Wednesday, May 25, 2016

All the presidential men – Zuma under review

IN my life I’ve lived through eight national leaders. Four of these were National Party strongmen (Dr Hendrik Verwoed, John Vorster, PW Botha and FW de Klerk) and four have been African National Congress stalwarts (Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Mothlante and Jacob Zuma).

Our current number one, Jacob Zuma, faces unresolved corruption charges, claims of rampant nepotism and a Concourt ruling vis-á-vis Nkandla.  Recently, the Public Investment Corporation revealed that it had lost R99 billion within two days of him controversially firing Finance Minister, Nhlanhla Nene, in December last year.

Interestingly, PW Botha also cost the country dearly when in August 1985 he refused to cross the apartheid Rubicon. Watched by over 200 million TV viewers, the finger-wagging Botha caused the rand to crash.

This has led me to wonder how Zuma, he of astounding resilience – a man who rose from abject poverty to the number one job in the ANC – would measure up historically given the current melodrama surrounding his presidency. 

After scanning the careers of the eight heads of state, it is evident that Zuma, like Botha, did not emerge out of a political vacuum. Politicians have party-bound careers, but there is always an element of personality that is stamped on their style of leadership, this reflecting the strengths, the foibles and the weaknesses of the person in question.

The first I remember is Dr Hendrik Verwoed. Fired up by memories of the Anglo Boer War, he was virulently anti-British. Verwoed was an academic of sweeping eloquence. The late Helen Suzman once told me that he was “strangely mesmerising, but utterly terrifying” when you heard him talk.

Verwoed was a die-hard segregationist who’d accused General Smuts – an ambivalent segregationist himself – of pampering blacks. It was in 1950 as Minister of Native Affairs that Verwoed displaced 80, 000 people from Sophiatown and Newclere.

As a Minister, Verwoed also made his infamous utterance about the necessity for inferior black education. He became Prime Minister in 1958. He witnessed Sharpeville and as an ardent nationalist, seceded from the commonwealth.

Verwoed, forever the semantic gymnast, argued that blacks were not really South Africans, and owed their loyalties to tribal affiliations and distant homelands, poverty-stricken entities that constituted less than 10% of the land.

I can still remember the fateful spring September day that Verwoed was assassinated. The baton he handed over to his successor, Johannes Balthazar Vorster, was hardly the Afrikaner nirvana – but grand apartheid, growing isolation, land dispossession, black poverty and township crime.

Vorster, described by historian Herman Gillomee as “very charming and (yet) very chilling”, was to me a cold figure entirely without charm, his bushy eyebrows and dour demeanour creating the impression of an Orwellian big brother.

Formerly of the pro-Nazi Ossewa Brandwag, he’d been detained in the 1940s, and as Police and Prisons Minister, oversaw increased detention without trial. Under Vorster’s watch there were incursions into Angola, mass bannings, attempts at African détente, Steve Biko’s death, the 1976 uprising (which he saw as a security failure) and the Info Scandal, which finally undid him.

When PW Botha rose to the helm of the Nationalist Party in 1978, I was working in the media. Minister of Community Development and then Defence, he enjoyed a fearsome reputation due his short fuse, and was dubbed the Groot Krokodil.

Showing the symptoms of a stroke in the 1980s that affected his humour, Botha was one day a stubborn bully, the next a pragmatist sipping tea with Mandela. I remember Botha as the State of Emergency President, a man who tinkered with grand apartheid reform, but who overstayed his political welcome, and who slouched bitterly into retirement.

His successor, FW de Klerk, was a surprise. Like many, I’d felt that Foreign Affairs Minister, Pik Botha, would have got the nod. Instead it was De Klerk, a conservative, who walked into office. But the dye had already been cast, and in February 1990 he announced the release of Nelson Mandela and the unbanning of the anti-apartheid movement.

De Klerk was chiefly a transitional figure, and it was Mandela who became the colossus. An icon of the 20th century, it was the presidential Madiba who set the stage for South Africa’s post-apartheid evolution when he stepped down in 1999.

He cast a long, deep shadow, but the technocrat and former deputy-president, Thabo Mbeki, took the mantle. Celebrated for his Afro-centric diplomacy, he did suffer weaknesses at home, though. His recall before his second term concluded, ostensibly due to allegations of political interference with Zuma (in reality his bitter rival for ANC leadership) on corruption charges, saw a lifelong career in the ANC grind to a  halt.

The august Kgalema Mothlante served a short term before Zuma was voted in as the country’s president in 2009. Whilst Zuma initially wanted to reduce the distance between the people and political leadership – seen as  the antithesis of the more formal Mbeki presidency – many now argue that Zuma (a communist in his youth) floundered on the rocks of bourgeois self-enrichment.

Comparisons are odious, and I know they might infuriate our number one, but he does need to know that of all the South African heads of state I’ve witnessed since the 1950s, he carries the most baggage in terms of corruption, nepotism, sycophantic appointments, state capture and the art of self-preservation. The fact that the political paradigm has changed so dramatically since 1994 becomes a further indictment on his executive performance.

Of course, not all our ills can be attributed to Zuma – and, God forbid, I’m certainly not implying that the apartheid leaders were better men – but the point is that each post-apartheid president has had the unique opportunity to stand at the brink of greatness; the opportunity to transform a diverse and dynamic society into an international example of peace and prosperity.

But how can we remember the National Development Plan when the ghosts of Guptagate, Richard Mdluli, Hlaudi Motsoeneng, Dudu Miyeni,  Marikana, Tom Moyane, Berning Ntlemeza, Nkandla, the arms deal, the Russian nuclear deal, Operation Fiela and the Al-Bashir saga crowd the landscape?

These are the things that our number one has to seriously ponder in the deep of night. The question is, though, will he be allowed to do so? One fears that there are just too many distractions as the proverbial fiddle is played on the walls of the Union Buildings, and forces slowly coalesce for a power struggle within the ANC that will soon envelop us all, whether we like it or not.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Understanding Shari’ah: never a virtue under tyranny

A YEARNING for Shari’ah-centric governance is understandable where Muslim communities suffer from enduring oppression, belligerent occupation and a lack of the rule-of-law. For people in those dire situations, Shari’ah is often presented as a quick-fix panacea – a regime of vengeance against an ‘other’ portrayed in a swirl of totalitarian black-and-white reform.

However, Shari’ah is not an ideological cure-all, nor is it an instrument of state power. It is a holistic, dynamic, and divinely sourced legal system requiring scholastic endeavour and adaption to the day. In other words, Shari’ah is a check on – and not a lever of – state power.   

So, therefore, applying Sacred Law piecemeal in a political vacuum – in, for example, Iraq or Syria – would be a travesty. No specific governance model was left behind by the Prophet Muhammad, and the application of Shari’ah is a challenging undertaking, even in politically stable societies – which today are mostly found in constitutional democracies.

It is not for nothing that in a survey conducted by two George Washington University researchers in 2010 that of 208 countries surveyed for Islamic values, New Zealand came out tops. South Africa, in 50th spot, rated higher than any of the self-proclaimed Islamic states of Afghanistan, Bahrain, Iran, Mauritania, Pakistan, Oman and Yemen. Even Israel scored higher.

In the study, the countries were compared to a subset of Islamic ones based on UN Development and Transparency International Corruption Indexes, as well four Islamic constructs: walayyah (compassion through wisdom and justice), karamah(human dignity), meethaq (recognition of the sovereignty of the Creator) and khilafah (responsible rule).

Shari’ah – as we all know – is based on Qur’an and Sunnah [Prophetic Tradition], and is by definition a ‘watering hole’, an oasis where everyone should be able to gain succour – not just a certain group. Islamic scholars are unanimous that the Shari’ah has to offer relief and to be a benefit, not only to Muslims, but to everyone.  

The point is that Sacred Law is based on justice, and to be just, it cannot be apartheid influenced or sectarian inspired. This is in concordance with the Qur’anic injunction that Muhammad, the Messenger of Shari’ah, was sent as a mercy to all [rahmat lil ‘alameen].

This overwhelming spirit of compassion [it is said that Allah’s Mercy precedes His wrath] underlines the little known maqasid, or goals, of Sacred Law espoused by scholars such as Imam Shatibi and Imam Ghazali. They are: the non-violability of Life, the protection of Faith, the security of the Family, the preservation of Property and Wealth, the safeguarding of the Intellect and the honour of Human Dignity [a category later added by Ghazali].

If these principles are not embraced and put into their constitutional place, a state is wasting its time in claiming Shari’ah as its legal corpus. A building without proper foundations will obviously crumble, and any society without a human rights culture will eventually collapse in a heap of oppression.

This is strongly evidenced by the disastrous socio-political Shari’ experiments in Sudan at the time of Shaikh al-Turabi, the Taliban, Al-Shabab after the demise of the ICU in Somalia, Boko Haram’s murderous escapades, Al-Qaeda’s suicide bombings and ISIS’s takfiri extremism in Iraq, Syria, the Sinai and Libya.

None of these entities, all focused on “social transformation”, have ever come close to upholding the maqasid – the compassionate and relieving principles – of the Shari’ah. Sacred Law, as we’ve just said, cannot be a cut-and-paste pastiche of political whims. It cannot be based on the narrowest of theological views that restrict its meaning to the AK47, or the rocket launcher. Shari’ah cannot be a political project.

Apart from being able to guarantee the maqasid – which in our language is a basic bill of rights – any aspirant “Islamic state” would have to have civic infrastructure in place. Imam al-Ghazali in his writings on siyasa (governance) stresses the importance of a range of skill sets, from Maths to Waterworks. Not everybody must be a religious scholar, he says. In other words, an “Islamic state” cannot be a scholar-driven institution – ‘ulama inspired, yes, but not ‘ulama-driven.

The authentic Islamic tradition has always demanded that its religious scholars be divorced from a direct hand in state affairs. Imam Malik, the 7th century legal master, forbade his text – the Muwatta – from being used by the ‘Abbasid Caliphate. The other great legal imams, Abu Hanifah, Imam Shafi’i and Imam Hanbal all suffered for refusing to be co-opted by the state.

This is forgotten by the strident protagonists who naively see Shari’ah as a magic potion for our socio-economic-political woes. Too often, Shari’ah – or at least a grotesque caricature of it – has been injected into an environment of revolution or lawlessness via the most stringent forms of the hadd, or punishment.

In a total betrayal of the values of Shari’ah, this usually creates a counter repression, a response which is as disastrous as the failed system the Sacred Law is trying to replace. The football stadium whippings of the Taliban and the You Tube beheadings of ISIS are nothing less than public terror.

A careful reading of Qur’an, Hadith and the views of the mujtahid [authorised] scholars reveals very quickly that Shari’ah has nothing to do with vigilantism – and contrary to other legal systems, requires far more than circumstantial evidence for a successful ruling by a Qadi (a religious judge) in a religious court.

In fact, the Shari’ah is a subtletly layered system that favours reason, and should always rule on the side of caution. How many know, for instance, that adultery can only be legally proved if four reliable witnesses actually saw the penetration? That if a person suffering from theft was negligent with his goods, the thief is given a lesser sentence?  

Then there is the point that the drastic hudud [punishments] mentioned in the Qur’an are there to indicate the moral reprehensibility of the offences. Legal experts concur that they represent only the final resort after comprehensive due diligence – something not always achievable in reality. A reading of history supports this. Instances of limb amputations are actually very rare.

In conclusion, the point has to be that Shari’ah – essentially a guidance to the good and an avoidance of the bad – can never be a virtue under tyranny as it is so commonly espoused today.