By Jaston Binala From Johannesburg.
I recently visited Johannesburg, South Africa, on a special trip funded by the organization Global Investigative Journalism Network (GIJN); a beautiful trip indeed into Africa’s rainbow nation.
In the posh sprawling city, I quickly noticed some contrasts I found in 1992 still exist today, the same way they did back then– when I made page three news travelling to apartheid South Africa before majority rule. The rich still exist alongside the poor–in different parts of the city of course. Black Africans still live with White Africans, although I noticed fewer whites in the streets than was the case in 1992; but you still see both races.
Moving in a Taxi from Hillbrow Street at the Berea area toward Oliver Tambo International Airport, a middle class suburb is perched on the slopes of a small mountain toward the left. This is about 15 minutes into the taxi drive from Berea. The streets are still clean, but the fenced brick houses seem empty. Only an occasional black man or woman drives or walks by one of the houses.
It is about 11.00 O’clock in the morning. The eerie emptiness of the streets in this area at this time of the day raises a question: why? Who lives in this neighborhood?
The taxi driver is silent as we cruise. He is focused on the road– concentrating on the steering as we move toward Oliver Tambo; the airport was called Jan Smuts International Airport during the apartheid era. I am thinking of the past as we pass through this eerie neighbourhood.
Jan Smuts was the first point I discovered in 1992 there were positive aspects of apartheid era South Africa not reported in the media. Some whites accepted blacks in South Africa–even as anti-apartheid demonstrations and state sponsored murders overshadowed isolated gestures of human kindness from both races.
It was at Jan Smuts International airport where I found a smiling white young woman, probably in her early thirties so excited to see a black man from Tanzania. I was not even checked at the entry desk. The stout young woman asked if I had any coin she could keep as a souvenir. Fortunately, I had carried a few Tanzanian notes with the Nyerere photograph on them. I gave her one of the notes and her clear Anglo-Saxon eyes shone with excitement; in Anglo-Saxon eyes–whether a shade of purple, light blue or light green–excitement is never hidden.
This is now 22 years later and the driver responds to my question as we approach a slope. He says the silent neighbourhood was a ‘whites only’ area during South Africa’s apartheid era.
Owners of these middle class homes fled the country when the apartheid system collapsed in 1994. South Africa would never be the same, they thought. They fled to Europe and other places they felt safe, the driver says.
But the whites who fled may have made an error of judgement to some degree. Johannesburg is still as beautiful as I found it in 1992. Blooming jacarandas decorate some streets, two-storey buses still run, the streets are swept at night and the garbage collected during the day . Of course I saw an occasional plastic bottle lying on the road-side somewhere, but there is no way anyone could compare Johannesburg to the filthy and stinky Dar es Salaam!
Apartheid ended in 1994 to bring to power black majority rule under the socialist oriented African National Congress (ANC)–the freedom fighter party formed in 1912 and which rules South Africa in strategic partnership with Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. Many white South Africans foresaw problems to accompany majority rule; and a fair admission should be made here, that some of the problems foreseen in 1992 have begun to surface
The end of apartheid was in the air in September 1992 when I arrived in Johannesburg for a month long training workshop on Investigative Journalism at the Mail & Guardian. A referendum to measure the acceptance of majority rule had been held and virtually the whole country had said yes. The country had become weary of economic sanctions, anti-apartheid riots, bomb blasts and political abductions. The numerous anti-apartheid political parties which operated from outside the country had been allowed to return, to operate freely from inside the country.
Even the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) had been allowed to return with their Moto: “One settler, one bullet!”
The freedom fighters had stayed outside South Africa for so long some of them were virtually aliens in their homeland. I visited the PAC headquarters in downtown Johannesburg to find a young girl who spoke Kiswahili more fluently than I did because she grew up in Mbeya and attended Jangwani Girls High Schools in Dar es Salaam. She even spoke a vernacular from Mbeya and I was shocked!
But uncertainty was in the air among whites. Various formal and informal groups discussed the subject of a future South Africa. One formal discussion group created a document circulated to us during training. The document was called “The Mont Fleur Scenarios.”
The Mont Fleur Scenarios predicted four possible paths leading into a future South Africa after the onset of majority rule. The document predicted an array of problems in four possible paths and today, 22 years later, I found out some of the problems foreseen in 1992 have begun to manifest.
There were four possible paths under black majority rule. My workshop at Mail & Guardian discussed the scenarios and added our own inputs into those outlooks. Scenario number one proposed continuation of the apartheid system. This scenario was judged unworkable. The second scenario proposed running a future South Africa under a government attempting to please everybody in the country. This scenario was also judged unworkable.
Then there were two other scenarios which all seemed somewhat workable. All these scenarios were given nick-names of birds. Scenario three was called the Icarus scenario. In the Icarus, a future South Africa was seen characterized by a constitutionally unconstrained black government which comes into power on a wave of popular support and noble intentions. This popular government embarks on a huge but unsustainable public spending programme, which crashes the economy.
The best scenario was nick-named Flying of the Flamingoes. In this scenario, a future South Africa is characterized by a successful transition from apartheid to majority rule; everyone in the country is rising slowly and together. It is the perfect situation where everything works well.
Today, 22 years later, the apartheid system is dead never to return. Scenario number one, which was nicknamed the Ostrich scenario is dead. Scenario number two nicknamed the Lame Duck scenario is also dead. The ANC government is not attempting to please everybody. Scenario number four, the Flying Flamingoes is not happening; and there is proof everywhere everything is NOT working well in South Africa.
The closest to 1992 scenarios in the current reality is scenario number three: the Icarus scenario. An Icarus is an imaginary bird which has capacity to fly very high. Unfortunately, one day it becomes too ambitious it flies too far above the earth the sun melts its wings. It therefore can’t fly any further and it falls back on the ground. Many whites predicted this would most probably be the case. They fled the country to find a more secure environment.
During our discussion at Mail & Guardian, contributors said the fear among many whites was that under a black majority rule, South Africa would follow the path of other African governments which had gained independence from Britain and other colonists. It was feared the future South African government would attempt to take wealth from the rich, and attempt to please the majority of the population by overspending that wealth collected from the rich; but, like in the other independent African countries, the government would also be corrupt, the infrastructure would deteriorate and the economy would be plagued by inefficiency. This seems to be happening!
The taxi driver had now diverted the topic away from the posh houses on the hillside. He was now talking about the day Nelson Mandela was buried.
He pulled his name tag from the glove compartment near the dashboard. His photograph was on the name tag identifying him as an official guide at the funeral. O my God, he got security clearance? How interesting, I mused, mh.… I was being taken to the airport by a very important man! And I was beginning to feel somewhat important…for once at least.
We were now cruising down a gentle slope to clear the small mountain on the left. Oliver Tambo international airport was now visible in a distance. South Africa is a ‘keep left’ nation like Tanzania. In a distance, a car was running in the opposite direction towards us. Suddenly a traffic police officer sprang from the roadside in that distance to stop the approaching saloon car moving towards us. “He probably just wants a bribe,” the driver said. Traffic cops have started taking bribes here too? I asked loudly. South Africa has become another corrupt African nation.
It has began to look more like the 1992 Mont Fleur Scenarios skipped an important scenario; one which could have been nicknamed the African Vulture scenario because vultures eat other birds and may even endanger some of the other bird species.
In this scenario, the ruling elite is inefficient, corrupt and self-centred, the public interest is compromised, leading to a widening of the income gap between the haves and the have-nots. In this scenario, the incidence of crime rises, and South Africa returns back to civil unrest but this time the boer is black. This could have been Mont Fleur Scenario number five.
This brings me to a cartoon I saw a couple of months ago in which the South African president has too many wives and lacks time to attend to government affairs. The president’s time is split between quality time with the numerous wives and golf lessons he is getting from some tutor, and the time he must spend with a lawyer to discuss legal matters which plague him.
It has begun to look more and more like the whites who fled the country after 1994 had a point when they argued South Africa would suffer economic deterioration the same way other black African countries deteriorated after independence.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director for Africa, Antoinette Monsio Sayeh, launched the October 2014 IMF Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. She identified a number of Sub-Sahara African countries whose economies were robust, and those which were in trouble. The robust economies included those on the Eastern Africa sub-region.
She placed South Africa on the same group with African nations whose economies were on a decline path because of “home grown policy challenges”. The South African economy is currently lackluster due to electricity bottlenecks, weak product competitiveness and difficult industrial relations, Sayeh said. It is consequently projected to perform poorly on its GDP measure in 2014.
The African majority rule government inherited coal-powered electricity production plants from the boers 20 years ago. The power plants have not kept pace with the demands for electricity in this economy which was until recently Africa’s largest economy. A majority black African government is incharge of the economy!
The ANC government is now in the process of building a nuclear power plant, but the speed for its establishment is not quick enough I was told in Johannesburg. At the time of writing this post, a corruption scandal involving the current South African President Jacob Zuma is the main subject of discussion in the country.
The President is the subject of multiple probes on how R246 million of state funds was used to improve his private family home in KwaZulu-Natal on a security pretext. Investigators are attempting to figure out how the $27 million of government money could all be spent to upgrades a private home on claims the money was being spent to improve security at the vast homestead on a mountain side.
The Nkandla homestead is virtually an entire village where the millions of Government dollars/rands were spent on roads around the compound in what is now known as The Nkandla Scandal. The story was first published by the Investigative South African newspaper, Mail & Guardian.
One blogger in South Africa is very angry about all this: “So since 1994 I have voted 5 times and have seen the country being run by 3 different presidents; sorry if you count Kgalem Molanthe who took over after the ANC booted out Mbeki and brought in Butternut head Zuma. Now I am aware that many people consider Nelson Mandela as a terrorist and that he should not have been President in the first place, but I think that even those people, if honest with themselves would agree that Madiba was 1,000,000 times better than the […..] we have as our president today.
“Thabo Mbeki was not liked by his party and thanks to the efforts of another dumb […] Mr (and I use that term lightly) Julius Malema of the Economic Freedom Fighters, but at least he was not a lying, cheating fktard like the present President.
“What is…my families future in South Africa?, well let’s see what the results are and how the next year pans out. While I Love South Africa, I can’t help but get a horrible feeling that it’s going to slide into the typical Africa Abyss that seems to befall this beautiful continent.”