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THE relationship between the petty bourgeoisie and political elites in a post colonial state is a subject that requires critical interrogation because it informs the kind of democratic order and political morality that is necessary to push back the frontiers of poverty, itself largely a legacy of the colonial state.
The end of apartheid in South Africa ushered a new era in which political power was transferred to the majority of the citizens through their elected representatives.
Republicanism formed a foundational basis of the post apartheid state underpinned by a government of laws and not of men.
Fourteen years into the post apartheid construction, it is evident that no serious conversations have taken place in South Africa to deal with the issue of what sort of values and behaviour by the citizens is necessary for the republic to survive and flourish. If there is anything that President Thabo Mbeki and new ANC president Jacob Zuma agree on today, it is that the ANC should invest in political education as a matter of urgency.
It is not accidental, therefore, that the most powerful person in South Africa today, Zuma, finds himself on the wrong side of the law. Zuma is alleged to have been bribed by his friend and financial advisor, Shabil Shaik, who has already been convicted in exchange for discouraging the 2001 arms probe conducted by parliament and generally in facilitating Shaik’s deals with the government.
The choice of republicanism as an ideology for governing the post apartheid state with an emphasis on liberty, rule by the people and the civic virtue practiced by citizens was informed by a universal consensus that dictatorship, aristocracy and oligarchy would not help advance the cause of nation building.
By accepting a republican form of government, South Africans agreed to put a premium on civil virtue and opposition to corruption. Republicanism is generally perceived to be incompatible with office holders using public power for personal gain.
There are many unresolved problems in South Africa, but the Zuma/Shaik, Selebi/Agliotti, Winnie Mandela/Tony Yengeni, and many other post apartheid corruption cases are far too many for us to pause to critically examine issues related to political morality and foundational principles of a post colonial state.
Is it the case that Africans have assimilated a political ideology founded on foreign morality with an in-built poison pill to eliminate popular African leaders against a background of inherited class relationships founded on a generally corrupt relationship between colonial political elites and business?
What should be the relationship between a post colonial state and emerging black business in Africa? Who should the state be accountable to? Who should benefit from state business? How are the state actors largely drawn from historically and economically disenfranchised majority to be economically stabilised if zero tolerance to corruption is a key foundational principle of a post colonial state?
The South African miracle that has been universally applauded was founded on forgiveness and acceptance by both villains and victims that it would not serve any purpose to seek to advance the national democratic revolution by looking backwards.
Indeed, the criminality of apartheid and the consequential assignment of benefits exclusively on racial lines were accepted as given and Shaik’s apartheid equivalents were equally forgiven and are today generally perceived to have acquired their wealth legitimately.
If colonial history was to be interrogated critically, it would not be surprising to establish that the relationship between state and non-state business actors was generally corrupt. What is ironic is that the fiercest post colonial critics of corruption tend to be the very beneficiaries and successors of the colonial system.
The menace of corruption to development is well acknowledged and it would be wrong to argue that corruption should be condoned as a necessary evil in any nation building experiment.
However, it is not surprising that the culprits of post colonial Africa tend to be black and no serious questions are then asked by citizens how they would expect their generally financially challenged representatives in the state to balance their books if it is accepted that the object of colonialism was to place the majority blacks in a financially precarious position.
It would not be considered cynical to argue that a blind acceptance of republicanism in a post colonial state has the effect of distorting political morality. Citizens expect a corruption-free administration and yet they acknowledge that their political and bureaucratic elites have no independent economic means to reduce the risk of parasitic behaviour of the order displayed in the alleged relationship between Zuma and Shaik on the one hand, and Selebi and Agliotti, on the other.
It is generally agreed that corruption is endemic in all governments, and that it is not peculiar to any continent, region and ethnic group. It cuts across faiths, religious denominations and political systems and affects both young and old, man and woman alike.
Corruption is found in democratic and dictatorial politics; feudal, capitalist and socialist economies. Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist cultures are equally bedevilled by corruption.
And corrupt practices did not begin today; the history is as old as the world. Ancient civilisations have traces of widespread illegality and corruption.
Zuma was first charged with corruption following Shaik's trial and the case was thrown out of Pietermaritzburg High Court last year over the state's delays in producing evidence.
Zuma was relieved of his duties following the conviction of Shaik although he was not given an opportunity to defend himself in the Shaik trial.
Unlike Selebi who has been given granted an extended leave of absence, Zuma was thrown into what was thought to be political wilderness to defend himself without the benefit of any pay.
What has emerged now is that when President Mbeki fired Zuma, the state did not even have sufficient evidence to prosecute the case. It was then necessary for the state to raid Zuma and his associates’ properties to obtain new evidence, in a manner that has been challenged as unconstitutional. The state is now using that new material to allege that during the period 1995 through 2005, Zuma received 4 million rand in corrupt payments from Shaik notwithstanding the fact that such evidence was not part of the evidence used to convict Shaik.
Shaik, who is serving a 15-year sentence for fraud and corruption, was found guilty of seeking a 500,000-rand-a-year bribe from French defence company Thales on behalf of Zuma, and not for the payments spanning over a ten-year period.
If Zuma is guilty of receiving payments from Shaik, a risk exists that all business persons who have made any payments to their friends in government will end up facing the same fate.
It has now been accepted that to correct the historical economic injustice created by apartheid, blacks should be given preferential access to government business and yet in doing so, the spectre of being accused of corruption rests on all emerging businessmen who because of history invariably look to the state as the primary source of business and capital accumulation.
Many of the emerging South African businessmen were colleagues during the anti-apartheid struggle with the political elites and the friendships forged are now being called to question and if the Zuma standard is applied, I am not sure how many of the politicians in South Africa would pass the test.
Any payment made to a post-apartheid political friend by a business person attracts with it the risk of being perceived as a generally corrupt transaction. It is incumbent upon the beneficiary of such payments to disclose to the state the true nature of the payment and the underlying relationship. However, it is not the case that in South Africa, all politicians can claim that over the last 14 years they have not received cash and non-cash payments from their friends in business.
Mutumwa Mawere's weekly column is published on New Zimbabwe.com every Monday.
You can contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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