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Africa: Mastering the Art of Appearances: Whither Africa?

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Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA) – ANC supporters from Ward 93 in Green Point and Qandu-Qandu informal settlement on October 21, 2021, greet party president Cyril Ramaphosa as he campaigns for the local government elections. Maybe by the next general elections, says the writer, South Africans will be able to vote directly for all those they want to represent them, right up to the president as the electorate grows tired of posturing political parties.

By Dr Wallace Mgoqi

O, Africa, O Africa !

Who has bewitched you ?

Who has deceived you ?

To believe in appearances,

Not in reality,

To believe in form;

Not in substance .

The history of the Continent of Africa tells that as the peoples of Africa, we have always believed in appearances. Our leaders , generation after generation have refined the art of making us believe in appearances, not the reality, in form and not in substance.

When we look at individual countries, especially our own in respect of which I consider well qualified to talk about, we see how our leaders have indeed, perfected the art of mastering appearances and make us believe that these represent reality, when it is not the case.

Since 1994, when we obtained our freedom from apartheid we were made to believe having what is regarded as the best Constitution in the world would give us a better quality of life.

Political parties even had slogans like Working Together For A Better Life, which has either never materialised or where it did, marginally so.

Yes, there are changes that have taken place. More houses have been built, more people have access to electricity, more people receive social grants, more children receive education, but the bulk of the population is still languishing in grinding poverty, high levels of unemployment and staggering inequality, where affluence lives side by side with abject poverty.

A typical example, from my own professional life experience , is my former employer, what was then known as the department of land affairs, whose appellation has changed so many times, that when you refer to it, you are never sure if it is still called by that name: the department of land reform and rural development; the department of rural development and land reform, and the acronyms that go with the new names.

Does the change of name, election after election, change the reality on the ground? It does not.

Whenever a new name is proposed, it is an opportunity for a new tender to be issued, and for some people to line up as its beneficiaries. More often than not, politicians are the beneficiaries.

So it is with our leaders that each new government of the same party that was there in the beginning, makes changes, in the name of restructuring, and they give a new name to the same department and make us believe that there is going to be change. They even undermine institutional memory by bringing a new band of thieves, their acolytes, the deployees, who help them advance this exercise in deception.

We, the people somehow perpetuate this evil, by our tolerance – what Professor Patrick Lumumba calls our “low satisfaction threshold” or “high tolerance level”.

We have had the same governing party telling us for twenty-eight years now, how they are changing things for the better, when in fact the reality is the opposite and getting worse by the day. The examples are too numerous to even begin to enumerate. They stare us in the face everyday, like a ghost or a nightmare, they haunt us in our daily living and follow us in our sleep. We are restless.

What started off as a romantic episode has turned into a nightmare, we are trapped.

On the Continent, the Organisation of African Unity ( OAU) first and later the African Union (AU), established the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. With it two other institutions among others were also established, to help in the protection and promotion of human and people’s rights on the continent, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights.

In addition a number of Protocols have been adopted by the member states of the AU.

The rules of the African Court provide that it shall have jurisdiction in contentious cases and advisory matters, giving it the powers to:

a) deal with all cases and disputes submitted to it concerning the interpretation and application of the Charter, the Protocol and any other relevant human rights instrument ratified by the States concerned;

b) render advisory opinions on any legal matter relating to the Charter or any other relevant human rights instruments.

There is this provision that the African Court shall have an “advisory opinion jurisdiction”, something which courts generally shy away from. The Court may render advisory opinion on any matter within its jurisdiction. The advisory opinion of the Court may be requested by the AU, member states of the AU, organs of the AU and any African organisation recognised by the AU.

When I inquired from an old friend who served in one of these two organs, as to how one goes about requesting advisory opinion of the African Court, via a recognised organisation by the AU, I was disappointed when she told me that it was like chasing your tail, because there are no such organisations recognised by the AU that you could use.

To make things worse she also confided that, once they as an organ of the AU were thoroughly frustrated when they tried to make such a request, they were fobbed off with a technical response that basically told them to go and jump into a lake, as politicians on the AU would not countenance any shaking or upsetting of the apple-cart.

They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. The officials who are fortunate to represent their countries on these structures are paid, and they too do not want to rock the boat. What good is having a Court and a specific provision like that and yet not being able to ensure that such a procedure can be used effectively by those who need it? What is it if not mastering appearances and making believe that they are a reality?

Commenting on the same phenomenon, in the context of gender equality and its sluggish pace, Mushtak Parker says in an article published recently in the New African, “Gender Equality is still sluggish at best”, observes:

“South Africa has a Constitution which has all the gender equality legal protections, which may give the impression the country is an epitome of gender tolerance and justice; in reality it has probably the highest rate of gender-based violence in the world.”

You ask yourself: Why ?

A story is told of the times of the British system of colonising African tribes, and in particular, when in the Eastern Frontier, they would send a magistrate to the villages to promote their policies.

On this one occasion after the magistrate had spoken, on the need for Pondos to accept the Land Trust policy, to which the Pondos were opposed to, one Pondo man, in his blanket, (with not a single item of clothing under the blanket) without saying a word, raised his blanket to the waist, bared himself in front of the magistrate, with his backside facing the magistrate, and let loose a big fart. A man standing next to the interpreter whispered and said: “When a Pondo man does that, ‘Kuzakufiwa’ meaning there is going to be trouble here.”

Without a warning the magistrate and his officials ran to their motor vehicles, and a cloud of dust was seen rising in the sky behind them as they left the meeting unceremoniously. Maybe we need to recall that spirit of the militancy of the Pondos, known as one of the most war-like among the Nguni tribes.

A spirit that says: “Not again, enough is enough of this chicanery and duplicity.”

We must remember the adage: “I fear the Greeks even when they come bearing gifts.”

Maybe by the time of the next elections we should insist on an electoral system that allows the people to elect their representatives directly, from the ward right up to the president of the country, no more via a political party. Only then shall we bring an end to these shenanigans of politicians.

Not again. Enough is enough.

Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the charperson of AYO Technology Solutions Ltd. He writes here in his personal capacity.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.