South Africa became a democratic country in 1994, but the threat of tribalism is no longer an old village myth. Tribalism is big. Kings are born and rule over entire villages, instituting laws and procedures and ignoring issues of national interest. People need to abandon the village mentality and move away from tribe rule. Otherwise, the political formation of South Africa will remain stagnant.
There is no other practice that has such devastating effects on the democracy of South Africa than the evils, extremes and venom of tribalism. Nobody has the bravery to challenge the monster of tribalism. Tribalism has crept into government departments, and the roots of corruption, theft, and nepotism are causing the destruction of real democratic values.
From 1994 until 2008, both President Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki gave preference to the Xhosa people and allowed the Zulu group to occupy second place in top positions. Other ethnic groups were given lesser roles in state enterprises. The favoritism of Xhosa and Zulu created a dominant force in all cabinets, national departments and state entities. It was expected that Jacob Zuma would turn away from primitive building tendencies and practices, and move toward a deployment to represent all South African ethnic groups. Instead, Zuma replaced the dominant Xhosa ethnic group with cadre deployment by giving preference to the Zulu people and, in turn, placing the Xhosa group into second position.
The practice and tendencies of tribalism are implemented by people who represent the highest position of the liberation struggle and who profess to be custodians of the majority. Tribalism is a social-cultural belief system; a psychological make-up of an ethnic group. It is often premised on unfounded and mythical attributes conferring superior qualities and values of a tribe, while at the same time, denigrating and deprecating other ethnic groups. Tribalism is not a facilitator of progress in African history; rather, tribalism played an extremely reactionary role and was responsible for humiliating defeats African people suffered at the hands of foreign invaders and colonialists.
Throughout all of the trials and errors and victories and defeats endured in an attempt to drive Africa into a process of consolidation and progress, tribes united into one nation, either voluntarily or by force, and combined to protect and expand the nation’s livelihood. While battling invaders for decades, there was unity to withstand the onslaught, and each independent chiefdom was nothing more than an invitation to the aggressors and a means for the domination of all. The African failed to take the truth from history.
The upsurge in tribalism in South Africa is driven by the appalling and weak political leadership. To secure a job or tender in either public or private sector does not depend on talent, but rather on who one knows, which fuels tribalism instead of a patronage-based society. The ANC deployment policies have flaws which affect democracy and leave it open to abuse for opportunistic, factional and tribal ends. Nepotism is big, and ethnic community deployment of friends into key positions does not take into account skills and capability.
Public sector corruption and failing service deliveries are rampant in state departments, and the distrust of government officials does not stop corrupt officials from lobbying ethnic compatriots into senior ANC positions. There is a perception that Zuma is looking after his own and not using the skills or talents within the ANC or South Africas to create wealth for all, rather than for a few. Race and ethnic identity matter and people are placed in elite positions based on tribal identity and race.
Zuma began to dig deep into cultural and religious roots by displaying traits that threaten democracy, such as by offering up prayers to ancestors, denouncing same-sex marriage as a disgrace, condemning political rivals as witches and snakes, and defending polygamy as an African trend. Zuma uses a deadly combination of religion, politics, and ethnicity in a quest to remain in power. Can South Africa move forward when primitive ideologies are trusted by the mindless people who delight in each word the charismatic Zuma spits out? Zuma has unleashed the demon of tribalism.
Opinion by Laura Oneale
Edited by Jennifer Pfalz
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Photo Courtesy of retlaw snellac’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License