IN 1967, a book by Caribbean writer VS Naipaul examined how newly-created elites in newly-independent countries that had laboured under colonialism began acting with as much greed, cruelty and ruthlessness as their former colonial masters.
Naipaul named his book ‘The Mimic Men’.
It was an appropriate title then – and, in many ways, ‘post-colonial mimic men’ (although in today’s world there is a sprinkling of mimic women too) is a sadly apt description for the thieves, looters and thugs who have helped to push the economy of South Africa into tailspin.
Let’s be clear about this: Many South Africans have been watching mainly ANC-aligned witnesses testify on ‘state capture’ at the Zondo Commission in Johannesburg with a sense of horror.
The country’s governing party has a lot to answer for and to make right.
Forget all the talk about the ANC being the party of the poor and about being proponents of a developmental state. What is being heard at the commission is a story of the most vulnerable section of the country being betrayed by a party in which the majority of its members attached more importance to closing ranks behind an incompetent and dishonest president than to fighting to alleviate the plight of millions of their poverty-stricken compatriots.
What has become clear too is how far too few party members disagreed with what was happening. And even then, most who did, could not find it within themselves to muster the courage to raise their objections sufficiently loudly and clearly.
The consequences have been devastating.
Evil men and women created opportunities with a brazenness that beggars belief to steal billions of Rands from a range of government institutions.
Those involved are criminals of the worst kind. What they have done is unforgiveable. They must be arrested. They must be charged. They must be tried. And, those who are found guilty, must be jailed.
Since the advent of democracy, South Africa has struggled to alleviate poverty, mainly because the ANC was out-manoeuvred in the negotiations that ushered in the new democratic era.
In these negotiations, it could boast about winning the fight for universal suffrage. But it was the National Party that secured a much more crucial victory: it won the fight for control of the economy.
The ANC quickly realized that the vote was not a substitute for an empty stomach. But by then it was too late.
This was not the end of the story, though…
In a classic case of divide and rule, the old controllers of the economy (wearing new coats} began dangling some enticing carrots to ‘high-ups’ in the new ruling party – just as the English had dangled carrots to Afrikaners in the decades after the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910.
The building of a black middle-class became a key exercise for those who controlled the economy.
And so, like in Ghana, like in Nigeria, like in the Congo, and like in a range of other countries, a new batch of post-colonial ‘mimic men and women’ was cultivated.
Quickly, South Africa’s black poor, who had greeted democracy with such high hopes, were deserted and forgotten.
Their wait to be dragged out of poverty, would take longer than expected, they were told.
StatsSA has devised ‘three poverty lines’, each representing a different degree of poverty, ranging from ‘food line poverty’, in which, according to 2017 calculations, approximately 14 million people have to get by on R531 month, to ‘upper line poverty’ in which around 30 million people live on about R1,130 a month.
News of state theft and, more recently, the heist by politicians and business people of about R2-billion from VBS Bank – the deposits of mainly poor people – has resulted in a disgraceful display of ‘what aboutism’ by Zuma and Gupta supporters, the EFF and other motley groups.
Suddenly, ‘white monopoly capital’ (WMC), a brainchild of former Gupta marketers, Bell Pottinger, has been thrown into the mix. WMC is far worse than what Zuma or the Guptas are involved in, is the way the narrative has been put together.
Of course, those who devised the business practices of corporations during the apartheid years – and let us be honest, they collaborated with the apartheid system and contributed to poverty – have a lot to answer for.
But surely, corruption should not be countenanced because, well, the National Party and those who voted for it, were guilty of it.
Many will argue that white business got off far too lightly in the discussions, negotiations and investigations that followed the collapse of apartheid.
But for any black South African to want to become a ‘mimic man’ or ‘mimic woman’ would be a betrayal of millions of their compatriots.
The State Capture Commission has already driven home an important lesson to the ANC government, a lesson in which it will need to ask itself: ‘Who are we supposed to serve? The party or the mostly poor voters of the country?
Its answer will determine its future.