The riots that rocked South Africa on Tuesday, by hundreds of ANC Youth League members are perhaps the first clearest indication that the disturbances which have destabilised North Africa could likely sweep across Southern Africa if leaders fail to heed the calls for democratisation.
All leaders in Southern Africa, particularly those who believe they are untouchables while failing to heed the people’s cry for democracy, have to make some adjustments and act accordingly before the unstoppable tide of “people power” sweeps them out of office in embarrassing style.
Analysts have already noted that “seeds of civil war” are being planted, and these fears can no longer be dismissed as far-fetched given recent developments in Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia, and the prevailing state of things in Libya where strongman Muammar Gaddafi has been uprooted from office after 42 years at the helm.
Indications that the kind of violence that rocked South Africa was last seen at the end of apartheid in 1994 means there is need for serious soul-searching on the part of the country’s leaders, and those in the region, who have to put their houses in order through ensuring democratic governance.
ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema and his supporters are openly challenging President Jacob Zuma and the ANC leadership, who they accuse of trying to silence them at a time they are calling for equitable distribution of wealth.
While Malema may have his own issues, the bottom line is leaders can only underestimate the power of the people at their own peril, and by serving their own interests citizens are disillusioned by their failure to address pressing issues.
It is pertinent to realise that the era for totalitarian regimes is gone and current leaders in Africa need to shape up or ship out.
The African Union (AU) also has to study the way the wind is blowing and become more pro-active in ensuring that African leaders toe the line of democratic practice.
The AU should be a watchdog and protector of democratic principles rather than wait for autocratic leaders to suppress the will of the people, but then when the masses decide to liberate themselves they are quick to condemn them.
If it does not become proactive, it risks becoming a club of tyrants, and the events in North Africa have revealed that the younger generation in the continent will not be hoodwinked, but will liberate themselves.
One wonders why African leaders must wait until they are chased by the people.