"I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning"

Andrew Donaldson on the ANC govt's bewildering array of associations and moral "commitments"


WHAT remains of the festive season’s goodwill and the plummy optimism of the New Year swiftly evaporates with the briefest of rummages through the pages of The Economist’s “The World Ahead 2024” special edition. The magazine’s forecasts for the continent, South Africa included, are grimly sobering. And this has nothing to do with the fashionable “Dry January” cult currently peddled by our lifestyle mavens.

Let’s start with that genocidal bunch running amok in Sudan, the so-called Rapid Support Forces, or RSF. Basically a rebranded Janjaweed under the command of the feared Janjaweed warlord, Hemedti, they were put together in 2013 by then Sudanese dictator Omar al-Bashir.*

It was Hemedti, more formally known as Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, who kickstarted the civil war in Sudan in April last year. It is a vicious conflict, one that by December had claimed the lives of at least 12 000 people, injured 33 000 others, forced 1.5 million people into exile as refugees, and displaced 5.8 million more internally.

A “distracted world”, as The Economist puts it, has paid scant attention to this war; instead, our focus is on the counter-offensive in Ukraine, the crisis in Gaza and China’s war games. The magazine further notes: “Africa’s leaders, preoccupied by their own domestic problems, have shown all the urgency of a camel crossing the Sahara.”

This is not entirely true, however, of all Africa leaders. Faced with the opportunity of some diplomatic showboating, Cyril Ramaphosa can seize the moment with the speed of a weasel. And so it was that last week Squirrel chose to meet with Hemedti and gamely pose for snaps pressing the flesh with the murderous ratbag.

Hemedti, as New24’s Africa Desk reported, was in Pretoria as part of a tour to meet with Africa’s “civilian” leaders. In a statement released after the meeting, he said he revealed to Squirrel the “context” of the murderous rampage he started. Or as he put it:

“I provided a comprehensive explanation to his excellency about the reasons for the outbreak of war in the country, the parties behind it that support its continuation, the extent of the destruction and deliberate sabotage that affected basic infrastructure, and the killing and displacement of thousands of civilian victims due to aircraft bombing.”

Such destruction and sabotage carried out at Hemedti’s behest, we may add. (See note below.) Now after some 21 years of pillage and murder, he would have us believe it’s time for a bit of peace and quiet, and he believes Squirrel can be of some assistance in this regard. 

Cynics may justifiably argue that this is due to the latter’s controversial reluctance to arrest and hand over Sudanese president and RSF patron al-Bashir to the International Criminal Court to answer charges of war crimes. But Hemedti said instead that Pretoria had “good standing” when it came to mediating conflicts in Africa, such as the civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. 

“I emphasised [to Squirrel] the great position that South Africa enjoys in the middle of the African continent and the efforts expected from his excellency to play a role that contributes to helping our people overcome this crisis to achieve security, stability, and sustainable peace in the country.”

Here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), there was dark muttering among the regulars that these Janjaweed types may know a thing or two about rape and murder and burning children, but they seem rubbish at geography.

Still, it is instructive that Squirrel is not too fussy about who he is prepared to meet with these days. A clearer picture thus emerges of the moral firmament underpinning Pretoria’s approach to the International Court of Justice with a view to ending Israel’s military actions in Gaza, which are, through its “acts and omissions”, said to be “genocidal in nature”.

As Lieutenant Colonel William “Bill” Kilgore, surfing fanatic and commander of the First Squadron of the 9th US Cavalry Regiment, may or may not have remarked, “I love the smell of hypocrisy in the morning … it smells like victory.”

“X” marks the spot

More grim news. As noted in this space last month, more than half the world’s population live in countries that will hold national elections this year. Based on recent patterns of voter turnout, The Economist reports, almost two billion people in more than 70 countries go to the polls in 2024. But commentators suggest that what may appear to be triumphant year for democracy, could in fact be the very opposite. 

Bluntly speaking, many of these elections will entrench ratbag power. The illiberal, the corrupt and the incompetent will be returned to office, and there will be blatant shams and electoral fraud galore. The obvious example here will be Vladimir Putin’s third term as Russian president.

Most of 2024’s elections will be in Africa, including South Africa’s. The continent’s voters, however, appear to have grown alarmingly dissatisfied with democracy itself. Coups are now common, and a growing number of Africans appear to be willing to accept military dictatorships.

Many analysts suggest that Squirrel will in all likelihood be returned to office this year, with a ruling party cabal that sees no distinction between itself and the state. The terrible irony here, of course, is that the support for the ANC, thanks to years of corruption, ineptitude and mismanagement, is currently at an all-time low. 

According to Afrobarometer, at least 80 per cent of South Africans believe that some or all people in government departments, municipalities and the presidency are corrupt. DA leader John Steenhuisen’s “moonshot coalition” should be able to capitalise on this, but it’s unlikely to crack 50 per cent of the vote. The reason for this is simple: an increasing number of black voters, the ANC’s traditional support base, may not vote for the party this year — but they won’t vote for anyone else, either. By mobilising its grassroots membership, the ANC are still capable of remaining in power.

Incidentally, The Economist believes that the “widely feared scenario” in which the ruling party’s vote share falls so low that it is forced to enter a partnership with the EFF will simply not happen. 

The magazine’s commentators have further dispiriting news: the lack of alternatives to the ANC, they say, “reflects the poor health of South African politics”. Some 70 per cent of voters say they are dissatisfied with the way democracy works. “A stunning 72 per cent say they would ditch democracy for an unelected leader if he — and in the patriarchal world of South African politics, it would be a he — could deliver jobs and combat crime.”

A strongman, then? One like Hemedti, perhaps? In favour of the ballot box? This is dismaying, to say the least.  




Following his appointment as RSF leader in 2013, Hemedti and his forces were immediately deployed in South Darfur where they continued with the activities that had kept them busy there as the Janjaweed — namely, the wholesale slaughter, rape and ethnic cleansing of the region’s Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa people, along with the destruction of their homes and villages.

Hemedti was not only brutally effective at his job, he was also grew extraordinarily wealthy. Personal booty included several Darfur gold mines as gifts from Bashir. The RSF also profited enormously from its relationship with Yevgeny Prigozhin’s mercenary outfit, the Wagner Group, and it grew considerably in size and power as a result. 

Bashir, meanwhile, was ousted in a coup in April 2019, and Sudan fell under the rule of a military junta. In August that year, the military agreed to share power jointly with a civilian administration as part of the country’s transition to democracy. However, in October 2021, the military once again seized power, the coup this time jointly led by Hemedti and Sudanese Armed Forces leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, with the latter duly installed as the junta’s leader.

To cut to the chase, tensions grew between the RSF and the SAF in the months that followed. Civil war broke out on 15 April last year when Hemedti’s forces attacked various government sites across the country. 

Fighting, which has been concentrated around Khartoum and the Darfur region, has left at least 12 000 dead, injured 33 000 others, internally displaced some 5.8 million civilians and seen more than 1.5 million others fleeing the country as refugees. This is in addition to the 300 000 or so who were killed in Darfur from 2003 to 2020 and the 2.85 million who were displaced by the fighting there.