While some have hailed the willingness of the South African government to arrest popular former President Jacob Zuma as a victory for constitutional fidelity in Africa, there is a much darker side to the development.
Mass riots followed Zuma’s arrest, riots that were spurred by “ethnic mobilization” of the country’s Zulu minority, according to South Africa’s president. One group putting its racial interests above the shared civic identity of its nation threatens the very foundation of multiethnic democracy. https://www.dianomi.com/smartads.epl?id=3533
Zuma, himself a Zulu, is extremely popular in the provinces where rioting has broken out, owing to the considerable Zulu presence in those regions. Some Zulus saw the government’s justified prosecution of Zuma for corruption, and its move to arrest him for contempt of court, not as the enforcement of an impartial legal system but rather as an act against their people. For a country like South Africa, this is a uniquely dangerous attitude to have brewing among the populous.
No one ethnic group holds an absolute majority in South Africa. The country, which has a history of racial strife, relies not on common ancestry but the strength of its impersonal, racially unbiased institutions to survive. When people begin to question the legitimacy of these institutions, or one group decides that its desires are more important than maintaining them, the national cohesion is compromised. As rioting continues in the provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, the human cost of this flagrant tribalism becomes clear.
Seventy-two people have died, over a billion dollars in damage has been sustained by local businesses, and rioters have potentially sown the seeds of a food crisis. All this because one group of people was unable to put aside its pride for the common good.
South Africa is not a nation that can afford to be further destabilized. While many in the Western world may have a notion of South Africa being an outpost for the first world in Africa, this has become less and less true as time has gone on.
Electricity, for example, is regularly unavailable to South Africans due to the incompetence of their government-run energy utility service and poor infrastructure. Additionally, the government’s inability to curb violent crime has led a shrinking middle class to, in many cases, erect walls around its communities and hire private armed security to defend businesses.
South Africa is a country badly in need of order. To achieve this, the government must quash the violent ethnic nationalism festering within its communities. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to deploy the armed forces to confront rioters was a good start, but more needs to be done. Consequences must be levied against those who incite violence.
Julius Malema, leader of South Africa’s third-largest political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, threatened to rally his political supporters against the South African armed forces in solidarity with rioters. This act of sedition erodes the authority of South Africa’s government and can not be allowed to stand. Further, Ramaphosa’s administration must address the concerns of white farmers who claim they’re being targeted by criminals on account of their race.
Countries don’t just stay together for no reason. If South Africa is to endure the coming decades, it must give its people something to believe in. Failure to do so will allow racial sectionalism to grow, potentially spelling doom for the South African experiment.
Original Author: Robert Schmad