WHAT a dramatic week it was across Africa. For once and when one looks back beyond the events of last week, it felt like the former UK Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s words to the Parliament of South Africa on February 3, 1960 in Cape Town are shaping our political reality once again.
By Tapiwa Gomo
In his speech, Macmillan said: “The wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not, …”
Maybe we are too busy and too engrossed pursuing the change agenda to notice that it is actually unfolding before us.
In Southern Africa, Angola, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Zambia have gone through changes. Botswana President, Ian Khama will also step down before elections in 2019. However, in this instalment, the focus is on Zimbabwe, South Africa and Ethiopia.
Zimbabwe was plunged into mourning after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai, the man who had become the icon and face of democracy. There is no doubt that Tsvangirai’s entry into politics was a major game changer in Zimbabwean politics.
Millions of people pinned their hopes on Tsvangirai after Zanu PF’s brutal rule had fallen out of favour.
He stood for and defined democracy, which our liberators had failed to deliver.
They became autocrats and he offered democracy. His departure will indeed leave a void; a void no one can fill.
Of course, there will be replacements in his party, those will not be Tsvangirai.
He carved his niche where some doubted him. He put his life at risk for what he believed in — a character rare among the current crop of opposition faces.
Tsvangirai’s death is a bigger game changer than the coup that gave birth to the new dispensation.
The next elections will indeed be different, with new names on the ballot paper and new campaign narratives.
Was the country prepared for these sudden changes?
Time will tell. Across the Limpopo, former President Jacob Zuma bowed down to pressure and stepped down as the leader of South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in, ushering another seemingly new dispensation. This is a monumental shift in South Africa, as Ramaphosa is seen as a darling of the markets.
He is one of theirs and the rand has responded positively, probably signaling good times ahead. But how is he going to balance the interests of the racially marginalised people and the markets?
The South African situation needs a much deeper analysis. I have written in previous instalments that in South Africa, politics is subservient to the faceless markets. The markets represent interests of the oligarchs – a handful of white businessmen and their families, who control South Africa’s economy, which includes mining and its associated chemical and engineering industry and finance.
The same markets influence the election and dismissal of politicians.
An unpalatable choice of politicians causes the rand to plunge and prices to rise, evoking mass protests, which piles pressure on the government to kowtow to the wishes of an esoteric group.
They script the political course of action and so far ensured that no president completes their second term.
They sponsored Zuma’s rise and Thabo Mbeki’s demise. Using corruption, the courts and the Gupta story, they plotted Zuma’s downfall. To them, the Guptas were like new competition and needed to be removed. State capture is not a new phenomenon in South Africa.
History shows that the African National Congress (ANC) and its governments were captured well before independence.
It is that capture that has ensured that the markets remain powerful. They have control over the courts, which is why criminal closed cases involving politicians can be re-opened if it helps achieve political ends. They sponsor civil society organisations and opposition parties to destabilise the government and pursue their interests. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader, Julius Malema has been an efficient tool for their agenda, but his days are numbered once his socialist agenda threatens their comfort.
He will not last.
They own the majority of the media houses in South Africa, which gives them the power to set the agenda, control and direct the narratives and their outcomes.
The markets, the courts, civil society and the media are – in theory – the levers of democracy.
With these at their disposal, they can tinker with public emotions and stir the people against the government and they remain untouched.
So, Ramaphosa’s rise is another game changer.
It may mark the beginning of the death of redistributive agenda, as the oligarchs have regained control.
Credit to the oligarchs, they have kept the economy solid and intact but they have stifled its growth because of lack of diversification.
In East Africa, the Ethiopia Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn tendered his resignation last week, amid unrest and a political crisis that has led to the loss of lives and displacement of many.
He thought his resignation was vital in the country’s efforts to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy.
Hailemariam led Ethiopia since 2012 following the death of Meles Zenawi, who had laid the foundation for the current economic policies.
Aklilu Habte-Wold was the last Ethiopian Prime Minister to resign in 1974.
While some do not associate Ethiopia with democracy because the country chose to pursue economic growth over anything else, it is indeed another game changer that an Ethiopia leader steps down to breathe life to democracy.
It will be interesting to see if Ethiopia can find the balance between the pursuit of democracy and economic growth.
Tapiwa Gomo is a development consultant based in Pretoria, South Africa