New Internationalist

Liberators, step aside! Let the administrators in

A few weeks ago, Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa, appointed Mangwashi Victoria Phiyega as the country’s police commissioner. She is a former social worker with a corporate background and diploma from the University of Wales.

She is the first female police commissioner, and there has been a lot of heated debate around her appointment. But the public debate has not been centred around the fact that she is a woman (those debates are conducted in private and in beer halls). No, the issue that has constantly come up is her lack of real policing experience. The question that people have been asking themselves is: can someone who does not know what actually goes on in the field lead the police force?

The police commissioner’s job is, however, mainly administrative, so it is worth considering what qualifications one needs to ascend to that office. And this leads me to a further question: who are the best people to put into office to do a mainly administrative job?

The lack of a proper answer to this question – in the few instances that it has been raised – has led to many of Africa’s problems. Should a soldier be put into office? (I am using soldier in the broadest sense of the word, to include the uniformed forces, freedom fighters, stone-throwers in demonstrations and all sorts of ‘revolutionaries’. ) A colleague once remarked that in the US you must have a million dollars in your bank account to run for presidency, while in Africa you only have to be brave. But should we put ‘brave’ people into office? I don’t believe so. After all, we have too many examples of cases were heroes who ‘liberated’ people eventually became villains.

Take the example of Zimbabwe. Zimbabweans fought a long war of liberation with Ian Smith’s Rhodesian forces. At the end of it, Robert Mugabe ascended to power, but the agreement at the time prevented him and his government from correcting the injustices that blacks had gone to war for to begin with: issues of land were not properly dealt with, and there was no proper national healing. Mugabe had been imprisoned by the Ian Smith government; he had been tortured, and he had seen thousands of Zimbabweans being massacred. Was Robert Mugabe supposed to assume the leadership of the country? Was he supposed to go into office to do an administrative job and make decisions not poisoned by bitterness and vindictiveness? I don’t think so. He was a soldier and is still a soldier and he should have handed over power to an administrative person in 1980.

The same goes for most of the cabinet then and now: most were educated, but the important credential was liberation war experience. Like many African countries, Zimbabwe at independence was run by people who were angry. People who were bitter and had a lot of unresolved grievances – and rightly so. Our liberators should have stepped aside; they could then have been honoured as war veterans. Administrators, not soldiers, should have gone into office. Mugabe should have sat back and relaxed.

Had he done so, he wouldn’t have presided over the slaughter of 20,000 people in Matabeleland and Midlands in the early 1980s. He wouldn’t have thought it okay for ‘war veterans’ to murder white commercial farmers in the name of land redistribution.

We should never put soldiers into office; honestly, how many Nelson Mandelas do we think we have? How many people can come out of a bitter war of liberation and say ‘let’s work together’ and really mean it?

The presidency of a country is an administrative job. If you hear Zimbabwean Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his supporters saying Tsvangirai should become the country’s president because he was beaten up by the police, then you know the vicious cycle is continuing. We need to put a stop to it. We do not want a situation where most public offices are occupied by stone-throwers who feel they are owed something and who will loot state resources and behave like they own the world. We should put an end to the situation whereby bravery is the sole qualification one needs to ascend to power.

Photo of African soldier by hdptcar under a CC Licence

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