In the tradition of dimming debate, the chattering class has reduced systemic corruption in South Africa and the near collapse in Zimbabwe, respectively, to the shenanigans of two men: Jacob Zuma and Robert Mugabe.
Zuma, the President of South Africa, currently faces possible impeachment for corruption, while Robert Mugabe has now been forcibly “retired” after 30 years as President.
Surely by now, though, it should be common knowledge that in Africa, if you replace a despot, but not despotism, you only oust a tyrant, and not tyranny.
Emblematic of this is a thematically confused article in The Economist, offering a description of the dynamics set in motion by the Zuma dynasty's capture of the state.
At first, the magazine explains the concept of “state capture” as "private actors [having] subverted the state to steal public money."
Later, the concept is more candidly refined: “The nub of the state capture argument is that Mr. Zuma and his friends are putting state-owned enterprises and other governmental institutions in the hands of people who are allowing them to loot public funds."
Indeed. Corruption invariably flows from state to society.
And, “state capture” is quite common across Africa, even if "unfamiliar elsewhere in the world," which is all the "context" The Economist is willing to provide.
"To avoid a dire, two-decade dynasty of dysfunction, South Africa’s ruling African National Congress should ditch the Zumas," the magazine concludes.
That's it? If only.
"The Corruption of South Africa," courtesy of The Economist, hurtles between being an excellent exposé, yet providing nothing more than reportorial reductionism.
Continental context, if you will, is essential if one is to shed light on the "Dark Continent."
To wit, the seductive narrative about the ANC's new boss — and the man put forward as Zuma’s replacement — Cyril Ramaphosa, gets this much right: There is nothing new about the meaningless game of musical chairs enacted throughout Africa like clockwork. The Big Man is overthrown or demoted; another Alpha Male jockeys his way into his predecessor’s position and asserts his primacy over the people and their property.
Continued next page