Leonid Brezhnev, the leader of the Soviet Union, is lying in state. The year is 1982 – the year in which he died – sixteen years after ascending to the position of leader of the Soviet Union…The bottom of his coffin gives way and his corpse falls to the floor. Depending on which version of the story one believes, Brezhnev’s dead body either falls to the floor like a brick or, not only does it land on the shiny floor, but rolls like a ball until it comes to a halt. I do not want to speculate about the fate of the coffin makers. I will leave that to your imagination. All I will say is that there was something prophetic about and in what happened to Brezhnev as he is lying in state. Let me hasten to add that I am open to the possibility that this did not happen. For the purpose of my argument in this missive, it did. This story, therefore, is the tale of a state in a state of decline in the years precedent to its ultimate collapse. The image of Brezhnev’s body falling out of the coffin is a prophecy that, in proportion, is both Shakespearean and biblical. But there is a historical irony at play here. The tombstone was laid, not when the Soviet Union died, but when the Cold War was born. The destruction of the Berlin Wall was the destruction of a tombstone. In its place many tombstones have been erected. This is where we go to worship and propitiate the gods of greed. The poor and the hungry have no God. Their governments sacrifice them to the gods of profit and mumble when the moneyed talk because their mouths are full of the crumbs left for them by the high priests after their unholy communion with economic power. South Africa is not an exception in this regard.
Political and economic elites, blinded by greed, cannot see the storms on the horizon that are coming towards us. The (mis)ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), is running out of flesh to cannibalise in its body and is now feeding on the flesh of the nation. The feud within the ANC family, it appears, at least to me, is going to touch and will be touched by other storms that are advancing towards the country. The storms that i am talking about are:
the storm from Nkandla
The storm from the Zulu royal house
As mentioned already, the storm from the ruling party
The storm of hunger
In two days time, former president Jacob Zuma has to present himself to the authorities to start serving the fifteen-month jail sentence that was imposed by the Constitutional Court. What will happen if he refuses to go? What will happen if, as some of his supporters have already told us, in his defence, if they refuse to let him go?
There are two ways in which we can approach the answers to these questions? First, what will happen is contingent on whether the assumption that he still enjoys a lot of support is grounded in reality. Second, it depends on whether such support is real, and if it is real will it become manifest?
As we consider the possibilities, we must bear in mind that the imposition of a climate of fear and the creation of conditions for political instability do not depend on the size, or even quality, of support for the former President. For chaos to take root, for institutional uncertainty to deepen and for the country to become a shadow of what our ancestors have always dreamt for us, only a few are needed to plunge the country into a state of utter despair. Only one man, armed with pacts Faustian and otherwise is enough to destroy our dreams of South Africa as the home of peace, harmony and plenty. Therefore, irrespective of whether Zuma has three or three million supporters, there is enough room for a terrible tragedy to occur. Our fears, therefore, are well-founded.
According to the Constitutional Court judgment, if Zuma does not present himself for incarceration, the police minister and police commissioner must take steps three days after Zuma fails to present himself to give effect to the Constitutional Court order. Edward Zuma, the son of the former president, says the authorities must know that they will have to kill him before they get to his father. At one level, these are the words of an angry and emotional son. At another, the words must be seen as a call to arms whether, he himself, is conscious of this or not. That said, let me say two things: First, if it is not common cause that the country stands, precariously, in front of a precipice, that is so because of some of the political choices Zuma has made, it should be. Second, there are aspects of the Constitutional Court judgement that have caused me anguish:
In the same way that Rosa Luxemburg said freedom of expression must, almost exclusively, be reserved for those who differ, the quality of justice must in its highest form, be reserved for the worst among us.
Therefore, the right to liberty must, primarily, be defended by the highest court in the land.
In sentencing Zuma to a jail term by departing from known practice, as the main judgment concedes, the Constitutional Court failed in this regard.
If, indeed, it is true that we are equal before the law, the positions to which Zuma has ascended should not have informed the content of the Constitutional Court judgment, partially or otherwise.
This brings me to the conflict within the Zulu royal house:
We all remember the drama that followed the announcement that Prince Misuzulu will succeed his father, King Goodwill Zwelithini, as Isilo. While things could have been much worse on the night in question, and while a tragedy was averted, the drama continues to play itself out within the Zulu royal house in other ways, in the open and the shadows, where dark secrets and plots dwell. Who is wearing the crown of kings departed? Is it Misuzulu, or is it another, a usurper? Is the Zulu nation, a people to whom the crown belongs, wearing the crown? If the crown has been usurped, woe unto us because a storm – the anger of kings past – is brewing. And, when the storm collides with the political storm that is brewing in the ANC, a perfect storm, destructive in its impact, will hit the country. In part, its ferocity will be born of the anger of ANC ancestors who decry the fact that the ANC, in spiritual terms, has become a very dark space, where dark spirits dwell, because too many in its ranks and leadership have invoked, and are invoking dark powers to win power and influence and stay in power. The suffering of our people, their pain and hunger is what makes these leaders and members of the ruling party sleep like innocent babies at night. But, from the hunger of the people will come another storm. At first, the country will burn and then it will sweep the ANC out of power.
All these storm are avoidable if actors, political and otherwise, make the right choices politically, spiritually and in terms of policy content. These storms are not inevitable.
Let me end with an image:
Imagine that in South Africa, the fly is sacred. When it is spotted, there is celebration, joy and ululating. Now, come back to reality – our democratic and constitutional dispensation is the fly. To me, our democracy – a liberal democratic reality – is becoming the ghost of a fly. Imagine a fly caught in a spider’s web. When you look at it, its body is intact. This is not true. The spider has hollowed it out. You are looking at our democracy. It is hollow and it is being hollowed out. Liberal democracy, as experienced by the majority of people in this country and elsewhere, is both a lie and a fraud. It will, therefore, not serve us to reduce the current moment in our history to the injudicious choices of one man – Jacob Zuma. We will gain very little from reducing complex political, social and economic realities to a single event – one judgment by the Constitutional Court. This judgment is part of a moment in history. It is a moment in history in which debates about law may be interesting to certain classes in our society but are esoteric to the rest. The law must give meaning to the lives of our people. Our courts are but one of the components in our society that must give meaning to the human existence of our people. Our judges have a role to play in contributing towards the betterment of the human condition.
Otherwise, our Brezhnev moment is coming.
Aubrey Matshiqi is a seasoned political analyst and writes in his personal capacity.