By Pamela Eapen:
Mgcineni “Mambush” Noki was one of the striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine on the day of the worst massacre South Africa has seen since the end of the Apartheid regime. That day he, and 33 others fell victim not only to the fatal fire of police, but to South Africa’s flawed justice system. 34 men died and at least 78 were injured protesting for higher wages; and yet the insanely absurd action the police took at the time was to arrest the other 270 miners for the murder of their colleagues, even though these charges were eventually dropped. This outrageous event was only one of the many pieces of evidence of corruption in the South African legal system.
In April this year, South African President Jacob Zuma received the report of the commission of inquiry he had set up in 2012 in order to uncover the truth of the Marikana Massacre. He has yet to release the results to an increasingly frustrated public. One could, perhaps, believe that he really is taking his time – 52 days’ worth – and going over it with a fine-toothed comb. However, this is the same man who rejected the public protector’s report that found he had unlawfully used R52.9 million in taxpayer money to upgrade his Nkandla homestead, claiming she was more an “ombudsman than a judge”. What reassurance do we have that the President won’t treat the Marikana report with the same degree of flippant defiance?
Corruption and evasion of the law has been a disturbing trend in a government that escalated radically with Jacob Zuma’s very initiation into the top seat. Zuma, next in line for presidency of the ruling party – the African National Congress (ANC) – was notorious for being voted in despite corruption and fraud charges, and a charge of rape (of which he was acquitted). Soon after his successful election, he became embroiled in the corruption case of his financial advisor Schabir Shaik – but again had all charges dropped against him due to insufficient evidence and political interference. Zuma dismissed the criminality of corruption as a “Western paradigm”.
The President’s miraculous ability to evade punitive measures does not end there. The Scorpions were an elite agency that prosecuted those guilty of organised crime and corruption. They became notorious for raiding the residences of high-ranking politicians belonging to the ruling party. In 2008, they were disbanded and merged with the South African Police Service in a controversial move that was ruled unconstitutional three years later. Many saw the disbandment as a way for the ANC and its affiliates to protect themselves from the consequences of their corrupt actions.
Furthermore, in 2011, the Protection of Information Bill – otherwise known as the “Secrecy Bill” – was passed, to national outcry. Since the end of Apartheid, South Africa had prided itself on its citizens’ right to freedom of speech, but here was a piece of legislation that directly undermined that right. Journalists and whistle-blowers could suddenly face possible jail-time for doing their job – telling the truth. What finally came as the icing on top of Zuma’s cake of entitled behaviour was his forced removal of opposition party members from Parliament at his State of the Nation Address, the act of which many saw as a desecration of the legacy of Nelson Mandela and his fellow freedom fighters.
When the Apartheid regime came to an end, citizens certainly did not expect the situation to worsen. Somehow, instead of living in a free democracy, we simply live in a new society where the oppressor is black instead of white. This new society would silence truth-tellers to safeguard embezzlers and cheats. It would ridicule the wage demands of the working majority and shoot them for daring to speak out, but then use the money that could have saved their lives to pay for the palace of an undeserving leader. It would have us bend over for the government to walk over us so their feet need not touch the dirt, and then have us thank them for it.