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Russell Pollitt, S.J.April 22, 2016

As if enough damage has not already been inflicted on South Africa by its current leadership, another week brought more blows to a battered country. On April 21 President Jacob Zuma presented the findings of a Commission of Inquiry that cost taxpayers dearly and was, by all accounts, a farce. He was implicated in a corrupt arms deal, which was investigated by the commission.

President Jacob Zuma presented the findings of a Commission of Inquiry, called the Seriti Commission, which was setup to investigate corruption in the procurement of arms with a French arms company, 17 years ago. The arms were for South Africa’s Strategic Defence Procurement Package (S.D.P.P.). It was alleged that there had been undue benefits and influence in the process of the deal. Zuma was implicated—along with some of his friends, including his financial adviser. The commission, to the dismay of many South Africans, found that there had been no underhanded dealings, Zuma unashamedly announced.

Zuma told the nation that the commission had found that the deal was “a fair and rational process.” Curiously, two people—including Zuma’s financial advisor—have already been convicted for corruption that was directly related to the arms deal.

As if the arms-deal report was not enough bad news for the week, on April 22 it emerged that Julius Malema, the firebrand leader of an opposition party called the Economic Freedom Fighters (E.F.F.) told Al Jazeera in an interview (to be aired on Al Jazeera English this Sunday, April 24, at 19:30 GMT) that his party would remove the government “through the barrel of a gun.”

Malema had been expelled by Zuma’s party, the African National Congress (A.N.C.), in 2013. He had served as president of the youth league. He, along with others who were expelled by the A.N.C., formed a new political party, the E.F.F. Malema told the interviewer, Jonah Hull, that the E.F.F. would take up arms if the governing A.N.C. responded violently to “our peaceful protest.” Malema claims that he knows that the A.N.C. rigs votes in one of the country’s biggest and richest provinces, Gauteng. South Africa is holding municipal elections in August this year; these elections will be the most contested and probably most significant local government elections since the dawn of democracy 21 years ago.  

Earlier in the interview Malema had said that the E.F.F. was not waging war against Zuma or the A.N.C., but against “white monopoly capital.” He said that Zuma and the A.N.C. were not “the enemy,” but they were standing in the way to crushing “white minority capital.” Malema said that in that process there are “irritations” and that Zuma and the A.N.C. “represents such irritations.”

The unemployment rate for the nation’s young people is more than 30 percent; there is already unease and tension fueled by desperation. Malema now is inciting rebellion against government by advocating violence. This is a dangerous cocktail.

It is becoming more and more clear that these two egocentric, power-hungry individuals may drag South Africa deeper and deeper into crisis for their own selfish gain. President Jacob Zuma has more corruption allegations against him than the average South African can remember. Just recently the land’s highest court, the Constitutional Court, found that he had flouted the country’s constitution, which he, as its first citizen, has the duty to uphold. He had refused to comply with the public protector’s recommendation that he repay the government for public money spent on “security upgrades” at his private residence. The opposition parties took him to the Constitutional Court over the matter, and the court upheld the public protector’s findings. Zuma was ordered—again—to pay.

He, and a number of his closest allies, have now been exonerated by a commission of inquiry that he had an active hand in setting up. Zuma and his cronies have, once again, proven that they have no shame and continue to demonstrate that they believe they do not have to be accountable to the citizens of the country.

International ratings agencies are already scrutinizing the country’s limping economy and have considered downgrading the economy to junk status. The economic woes of any country are not entirely of its individual making; global forces are also at play. It is, however, no secret that Zuma’s government is responsible for a good part of the economic mess South Africa confronts. Bad policies, poor decisions and corruption have led to a lot of the country’s financial woes.

This week has not been a good one for South Africa. Intense negotiation 21 years ago propelled the country onto the world stage. A peaceful transition from apartheid rule to a democratic dispensation was labelled nothing short of miraculous all over the globe. Now the country faces an alarming precipice.

A president, on one hand, supported by a ruling party—who, ironically, fought hard for freedom—enslaved to greed and corruption. They refuse to show any willingness to be accountable to the people of the country whose hard earned tax money is being wasted on useless commissions like the Seriti Commission.

On the other hand, the country has a man exploiting the poor and vulnerable, who have been neglected by government, for political gain. Calling for a revolution and threatening to take up arms in a country that is socially, economically and politically in great distress, is irresponsible.

Two significant personalities, Zuma and Malema, have cajoled South Africa into its current state. These two may prove to be the forces which push the country over the edge. How desperately sad that a country that was once the world’s example of peaceful transition is now becoming an example of corruption.

Russell Pollitt, S.J., is currently director of the Jesuit Institute South Africa and a Johannesburg correspondent for America.

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