A tale of two suburbs

Zuma at Zondo (2)

Now tell us what you know and what did you did! Former SA president Jacob Zuma has been grilled at the Zondo Commission about his role in the “State Capture” of major public institutions for the benefit of himself and his friends

20 July 2019

THE IMPRESSIVE and effective functioning of South Africa’s legal system shown by the dignity and thoroughness with which the commission investigating state capture is doing its work, must be noted by people who have been uncertain about where the country is headed. Among the many South Africans who have left the country over the years because they lacked confidence in its future, there is lots to think about. Perhaps some might even consider coming back.

The appearance before the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture of a humbled former SA president Jacob Zuma, to explain his role in the corruption of the nine years during which he was in charge, is an example. He stands accused of allowing or encouraging the ‘capture’ of state institutions by criminal elements, including the notorious Gupta family.

He has been allowed every possibility to ‘have his days in court’, which is what everyone is entitled to. Justice Zondo went to great lengths to insist on Zuma and his legal team being given all necessary protection to ensure their safety and shield them from intimidation.

The remarkable thing is that, despite attempts to undermine it, the country’s basic legal foundations have stood up. South Africans can raise a glass to that. It was gratifying to see this once powerful man, the former president, talking to the judge at the commission’s premises in Parktown, Johannesburg, as if he was just another citizen facing the law trying to explain his way out of a difficult situation. It remains to be seen if he might outwit those using the legal process on the other side to tie him down.

Despite the impressiveness of the Zondo commission and other legal examples such as the respected constitutional court, to which many have turned for rulings about adherence to the constitution of the republic, some people who left the country would still be relieved that they have built other lives elsewhere, where political complications are less severe and there might be greater opportunities for them. But others might miss the country they were brought up in, as it performs in ways they never thought possible.

On the negative side, if a society’s health is judged by crime figures, South Africa comes out very badly. For example, spectacular headlines were made this week about the situation in the Cape Flats, the impoverished area near Cape Town, where gangsterism has escalated so drastically that 900 people were murdered in the first six months of 2019, according to mortuary statistics.

What does this have to do with the ordinary South African? As always, in the wealthier suburbs, life continues differently and often elegantly. Many white South Africans know the ‘white areas’ of Cape Town such as Sea Point on the Atlantic coast from living or holidaying there in the past. Sea Point in particular has always been a very ‘Jewish’ area, with beautiful buildings, delightful beaches, and a boardwalk and pools in which children swim.

Sea Point’s residents have always known that in the Cape Flats there was poverty and crime. It is important now, as the country tries to consolidate the good things that it has in its favour, that everyone becomes more aware of what happens in places like the Cape Flats, and looks at ways in which they might be able to help.

Helping in a situation like that is not easy for the average person, without the resources or know-how. But a spirit of optimism about the country and a belief that despite its difficult past and the challenges it faces now, might in itself help.

GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email:  geoffs@icon.co.za 


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