SA must beware of ‘Nigeriasis’

THERE is no denying the existence of corruption in high places in the Rainbow Nation.

There are also serious divisions in the ANC some fanned by one man called Julius Malema.

We all have our own peculiarly “African” problems, whose common denominator relates to poverty.

Yet a problem in South Africa would be as nightmarish as any in Nigeria, described by one wag as “Nigeriasis”.

South Africa has had rumblings of corruption since 1994. There was the arms deal and the case of Tony Yengeni, now reportedly an ally of Malema.

Malema has said that whether or not he is chucked out of the ANC, he intends to be remembered by history. He is only 30 and already planning a career as “a political” Colossus.

Yengeni’s imprisonment paled into a sideshow with what some have called “the day of the long knives”: President Jacob Zuma’s firing of top people in his government, and the suspension of the republic’s No. 1 Cop.

All are said to have been caught with their slimy fingers in the taxpayers’ cookie jar.

To be fair, apartheid has a lot to do with it. The truth is that colonialism spawned a brand of criminality among the oppressed — from Cape to Cairo — which they would never have resorted to had all their civil and human rights been recognised.

As justification for this particular African sickness, it stinks.

But the more racist the system was — and apartheid was the ugliest — the more formidable the weapons devised against it.

In general, colonialism created a new African. People fought it in their own special circumstances — this assault on their dignity.

Growing up in Harare Township in Salisbury, we were introduced to how our own people — once they visited South Africa — returned as “tsotsis”.

Our reaction was a blend of revulsion and admiration — they were sharply dressed, utterly fearless and utterly deadly with knives and guns.

Some of them laced their Shona and SiNdebele with Afrikaans which they thought — perhaps rightly — frightened the skin off their listeners.

Until much later, we thought South Africa teemed with tsotsis, in broad-brimmed hats, oversize double-breasted suits, with telltale bulges in their inside pockets.

They were all chain-smokers, with that characteristic, rasping cough which foretold TB.

We believed, mostly, that they were the creation of “the colour bar”, before they called it “apartheid”.

We all knew who had turned them into these monsters — mabhunu (Boers). But the film, Jim Comes to Jo’burg, screened to full houses in the Recreation Hall, in Harare Township, did not dwell too much on what apartheid had done to the Africans what slavery had done to the African-Americans.

The film featured a beautiful Dolly Radebe as the love interest. I can’t remember who played Jim.

It was an enthralling film. Later we realised it was basically how the white man saw African life in the evil cities.

As escapism, it was peerless. It was, for many of us, the first film in which a black man was neither the villain nor the luckless victim. He was the hero.

But every colonised African country had its own tsotsis during and after full nationhood.

Ghana had Krobo Edusei, although many people would not stoop to calling him a tsotsi. They still insist it was his wife, rather than the minister himself, who bought that “golden” bed.

Many other newly-independent countries have had to count, among their lawbreakers, the top brass in the constabulary.

Countries all over the world have had this same scourge – the lawless enforcers of the law.

South Africa has the largest economy in Africa, next only to Nigeria, which has been independent since 1960.

Most detractors of Nigeria cite the incredible level of poverty in a country virtually saturated in oil.

Realistically, it is premature to pass judgment on South Africa’s economy, only 17 years after the end of apartheid.

Nigeria has been independent since 1960 — some of my best friends are Nigerians. It most certainly doesn’t have a first — or even a second — world economy.

In both instances, the havoc wreaked by hundreds of years of colonialism provides stark reminders of the massive exploitation of the countries’ natural resources on behalf of the “motherland”.

But it is not true that corruption is intrinsically “an African thing”.

We learnt most of it from the colonialists.

Corruption is now such an ever-present component of African politics, graft of any kind is admired.

Until we clean up our political act, there will always be graft in our midst.

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