I’m sitting at a bar counter in America having a drink. It’s one of those long wooden bars that curves around at both ends. The place is pretty empty. Just two guys at the end of the bar chatting and two couples sitting at the tables, the one involved in what is obviously a serious conversation, the other couple holding hands across the table giggling and laughing. Looks like new found love. It’s an easy day, an easy atmosphere. No tension. No stress. I don’t notice the guy who walks in until he pulls out the bar stool next to me, sits down and orders a beer. He’s an older Black guy, bald, who I guess to be around 70-years old. We greet each other as strangers do in pubs.
“Hi,” I say.
“Hi yourself. How you doing,” he answers.
“I’m just fine thanks.”
“Cheers,” he says as his beer arrives.
“Cheers to you too,” I answer as we clink glasses.
We sit in silence for a while. He then glances at me and says: “You’ve got a strange accent. Where you from?”
“I’m from South Africa,” I answer.
“Oh wow. You’re a long way from home.”
“Yeah. I’m visiting my son who’s at varsity here. It’s my first visit.”
“That’s great. You enjoying it,” he asks.
“Absolutely,” I reply.
It’s back to the silence. He then leans back and turns on his bar stool to face me.
“You say South Africa hey. We’re reading a lot about your country of late. Seems you’ve got some problems over there.”
“Yip. We have but we’ve also got a lot of resilience in getting through problems. We’ve come a long way since 1994,” I reply.
“I remember that year. That was South Africa’s year for sure. Was all over the news. Your first democratic elections, the end of apartheid, a new beginning and of course, the great Nelson Mandela taking over the reins as President. We watched it all on TV and we were all cheering for you guys. I even remember the phrase The Rainbow Nation. That was really fitting. You guys gave new hope to the world.”
I felt the pride rise up in me. “Yes, it was a magnificent time. We were united as a nation and at last had hope for the future.”
“So what happened to change that? All we’re seeing on TV now is bad news. Riots in the streets, buildings burning, people on strike, the economy going down, high unemployment. And we’re also hearing a lot about racialism coming back into your society. What’s going on? What happened to your Rainbow Nation?”
“Can I be honest?” I ask.
“That’s the only way,” he replies with a smile.
“It’s all about lack of leadership. Nelson Mandela was the man who united South Africa. He was the man who took us forward and gave us new vision and hope as a united nation. When he stepped down, Thabo Mbeki came in as our new President and apart from his HIV/AIDS denialism, wasn’t doing such a bad job – in hindsight of course. Without going into all the gory details, he later got shafted via some nifty political manoeuverings and was replaced by our current President Jacob Zuma – and that’s when our problems began.”
“He’s not good for the country?” It was a question rather than an opinion.
“No, he is not,” I reply.
“Tell me a bit about him. We’ve heard he’s involved in quite a bit of controversy.”
“Well for a start, he’s facing 783 charges of corruption and although he once said he looks forward to his day in court to defend those charges and prove his innocence, he’s spent an enormous amount of time, money and energy dodging all attempts to get into that court.”
“WHAT! You said 783 charges of corruption. The President of your country has that over his head and hasn’t been to court?”
“You heard me right.”
“Wow! That’s amazing.”
“And while he spends most of his time trying to stay out of court, another controversy emerged around his home called Nkandla in a place called KwaZulu-Natal. It was built at a cost of around R250-miilion.”
“WHAT! The guy must be loaded. Even our President doesn’t have a home worth that much money. That’s like 16-or-so-million US dollars! That’s a lot of money.”
“No, he’s not loaded. It was built with public funds and that’s where the whole controversy came about.”
“But why does he want such a big place. He must have a whole herd of wives and kids,” he says jokingly.
“Yes, he does. In fact, he has four wives and 24 kids.”
“WHAT! Tell me you’re joking. Your President has 24 kids.”
“And four wives. Hell, I’ve got one wife and three kids and they keep me busy 24/7. How does he find time to run the country?
“Well that’s my point. He doesn’t. Read on