ANCIENT AND MODERN Korea’s imperial succession
After Mandela At 100, the African National Congress looks distinctly unattractive
With the death of
Kim Jong-il and accession of his son Kim Jong-un, these are dodgy days in North Korea. It all goes back to Jong-il’s father Kim Il-sung, who became its first dictator in 1948 and also invented North Korea’s professional army. The first Roman emperor, Augustus, provides the model for what is happening.
Since Rome had never had an emperor before, the big question became: what happened when the long-lived Augustus died? Augustus was all too aware of the problem and, with no male offspring of his own, could only watch aghast as, one by one, his personal choices dropped off the perch.
According to Tacitus, it was all down to his wife Livia. She was determined that her less then enthusiastic son Tiberius by her first husband should succeed, but the ailing Augustus turned at the last minute to a previously unfavoured grandson. Livia stepped in. She summoned Tiberius back from his post in the Balkans, sealed the roads round the palace, posted hopeful messages and then announced Augustus was dead and Tiberius emperor. The grandson was immediately murdered. Job done. The point is this: Kim Il-sung was dictator till 1994. He faced exactly the same question: would the job stay in the family? But at least Kim Jong-il was grown up and knew what was entailed. Kim Jong-un is a dim, untested stripling in a still newish line of descent.
Which is where the military comes in. Like Kim Il-sung, Augustus developed Rome’s first, professional, career-based army and put himself at the head of it, determined that there would be no more private armies of the sort that destroyed the Republic. So Rome became, effectively, a military dictatorship. But that still left the question: would the army remain loyal to the man who took over on Augustus’ death? In fact Balkan and Rhine armies both mutinied, looking for better terms of service. No doubt the North Korean Army and its generals are equally keen to make a persuasive point to Jong-un’s team in a poverty-stricken country.
Tiberius likened being emperor to a man holding a wolf by the ears. Doubtless Jong-un would see the point.
— Peter Jones
It produced one of the greatest leaders of the 20th century. It fought a violent race-based dictatorship and replaced it with the most liberal constitution the world has ever known. Its song, a poignant Christian hymn, became South Africa’s national anthem. Since it came to power in 1994, about two thirds of South Africans vote for it. Yet now, as it lavishly celebrates its 100th birthday this week, it has a reputation for corruption and incompetence. So whatever happened to South Africa’s African National Congress?
The ANC was formed as the Native National Congress by urban middle-class Africans and chiefs to protect and promote African interests after the Boer War, when peace between Boers and the British came at the price of African rights to own property and vote. At this stage ANC leaders were more concerned with protecting their own rights than representing the masses.
Quite soon the ANC had to face the dilemma: was it to fight for black representation within the existing political system or for a more just political and economic system for all? After forging an alliance with the South African Communist party in 1953, it chose the latter course, and became a protégé of Russia and the Communist bloc, its language borrowed from Moscow. The ANC began to talk about smashing the apartheid state and capitalism. Banned in 1960, its leadership was imprisoned or fled abroad, though it subsisted in the minds of black South Africans as a symbol of hope and resistance.
The fall of the Berlin Wall came as a shock to the ANC. Many saw it as a victory for apartheid’s allies. In fact it was the opposite. Britain and the US, freed from the Communist threat, could end their protection of apartheid South Africa. Release Nelson Mandela and negotiate was Mrs Thatcher’s message to F.W. De Klerk, the new president, in 1989. The ANC hardliners in exile did not believe it. This was not in their script, which said that Umkonto we Sizwe, their military wing, would bring down the apartheid state. (In fact it had been the least effective guerrilla movement in southern Africa.)
Meanwhile an internal leadership had grown up in the real world of strikes and street battles: leaders more adept at negotiation and politics, who understood how South Africa worked. It is no surprise that Cyril Ramaphosa, the former mineworkers’ leader, became the chief strategist in negotiations with the government. But while the internal leaders had a greater connection to the people, they were pushed out by returning exiles who had mastered the small print of the ANC’s constitution.
Thabo Mbeki, the ANC’s foreign minister in exile, squeezed out Ramaphosa, Mandela’s first choice in the battle to succeed him. An intellectual who did not connect easily with people, Mbeki’s big idea was to give Africans an economic stake in the new South Africa by giving them equity in all South African companies and give jobs to black people. As it was implemented, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) did not engender participation through jobs and productive entrepreneurship for ordinary people but gave free shares in big business to ANC bosses. The ANC’s mass support base was rewarded with welfare programmes indifferently delivered. South Africa’s corporate sector went along with BEE, giving some of their less vital assets to a small new elite. Even the Communist party went along with it. And a number of senior ANC ministers and officials became multimillionaires overnight. South Africa is now an archipelago of fortified islands of luxury in a sea of poverty.
The ANC itself has broken into cliques. All major decisions are taken in secret. Perhaps it has returned to its roots, as a narrow class of haves protecting their own interests. It is unlikely to recover any time soon. Last November parliament was told by Willie Hofmeyr, head of the Special Investigative Unit, that £3 billion to £4 billion a year was lost to corruption, negligence and incompetence in the public service with very few consequences.‘South Africa’s law and regulations are good but it appears there are virtually no consequences when they are broken,’ he said. He was sacked shortly afterwards. And fearful of further press exposure and comment the government drew up the Protection of State Information Bill which treats media investigation of government activities as spying with a possible 25-year jail sentence.
Eighteen years after the ANC came to power South Africa has one of the highest levels of inequality in the world and the gap appears to be widening. Ten per cent of the population are still without clean water and 20 per cent without electricity. And who is picking up the £8 million bill for the ANC’s 100th birthday party this week? The South African taxpayers.
Richard Dowden is director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa, Altered States, Ordinary Miracles.
the spectator | 7 January 2012 | www.spectator.co.uk A LEGACY OF VALOUR
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