HARARE – Nelson Mandela is hailed for relinquishing power after serving a single five-year term as president.
He is also lauded for choosing reconciliation rather than retribution.
Mandela said he did not want to be considered a saint unless a saint was a sinner who kept on trying. His critics, including President Mugabe, would say he did not try hard enough.
A few months ago, Mugabe said Mandela was “too saintly” only to praise him after his death last week.
Perhaps the major criticism against Mandela is that he perpetuated pre-apartheid inequalities during his tenure; social disparities that continue to haunt South Africa today.
South Africa is one of the most unequal societies, it is asserted. But which society is or trying to be, truly equal? Mugabe’s description of Mandela as “too saintly” is euphenism for lack of aggression towards the white minorities.
South Africans would have learnt, however, that the un-saintly route Mugabe chose has left Zimbabwe isolated, with a sick economy so much that thousands have become unwelcome guests in the neighbouring country.
Very few would contest the moral underpinnings of indigenisation and black empowerment.
Unfortunately, Mugabe has presided over growing inequalities between the privileged and ordinary blacks themselves.
The inequalities among our black population would have been epitomised by the revelation of Phillip Chiyangwa’s cornucopia of obscene riches, courtesy of a divorce case, recently.
Before him, we learnt of Ignatius Chombo and Sylvester Nguni’s massive wealth; both exposés again thanks to litigated matrimonial rupture.
Some would have the acquired wealth honestly while others would have benefitted from patronage.
It’s not that Zimbabweans have disdain towards the rich. Most ordinary men and women want the same access and opportunities and not to be denied such because they do not have a “connection” in the ruling establishment.
Back to South Africa. It sounds preposterous that two leaders and 14 years later, Mandela’s critics would still blame him for the social inequalities that still exist in South Africa.
Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma have, in turn, assumed office since; one a whisky-quaffing and pipe-smoking intellectual; the other, a bald-headed embodiment of caricature and statesman.
Both share (d) weird notions about Aids; one a denialist; the other, a believer in the inhibitive powers of water. Mandela spent part of his retirement campaigning about the disease, now decimating his people.
The criticism against Mandela implies, and wrongly so, that what he is blamed for is immutable.
His two successors have had chances to correct the inequalities he is accused of having sustained. But what we see in Africa as a whole are growing inequalities among blacks themselves.
Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of the ANC, is regarded as one of South Africa’s richest men with Forbes estimating his wealth at $675 million.
Isabel dos Santos, the oldest daughter of Angola’s longtime president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, is the richest woman in Africa, worth about $3,5 billion.
According to Forbes, evidence shows that President dos Santos has transferred stakes in several companies to her.
Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo is one of the wealthiest heads of state, with a net worth of $600 million. His son lives in a $30-million Malibu mansion.
The list goes on. Until Mandela’s death, Zuma had been under the cosh for spending R200 million revamping his private home in Nkandla, which includes a swimming pool and an amphitheatre.
One cannot help but admire Uruguay’s Jose Mujica, dubbed “the world’s poorest president” for his frugal ways. He refused to move into a presidential house to live on a farm; earns $12 500 per month but keeps only $1 250 for himself and gives the rest to charity.
Unlike Mandela, black leaders stay in power inordinately to benefit themselves, their relatives and patrons.
We may not be exactly equal but we should attempt to narrow the social gap.
Indeed, white governments created inequalities based on race that must be undone.
But black governments are also creating inequalities premised on patronage.