SA led to the cliff-edge: Whose fault?


Presidential motorcades friendly and fierce: Major segments of SA society want to remove President Zuma for undermining the state, some even willing to pay him R2bn to step down. Nelson Mandela was a more beloved president – the ‘big man’ who would solve all problems

EVEN with so many South Africans desperate to rescue this country from President Jacob Zuma’s train of destruction, last week’s report of a R2bn amnesty package offered to him from frantic private sources to leave office – including amnesty for 783 corruption charges and other misdemeanours – is wishful thinking. He apparently rejected the deal, said to have been proposed by a faction backing Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who aspires to be president. But maybe behind the scenes he is bargaining for more? Yet even if he accepted it, would it be worth it for the country?

The deal has a precedent in a similar settlement in Ireland in the 1990s that ended the civil war. And in the United States in 1974, President Richard Nixon, facing impeachment and removal from office, resigned and was pardoned for crimes committed while in office by his successor Gerald Ford, making it feasible for the country to rid itself of Nixon.

Apartheid leaders got away scot free with an amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Nelson Mandela led the process, believing it was preferable to civil war.

Leadership is a complex concept with multiple meanings about where power lies. One of the world’s great Talmudists, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, on a 1999 South African visit, commented to a Jewish gathering: If a man is walking a dog on a leash, with the dog in front, the dog appears to be the leader. But he can only go where his master lets him.

Countries get the leaders they deserve, says the old adage. South Africa, including its political parties and civil groups, agreed to Mandela reconciling with apartheid villains. But, bizarrely, it has also allowed Zuma to lead it to the cliff-edge, threatening to destroy the country. It must seriously examine why. All are to blame – not just the ANC, as popular opinion claims in many quarters.

The marking earlier this week of Mandela’s birthday is a reminder of the weakness in looking for solutions in one man. Some gym devotees will recall an unforgettable sunny afternoon in 2002 at Old Eds gym in Houghton, Johannesburg. People in shorts and sneakers bustled through the doors, overlooking the cricket field, as a military helicopter arrived and landed on the field. A police car, a brown car containing three black security men, and a silver Mercedes drove to the ‘copter.

A familiar face appeared from inside, instantly recognisable. Madiba. He stepped down to the grass, waving and smiling to all. People shouted from the gym: “We love you, Madiba!”

A blonde-haired white woman in a red track-suit dashed across the field towards him. The guards intercepted, then let her through. She threw her arms around Madiba, kissed him, then ran back across the field, beaming. The cars pulled off, driving to Madiba’s house a few blocks away. South Africa’s saviour embodied in one man.

Now it is 2017. Imagine a helicopter landing on that cricket field with Zuma, on his way to the Gupta family – the ‘mafia-chiefs’ – mansion in Saxonwold, also a few blocks away. Hordes of security would have searched the gym before his arrival, and surrounded him as he stepped down.

No gymmers would applaud, or young girls run to hug him. His blue-light convoy of at least ten very-expensive cars and motorbikes with sirens blaring, would convey him to the Guptas, freezing other traffic. He would not wave – nobody would wave back. The country’s problems embodied in one man.

Will R2bn go-away money for Zuma start fixing things, or be yet another pot of money down the drain? SA society needs to make sure the next ‘dog on the leash’ will go where it is best for the country, not just where it suits him.

(GEOFF SIFRIN is a journalist in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. Email: )

De Klerk-type leadership needed to prevent Israel apartheid


Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, the two leaders who made the end of apartheid possible. Is their brand of leadership possible in the Mideast, to implement the two-state solution and avoid Israel becoming an apartheid state?

Many Jews will reject the warning a week ago by the last white South African president, FW de Klerk, that Israel is heading towards apartheid, that unless it urgently begins implementing the two-state solution, it will plunge into the ‘abyss’ South Africa experienced. Interviewed by a journalist in Tel Aviv while attending an anti-racism conference at the Berl Katznelson Foundation, he said Israel is not today an apartheid state.

“But,” he said, “if the two-state solution is not implemented, and if, in such a situation, the Jews have special rights while the Palestinians live as second-class citizens, Israel will become an apartheid state… As an outsider, it seems to me that the window of opportunity for the two-state solution is about to close. You might miss this chance.”

Who better than De Klerk would recognise apartheid? He was the last Afrikaner president of apartheid South Africa, who stunned the world in 1990 by announcing freedom fighter Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in jail, unbanning of African liberation movements, and dismantling of the racist system. He won a Nobel Peace Prize.

A common response to the ‘apartheid-Israel’ argument is that comparing Israel and South Africa is wrong. The latter had only itself to worry about. It never faced terrorism, hostile enemies and religious conflict endemic to Israel’s situation in the volatile Middle East. There was no ISIS, no external enemies poised to destroy it. Furthermore, several genuine attempts by Israel to create a Palestinian state all ended disastrously, including the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin and repeated rejections by the Palestinians.

The ‘knife intifada’ currently raging in Israel will increase enactment of more rules separating Palestinians from Israelis and removing more of their rights. How can Israel prevent a Palestinian state from becoming another jihadist entity right in its heart? Is de Klerk naïve about Israel’s situation? South African solutions are not automatically transferrable.

Global politics have also changed since De Klerk and Mandela led South Africa into democracy through their sheer power of great leadership.

But therein lies the nub: it is ultimately about great leadership. Watershed moments in human history are defined more by great leaders who rose to the occasion than the circumstances ordinary people saw as insurmountable. When he was elected SA President, De Klerk represented the right wing in a right wing white party, yet he led the party to the agreement with the ANC.

“They voted for me because they thought I was the most conservative of all candidates. They were wrong about me. A leader’s job is not to follow opinion polls. Leadership requires taking an initiative, a vision, a true aspiration to improve the situation, and the ability to convince your voters that the change in the status quo will benefit them in the long-run. That’s what I did on the white side, and that’s what Mandela did on the black side. We both did it while facing harsh criticism from our camps.”

Israel has had great leaders, as have Arab countries. For example, a few years after the traumatic 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israeli PM Menachem Begin joined with Egyptian President Anwar Sadat – who had sent Egypt’s army into battle, believing it would destroy Israel – to establish peace between their countries, which has lasted nearly four decades.

Sadly, the Palestinians haven’t produced a leader with the willingness and power to meet the challenge. PLO leader Yasser Arafat was not the man; nor is PA President Mahmoud Abbas.

Is Netanyahu made of that ‘right stuff’? He officially favours two states, although his actions often point elsewhere. If a suitable Palestinian leader arose, could he meet the challenge as De Klerk did with Mandela and forge a historic new path?

Some believe popular Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, a leader of the first and second intifadas who is serving jail time in Israel, might be the one. Could he, like Mandela, make decisions from prison no one else dares make on the outside?

“The lesson we learned many years ago, before we freed Mandela,” said de Klerk, “was that you have to negotiate with whoever has the support of the majority.”

Imagine the scene: Netanyahu and Barghouti shaking hands to thunderous applause as they receive the Nobel Peace Prize, watched by billions of people, for achieving Israeli-Palestinian peace. Is it naïve, wishful thinking?

(Geoff Sifrin is a journalist based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and former Editor of the SA Jewish Report. This article was first published in the SAJR on December 2, 2015)