The late national poet laureate, Keorapetse Kgositsile, once warned me about people who profess adherence to African culture to justify patriarchy. He was speaking out against how we, men, can use culture or religion to suppress women.
The removal of President Jacob Zuma from office, emphasised the price we Africans pay for thinking in platitudes.
In resigning his position as head of state, Jacob Zuma joined a club of African leaders in Africa who are certainly not going to receive the coveted Mo Ibrahim Prize for African Leadership. It went to former Liberian president – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Zuma joined the club of African leaders who fail to read the sign saying: time to go. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh are there with him.
Although he did not cling to power the way Mugabe and Jammeh did, he was allowed to stay on when he should have been offloaded; others might even say he should not have been president in the first place, but democracy is too sacrosanct for logic. He might soon be joined by Burundi’s Pierre Nkurunziza, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbé Eyadéma, DRC’s Joseph Kabila and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
These leaders’ inability to tell when it is time to go tarnishes their illustrious records in serving their countries after and before independence. They manage while structures that ought to stop them from doing so are stifled by clichés, such as sovereignty.
When Africans are lazy to act against a dictator or a ruler in patent violation of governance principles and their constitution, they blithely cite their right to continue messing up because of the sovereignty of his state. Any reasonable and necessary intervention gets branded as interference.
This disease is not peculiar to Africa; the United Nations twiddled their thumbs while genocide terminated nearly a million people in Rwanda in April 1994.
The real malady, however, is that of African politicians and their supporters when they excuse sloppiness and corruption in the name of such tired excuses like “due process” or the “right to be presumed innocent until found guilty”.
The ANC presided over the deepening of racialised economic inequality since 1994, failing to prioritise education and other basics to improve the quality of the majority of black South Africans. When criticised, it was never short of explanations.
“It took apartheid centuries to mess up this country, so it is unreasonable to expect us to fix it all in five years”, was the riposte. Five years became 10 years, then 15 to date.
Another overused cliché was the one about what anyone calling out tender-corruption had done to liberate South Africa; or simply labelling them racist.
This inevitably silenced any critique, allowing malfeasance to corrode organs of state without commensurate service delivery. We even earned the disgrace of such lines as “I did not struggle to be poor” to go along with “there is nothing wrong with black people getting rich” when commentators were asking if such important programmes as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) were not enriching too few while leaving out the majority.
The mentality of the ANC, that it is this “glorious movement” left some comrades feeling entitled to sleep on the job while the political elite connived with corrupt private sector enterprises and opportunists to loot.
This looting channelled what belonged to black entrepreneurs, who were working hard for that elusive breakthrough, into the pockets of unpatriotic greedy few who did not care to share.
Today our biggest threat to socio-political stability is inequality and the many unemployed African and coloured young men.
In the corridors of white-owned businesses the party line that kept black, mainly small, enterprises from cracking the procurement conundrum to become suppliers was, “we will buy from black businesses, but will not compromise on quality”, thus creating the impression that black equals poor standards.
There are more such easy escapes, but when the ANC and South Africa ponder how to ensure we do not find ourselves here again, we must radically change the language of our thinking.
* Kgomoeswana is Author of Africa is Open for Business; media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs, and a columnist for Destiny Man