South Africans Know What To Expect When An Intellectual President Is Replaced With A Populist One.
On Wednesday (Nov. 9), Americans woke up to the reality that a charismatic populist buoyed by the support of a non-urban working class base was slated to become their next president. As South Africans, we’re here to say: We’ve been there America.
When Nelson Mandela decided to step down from just one term as president in 1999, many South Africans saw his successor as a natural fit. Thabo Mbeki was a well-spoken intellectual with an international master’s degree in economics and development, and an impressive activist record. As president, he spoke beautifully of the need for a “renaissance” that would restore the dignity of post-colonial Africa. Under his leadership, South Africa experienced an extended period of economic growth, and began to have confidence in its position as a beacon for human rights and progressive, globalized ideals on the continent and across world.
For a while, South Africa felt its reputation on the world stage was secured. So it came as a shock to many South Africans when the ANC took the drastic step to “recall” Mbeki in 2008, and replace him as president with Jacob Zuma, a relatively inexperienced but hugely popular politician.
Here was who had faced 783 corruption and racketeering charges, been tried and acquitted for rape, had only a 6th grade-level education; a polygamist with a slew of scandals with women outside of his four marriages. Zuma was the antithesis of Mbeki, and in many ways, a rejection of the globalized and dreamy-eyed vision of South Africa put forward by a technocrat. Zuma was a man of the people. Sound familiar?
So Was Adolf Hitler!