The Fall of the Rainbow Nation

The Fall of the Rainbow Nation

For two years, the African continent has been experiencing repeated presidential and legislative elections, coupled or separate. This year, more than 23 have been announced, although the Malian junta of Colonel Goïta, like any self-respecting putschist, has postponed the Presidential election on February 4 while suspending the activities of political parties. In these democratic events, fraud is generally legion, as we saw during the elections in the Comoros last January. However, despite President Macky Sall's desire to cling to power by all means possible, the surprise came from Senegal. The peaceful election, without fraud or violence in the first round of President Bassirou Diomaye Faye, sent a signal to the entire sub-region and in particular to Mali, Guinea Conakry, Burkina Faso and even Niger, democracy works!

If Senegal is not a regional “giant”, it brings a rare balance to a region prey to permanent destabilization, coups d'état, jihadist groups progressing from the Sahel towards the coastal states, it was therefore essential that it emerges strengthened from this electoral stage.

In this perspective, whether for “giants” like Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2023 or “stabilizing” countries like Zimbabwe in 2023 and Senegal in 2024, all these elections are crucial for regional balance. .

For those still to come in 2024, there is one which mobilizes the attention of all international observers: the general elections in South Africa. The release of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and his triumphant election to the South African Presidency in 1994, under the sign of reconciliation, justice and unity, gave birth to the myth of the rainbow nation. Since then, all the countries of the sub-region have continued to look towards the South African giant as a moral guide bringing political stability and economic development for the SADC (South African Development Community) and the whole of its member countries.

However, Mandela's successors failed to live up to his legacy. Whether it is Thabo Mbeki from 1999 to 2008, Jacob Zuma from 2008 to 2019, or Cyril Ramaphosa, in office since 2019 and who has just admitted that his government has not accomplished 50% of its program. They squandered and destroyed the trust that the population had in the ANC (African National Congress), which has not lost an election for 30 years. The slow erosion of the ANC's popularity has been underway since 2007. This is mainly due to the perception that Party members have implemented a system of systemic corruption and have cut themselves off from the population. The latter can no longer stand social inequalities. It faces the highest unemployment rate in the world, 30%, including 60% of young people between 15 and 24 years old, desertion of public services with electricity cuts, delays in salary payments in the South African army. and food insecurity in the Townships.

South African civil society is on the verge of implosion. This is without taking into account increasing crime, murders, rapes, gang warfare, drug trafficking and especially violence against immigrants or refugees from other African countries which regularly results in murders or looting. The final nail in the country's neglect is racial tensions exacerbated by the increase in murders of white farmers. In addition, the legendary cohesion of the ANC is under attack, despite the replacement of Zuma in 2018 by Cyril Raphamosa. The internal divisions and fractures in the Party are gaping. First, former President Zuma gave his support to uMkhnoto weSize, “spearhead of the Nation” in Zulu, a radical party which intends to cut “a few croupiers” from the ANC. Initially, Zuma was prohibited from running in the legislative elections and then finally authorized by the court of appeal, which only increased the radicalism of this small party which should make 10% in the legislative elections and which threatens the land of general chaos. Then, Ace Magashule, former Secretary General of the Party who also launched the ACT (African Congress for Transformation). This latest addition, however, should not create too many problems for the ANC. We must not lose sight of the fact that the South African democratic system does not elect the President by universal suffrage. It is the Parliament with 400 deputies which, according to the majority, chooses the President.

Since 1994, the ANC, having always had a full parliamentary majority, had no problem dominating the political landscape. But in recent years opposition parties have repeatedly succeeded in creating alliances that have gradually weakened the ANC's parliamentary majorities even in some of their historic strongholds. For the ANC, the danger comes mainly from two opposition parties. First of all the Democratic Alliance, liberal center right which is the first opposition party credited with 30 to 35% and whose leader John Steenhuisen allied with 6 opposition parties in a platform entitled “The Multi -Party Charter” which advocates good governance and the fight against corruption, its only handicap being that it must divest itself of its connotation as a party for whites. Then, the EFF, Economic Freedom Fighters, far-left party of Julius Malema, former leader of the ANC youth league. His radical program is simple, the nationalization of mines and other sectors of the economy, the redistribution of land and the obligation for the state to provide free housing. His radicalism is total since he calls for the murder of all white people. They are given 10% of the votes.

All these parties want an end to the 30-year reign of the ANC. The Democratic Alliance wants to bring together all the small opposition parties against them and the EEF to finally offer a credible alternative to what they call a period of incompetence and corruption! The EEF wants an end to the domination of Mandela's heirs but is ready to accept a political coalition if the majority of its program is implemented. Either way, South Africa is at a crossroads, the myth of the rainbow nation is being completely tested.

For the first time in its history, coalitions will have to be put in place, with the ANC or without it. This is a major turning point during which each political actor will have to demonstrate compromise and the ability to share power.

South Africa benefits from several assets to face this new, unprecedented political situation, its independent electoral commission which is unanimously respected and its army, politically neutral, not getting involved in debates or political confrontations. However, there are two other types of threats looming over South African elections. First of all, violence against elected officials, resulting in the assassination of political rivals. This is in full expansion and is becoming almost commonplace as an acceptable political method which reinforces confrontations between parties. In 2022 alone, there have been 20 murders of local councilors in KwaZulu Natal province, which may mean a real risk of slippage when certain results are announced in provincial legislatures. Then, the policy of the South African government in the fight against Islamic fundamentalism and jihadist terrorism which plague a large part of SADC member countries, such as Mozambique, the DRC, Tanzania and which has established very close links with South African organized crime. Indeed, South Africa is considered one of the hubs for financing the Islamic State in Central Africa (ISCAP) mainly for Ansar Al-Sunna in the province of Cabo Delgado and the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which fight in the DRC. The US government's OFAC (Office of Foreign Assets Control) recently placed a series of South African citizens on its sanctions list. While “tolerating” or in any case being unable to put an end to this criminal fundamentalist financing mainly due to corruption within the police force itself, South Africa is involved in SAMIM (1) in Mozambique to fight Ansar Al-Sunna and in the DRC within the SAMIDRC (2) to fight the M-23 but is inevitably confronted with the ADF. This ambiguity of a broad tolerance for radical Islam in the country, propagated by Saudi and Somali Whabbism and the diasporas coming from the Swahili coast and the desire to fight it abroad places South Africa at the center of a potential cyclone of destabilization. For the moment, despite threats from the Islamic State, jihadist groups have not committed any attacks on the soil of Mandela's nation, as they do not wish to jeopardize their financing system. The use of South Africa as a “rear base”, for training, concealment and a source of financing for fundamentalist militants has been known to the authorities since the 2000s but is in no way endangered by those -this.

Given the polls, it is very likely that a new government coalition will take power after May 29. If it were to concretely put in place effective police and judicial action against the economic and criminal actors who finance the Islamic State, South Africa would be faced with a wave of terrorist attacks. She is definitely not prepared for such an eventuality. The porosity of its borders, the corruption of its police and the weakness of its army (3) make South Africa an ideal target for the Islamic State with dramatic consequences for the country and the entire SADC.

The May 29 election carries all the factors that constitute hope for South Africa, the region and the entire continent. However, for this to become a reality, all political forces must understand that government coalitions and power sharing are the key to carrying out the necessary reforms to revive the country, eradicate poverty and enable it to play its role of regional leader. Otherwise, these same factors, if not addressed as they should be, will only increase the country's political, social, racial and economic divides, leading it towards chaos of which we cannot measure. the immensity of the consequences for the African continent. In a word, the fall of the Rainbow Nation.

Max Olivier Cahen

Former Advisor to President Marshal Mobutu

Author of a dissertation entitled “Strategy of expansion and hegemony of Islamic fundamentalism in Sub-Saharan Africa”

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