It is now increasingly rare to find leaders who are fully committed to pan-Africanism with no strings attached.
South African leader, President Jacob Zuma and his Deputy Cyril Ramaphosa snubbed the continental summit of Heads of State in Addis Ababa presumably in order to attend the ANC’s policy conference which ran from Friday the 30th of June to the 5th of July. Brazenly flouting African Union rules, South Africa’s delegation was led by the Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana Mashabane yet the rules could have only allowed Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to represent the country if not the President himself. It was a suspicious move which set tongues wagging over the possible reasons why the two top office holders in the country could not make it for a continental meet-up yet they are leaders of what should be the oldest pan-African political party in the continent. There was a general consensus that in a decision between the party and the continent, South Africa’s leaders chose the party.
While some analysts argued that domestic affairs should always take centre stage and then the continent after, the ANC’s gathering is largely a game of thrones and not awfully critical for the development of South Africa. It is also interesting to note that Pretoria has previously assumed a judgmental tone towards Botswana’s leader, Ian Khama who has been labeled “an anti-African weapon of neo-imperialists” for his AU summit snubs. In view of this, it is South Africa which set the standard that absenteeism is akin to anti-Africanism. Was the need to fire-fight and play referee in the ANC so great that a President who conveniently sells himself as pan African could not leave the country for a continental agenda? Was the need to keep political power in his corner that intense? If presence at summits is a measure of commitment towards the African cause, then there is a need to discuss President Jacob Zuma’s form of pan-Africanism which can be summarized as convenient and feigned at best. For Jacob Zuma like many of his kind, pan-Africanism is just a winning card and a magnet for election winning black sympathy.
President Zuma has been known to raise the highly emotive topics of “white supremacy” and “black empowerment” whenever he struggles with legitimacy. He is no different from a textbook definition of an African dictator in this regard. Criticizing Zuma’s tenth State of the Nation Address, Helen Zille in the Daily Maverick argued that , “He (Zuma) had to paint a picture of a country needing to be rescued from the enemy within; and offering himself as the hero at the helm of the State, mobilizing his Superman powers against the kryptonite of racial capitalism.” One then quickly remembers December 2016 when Jacob Zuma said, “I realized that I will not resign on my own, that would be surrendering to the white monopoly.”
When they struggle with legitimacy, leaders like him abuse pan-African sentiments and score political points. This has done more damage than good to the pan-African movement and the youths are left with a tall order of having to redefine and own what it means to be pro-African. At this point, leaders like Zuma have reduced the pan-African and pro-black ideology to a trump card for every desperate leader. It has become an illogical but highly emotional last resort in bids to maintain power.
It is now increasingly rare to find leaders who are fully committed to pan-Africanism with no strings attached. Most are just committed to their power and it so happens that the pro-black and pro-African ideology helps them keep it. Zuma’s decision to stay and focus on his party was a stark reminder that when push comes to shove, his commitment lies with his and his minions’ power in South Africa. African progress or black empowerment is only at the periphery of what matters to him. This is not an approach he monopolizes but many other self-professed pan-African leaders also use.
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