As skittles topple in Zim and Angola, is Zuma navel-gazing?

Wednesday. Durban’s air has that silent, before-the-storm feel to it. I’m gagging for a swim in the surf. The easterly that’s been howling for the past two weeks has finally dropped.

There’s still no chance of getting in the water. The ocean is brown, choppy mush, thick with jellyfish and debris. There’s a cold front on its way, so scratch that swim for at least another five days.

At times like this, the city’s charm wears thin. Durban might as well be in Mongolia. Or Zimbabwe.

I’m still reeling from the coup de Grace across the border. President Robert Mugabe is gone at last.

Not dead in office at age 105, the fate I had imagined for the Arsene Wenger of Southern African politics, but locked down at gunpoint in his blue-roofed mansion by the same army that did his dirty work for so many decades. Given a frontal view of the odd armoured vehicle for a change.


Mugabe lost the plot. Back in the early 1980s, he was a hero — in Zimbabwe and in South Africa. Zanu-PF and Mugabe showed that Rhodesia’s white supremacists could be beaten. Forced to the ballot box. These cats showed that there really was a light at the end of the tunnel.

Mugabe helped to give birth to a nation, then stuck around and ran it into the ground. Got to love the limelight a little too much. Something like Wenger.

I wonder what Mugabe was thinking, wanting to hand the country over to his wife, Grace. It’s kinda ironic that Zimbabweans put up with everything Mugabe did for three decades and only decided to do something about it when he wanted Benoni’s finest export to take the helm.

I guess Mugabe forgot Zimbabwe was a republic. Started thinking it was a kingdom. Or a family business.

I’m not a fan of military takeovers. They generally don’t end well. Let’s hope this one breaks the mould and paves the way for the first real election in Zimbabwe since 1980.

Zimbabwe’s not our only neighbour with a family whose hold on power — and state resources — has lost its grip.

In Angola, the Dos Santos dynasty ruled the country and owned its wealth from the death of Agostinho Neto in 1979 until José Eduardo dos Santos stepped down as president in September. The firing of his daughter, state oil chief Isabel dos Santos, by new President João Lourenco appears to be a sign that the MPLA party has remembered that Angola is also a republic and not anyone’s property.

I wonder what’s going on in President Jacob Zuma’s head as he watches things unfold to the north. This must be making him nervous. Our head of state’s style of operation owes a lot to both Mugabe and Dos Santos. Events in Zimbabwe and Angola helped to influence the course of South African history three decades ago. The last thing he needs is for his family to lose control of South Africa’s governing party. And its resources.

A week ago, it was business as usual in Angola and Zimbabwe. Deals were being done. Extension cords were being swung.

All of a sudden, parties that freed their nations — and helped to free ours — only to become the puppets of would-be kings and queens seem to have woken up from a long slumber.

Family empires built around the capture of former Southern African national liberation movements -suddenly seem less fashionable.

The Duke of Saxonwold must be wondering whether it isn’t time to review his plan to have his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, take over the ANC in December and come up with a different candidate, given Zanu-PF’s apparent displeasure with Grace. I wonder who it will be?

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Paddy Harper
Paddy Harper
Storyteller.

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