MUCH has already been said about South Africa in 2016, and this continues as I write this new piece. Many South Africans and others in the diaspora are still trying to recover from what has been happening inside and to the one country in Africa they had hoped would be the one to shine a much-needed torch and lead in Africa and the world.
Looking back at 2016, it is almost as if the country – at least the growing part of it that is opposed to state capture and related iniquities - is now in desperate need of collective post-traumatic stress counselling. But this would help only if the reasons for the collective stress had been dealt with; taken out of our system for good. Sadly, they persist. The cancer has not left the system yet.
Now, some analysts have begun telling us that we were dreaming, in the first place, to think that South Africa would be different. They tell us that it was just a matter of time before artificial Western pretences would fall away in the face of an onslaught by what it really means to be a country run by Africans in Africa.
I argue that we should keep the dream alive and keep pushing back so that we never cross the point of no return and fall into the abyss. There is still hope; there should still be hope.
But in all honesty, we should have begun to notice the gathering of the dark clouds when the ineffective Organisation for African Unity (OAU) was clumsily rebranded to the current African Union (AU) - and left under the management and control of the same despots who ensured the failure of the OAU in the first place.
Many of these African leaders have survived decade after decade of political office thanks to a combination of violence against their own people, terror and blatantly stolen elections - where such were carefully allowed to happen. There was also opportunistic reliance on a litany of archaic African values that ensured that their people, who are expected to reject all things Western and “respect their African traditions and cultures”, feared challenging their authority in any way. In many African countries, very little has changed.
Read: Prince Mashele: South Africa is just another African country
So the AU, which was supposed to spell the beginning of a new era in African economic and political fortunes, as well as African relations with the rest of the world, was condemned to fail right as its launch was being celebrated with much fanfare amid Western-sponsored cocktail parties.
How would it succeed, we should have asked at the time, when the same ineffective and self-serving leaders would determine who would run it and how its operations would be managed? How would it become something to be proud of, if some of the ideals it was established for would go counter to the entrenched practices and visceral fears of the people wrongly leading it?
To this day, they determine its policies, the limitations of its reach, and they work together in choosing who gets to lead the AU, often careful to choose only malleable people unlikely to look the despots in the eye and tell them that enough is enough.
South Africa - supposedly a new broom
With Nelson Mandela at its helm, post-apartheid South Africa was meant to serve as a new broom on the continent and, arguably, in the world. While a new, younger and more vibrant member of the African community of nations, it came armed with a progressive constitution and a bill of rights whose virtues have been described in many books and media articles over the years.
It was meant - at least many of us expected it – to show others that it is possible to be an African society governed by a rotation of political parties changed through regular and transparent democratic elections, underpinned by a set of predictable rules of engagement, a free press, freedom of expression, tolerance of political and cultural expression, etc.
A constitutional democracy, it would be governed through a set of robust democratic institutions that in many African countries existed only at the beck and call of dodgy life presidents. Freshly out of the horrible experience of apartheid rule, its foreign policy was promised to be human rights-driven; a value many believed would never be compromised for political expediency.
Now we’re helplessly experiencing our South Africa being pulled out of the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) as a pledge of brotherhood with a band of alleged human rights abusers on the continent. Despite its weakness of lacking global reach, the ICC is the only legal platform not controlled by African despots, something they clearly hate.
The same despots – some of whom are on the run from international law – are said to prefer that African political leaders suspected of human rights abuses be spared punishment because they know of other leaders, in far-away continents, who have also not been punished for alleged crimes. This or that they should be left to establish a court that will deal with African issues; a court that, like the AU, they will determine the shape and jurisdiction of, including who will serve in it.
South Africa can still be saved from the madness resulting from bad leadership. It doesn’t have to bend over backwards to please criminals for the country to be a shining light in Africa and elsewhere.
Will 2017 be remembered as the year of reawakening for the giant that should be South Africa?
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. Views expressed are his own.