Without a Savior: The staggering breadth of southern Africa’s political dysfunction
The central problem of writing about South Africa is that it is almost impossible to explain the country’s slow-motion catastrophe in terms that make sense to foreigners. Consider these headlines, culled from just a fortnight’s newspapers. Johannesburg’s City Press reports that the head of the ruling party’s Political School—set up to nurture “revolutionary morality” among thieving civil servants—is declining to explain how he has come to own two new BMWs and a Maserati. South Africa’s Sunday Times alleges rampant corruption in the administration of Northern Cape province. The same paper reports new attempts to silence a trade-union leader who likens the nation’s rulers to “hyenas” who feed off the poor. Elsewhere, we have FAILED BILLION-DOLLAR EDUCATION PROGRAM; WHISTLE-BLOWER MURDERED; WIFE OF NIA CHIEF ON TRIAL FOR SMUGGLING COCAINE, the NIA being our CIA. And finally, the story of the hour: The National Prosecuting Authority has abandoned its investigation into the whereabouts of $130 million in bribes generated by South Africa’s notorious 1990s arms deal.
In the West, scandals of this magnitude would topple governments. Here, they are almost meaningless. Most will never be pursued or resolved satisfactorily. The electorate will not stand up and scream, “Enough!” In many cases, the alleged culprits won’t even be investigated, and the incompetent bureaucrats who presided over the education fiasco will not be fired. In a week or two, these stories will be blown off the front pages by equally hair-raising scandals, most of which will also just fade away. It’s been like this for years, and there comes a time when you stop paying attention lest the drumbeat of bad news drive you mad.