The resignation of South African President Jacob Zuma on February 14, following the call by the people is the second in Southern Africa in recent weeks.
The first was in Zimbabwe last November, when the military adhered to civility to put Robert Mugabe under house arrest followed by persistent calls from the people on him to resign immediately.
Both men have been intransigent, leading their countries with an autocratic hand, doing whatever they pleased with utter disregard for the will of the people.
It must be admitted, of course, that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was the worse dictator of the two, having held on to power since independence in 1980, violently quashing every opposition.
This led to the early demise of Mugabe’s political opponent, Joshua Nkomo of Matabeleland, Zimbabwe. Both men, Mugabe and Zuma, fought valiantly in the struggles that led their countries to liberation.
But history has taught us over and again that you cannot free people and then try to suppress them again. You will fail. That is what happened to President Kwame Nkrumah and so many others.
That, too, is what happened in Liberia, where the settlers from the United States founded and established Africa’s first independent republic, then proceeded to suppress, for over a century, the indigenous majority.
That, too, came to an abrupt and bloody end in the 1980 coup d’état. President Mugabe was pushing 93 and was still insisting on running for yet another term of office.
Was that why he fought so hard to defeat white minority rule—to become a black dictator? Too bad he did not learn from President Nelson Mandela, whom this newspaper, Daily Observer, repeatedly over the years contrasted to the likes of Mugabe and so many other African leaders who did not know when to quit.
As for South African President Jacob Zuma, he exhibited an insatiable appetite for women (at least four wives), wealth and power. He was so power-hungry that he invited an Indian South African family, in association with his son, to share power by dishing out cabinet posts to people of their choice.
Surely that is not why he and President Mandela spent a combined 49 years in prison. As President Mandela proved, they spent time in prison to free their people from apartheid and brutal white minority oppression.
Zuma was accused of 783 counts of corruption, yet insisted that he had “had done no wrong.” Robert Mugabe who had a preconceived mindset to make Zimbabwe a hegemony for him and his wife, Grace Mugabe.
Grace was, unfortunately, foolish enough to believe the Zimbabweans would sit supinely and allow her to succeed her autocratic and dictatorial husband.
Alas, the Zimbabwe army, who had over many years backed Mugabe, intervened and forced him to resign. The army brought in his exiled Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who returned from South Africa and took over the presidency.
In South Africa, too, Cyril Ramaphosa, a man whom President Mandela had preferred to be his immediate deputy back in the 1990s, has now taken over from Zuma.
These two recent political events in Southern Africa demonstrate the principle of democracy that gives power to the people, and, thankfully, the power has been transferred bloodlessly in both countries.
There are some things still different in other parts of Africa, including Liberia, in the exercise of the people’s power. In Liberia, the post-war democratic government headed by former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf existed in an environment of lackadaisical free speech, wherein people said anything that they felt was good to them.
At the same time, the government itself was making use of the free speech to give handouts to people who also defended the government’s corrupt practices that overwhelmed the country in 12 years. Furthermore, many who raised the alarm over ills in society were also bribed to discontinue their advocacy.
These strategies, coupled with complete silence of the government to react to some public criticisms, defeated the power of the people to hold their government accountable for the rampant societal problems facing the country.
We pray that the democratic victories we have witnessed in Zimbabwe and South Africa will yield decisive good and bring forth truly positive change in the lives of Zimbabweans and South Africans. President Emmerson Mnangagwa and President Cyril Ramaphosa, we are depending on you for that.