South Africa: Between a snafu and a fubar

South Africa: Between a snafu and a fubar

On Zuma’s watch, growth has halved, the national debt has doubled and another million are unemployed
THERE‘S a grim choice confronting the US electorate in November between the two most unpopular candidates in polling history. This caused Harvard history professor Niall Ferguson — one of the most erudite and eloquent people on the planet — on Sunday to resort to military crudities to define Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton.
Writing in the Sunday Times of London, Ferguson suggested that those opting for Clinton were accepting the status quo of “snafu” —“situation normal, all fouled (or f*****) up”. Trumpians, on the other hand, were going for a catastrophic crash-landing. US bomber crews came up with an acronym more extreme than snafu: “fubar” stands for “f***** up beyond all recognition” — the disaster which a Trump presidency could represent.
Ferguson has an appreciation for South Africa, and has spent several Christmas holidays enjoying the delights of Llandudno beach in Cape Town. It might be apt at this juncture in our own affairs to describe our beloved country as somewhere between snafu and a fubar, or maybe a combination of both.
In the 1960s on British television there was an immensely popular satirical programme which also enjoyed an abbreviation — “TWTWTW” — shorthand for That Was the Week That Was.
Our own TWTWTW has yielded no end of snafus and fubars.
Last Tuesday President Jacob Zuma answered questions in parliament. Or rather he didn‘t. Asked by MP David Maynier to itemise the government‘s nine-point plan to rescue the economy, which was introduced with much fanfare as recently as February, Zuma was stumped to name more than one of the priorities. Some, perhaps unkindly, would suggest that the score of one out of nine is an accurate grading of his seven years at the helm of the ship of state.
On his watch, the growth rate has halved, the national debt has doubled and another million people have joined the ranks of the unemployed. And then there‘s the cascading corruption which engulfs the state.
However, presidential ignorance was not the only characteristic on display in parliament last week. There were also generous helpings of denialism and self-pity.
In response to opposition leader Mmusi Maimane‘s probing Cyril Ramaphosa‘s entirely accurate observation that “the government was at war with itself” Zuma flatly denied this and snapped that Maimane “should ask Ramaphosa”. Unity of purpose is clearly not a feature of the duo at the top of government.
Still, it must be tough to be called “a thief”, “repugnant”, “scum” and “corrupt” in a parliament that used to treat Nelson Mandela with kid gloves and gave obsequious standing ovations to Thabo Mbeki.
There is undoubtedly an equipoise between opposition contempt of Zuma and his own disdain for the constitution he swore to uphold. And on the latter issue, the Constitutional Court — and not opposition MPs — made this damning determination.
British politician Enoch Powell once remarked that any politician who complained of a hostile press was in the futile position of a sailor who lamented about rough seas. The same applies, with interest, to presidents who indulge in the self-pity of complaining about rough-house treatment in parliament as Zuma did after Tuesday‘s hostilities. Given what has happened since his parliamentary appearance, his next round will be even worse. The only alternative then would seem to be a permanent relocation to Nkandla.
Days after he was treated roughly in parliament, the president‘s hand-picked trusty at the National Prosecuting Authority, Nomgcobo Jiba, who has played such a prominent role in protecting “No 1” from prosecution, was found by the Pretoria High Court to be a “liar” and was struck from the roll of advocates, effectively disbarring her from her job. In the best tradition of Zuma, she will filibuster this through appeals. But the end for her is nigh.
Another lying Zumaite, the notorious SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng, is even closer to the exit door. He has just lost in the Supreme Court of Appeal and has only one more legal round left to avoid the damning finding that his appointment was “irrational and unlawful”. Those words seem a fit description for his rule of error and terror at the SABC.
To cap this run of disasters for the president and his hand-picked team, came the tragedy of the deaths of 36 patients in just two months at mental health facilities where the Gauteng department of health had relocated them in a cost-cutting measure. Naturally, no one is responsible and the MEC who presided over this fiasco, Qedani Mahlangu, saw no need to resign. The Gauteng ANC might be the most implacable opponents of Zuma, but theyseem to have supped from his broth of non-accountability and denialism.
To escape his travails at home, Zuma flew off at the weekend to address the UN in New York. However, the happenings on his watch have reduced, drastically, our standing in the world.
Once heralded as a stand-out nation, we are now just another country, sandwiched on the UN roll call between Somalia and South Korea. The only memorable aspect of Zuma‘s visit was his decision to fly SAA, another area of disastrous misgovernance presided over by another fast presidential friend.
South Korea, however, has the advantage of high growth and credible governance, both of which items are in short supply right now in Zuma‘s republic.
Last week I participated in the IQ Business Smart Growth Conference which tried to suggest some of the tough choices and necessary trade-offs that Zuma declines to make in order to lift the country from the near 0% GDP growth we are experiencing.
Smart and plain-speaking Ann Bernstein, who heads the Centre for Development and Enterprise, was asked by 702‘s Bruce Whitfield how the government had responded to her package of proposals to lift growth. Her response?
“Actually, I don‘t think we really have a government right now.”
• Leon is a former leader of the opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA

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