. The public protector, who investigates maladministration in the government, has been accused of being a CIA spy. Zuma’s allies have been installed to run the tax office and the prosecuting system to ensure he and his cronies will escape jail, whatever their crimes.
“With robber barons in charge, incompetence and irresponsibility is becoming the norm. The government buys off opposition with money it doesn’t have. This year civil servants got a 7 per cent pay rise, even though growth was less than 2 per cent. Paying for it used up the country’s entire contingency reserve. Last week, after student riots, the government agreed to freeze or cut fees, blowing a vast hole in university budgets and causing the currency to fall almost 5 per cent. Unemployment, at one in four, is the eighth worst in the world, growth keeps falling, only a quarter of the country’s schools are judged to be functional, and female teachers in one province have been forced to have sex with union bosses to get jobs.
“If no one in power is prepared to recognise the growing crisis, I fear for the country’s future.”
Zuma is on his way to Germany at the invitation of Chancellor Angela Merkel, one of only three other global leaders who receive a higher remuneration that Zuma’s R2.75m official annual salary (the US and Canadian Presidents are the others according to a recent CNN survey).
German companies are big investors and employ well north of 100 000 people in SA. They have been among foreign investors expressing disquiet in similar terms to Russell. Maybe this visit to the persuasive Merkel, will help the penny drop.
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