Cartoonist Godfrey Mwampembwa, known as Gado, talks about South Africa’s social situation 25 years after the end of apartheid.
The end of Apartheid spread hope in the entire sub-continent for peaceful liberation from oppression and transition to democracy. Now, 25 years later, how would you assess South Africa’s democracy?
For me, the situation of democracy in South Africa has been very positive despite the challenges we have seen. As a Tanzanian who grew up in Dar es Salaam, I was always aware of South Africa’s liberation struggle given Tanzania’s support of liberation movements. Moreover, as an ardent follower of the global events I followed the South African issue given its prominence on the global agenda. I even got to meet some liberation fighters as Tanzania hosted liberation camps for the fighters. Therefore, if I look back at what the country has gone through, despite the challenges, we have a better South Africa today. Obviously there are those who will argue that SA could have done better, there are those who will argue that SA has swapped one harsh regime to another. But I don’t agree because I believe we have to contextualize South Africa’s history and look at where the country came from.
One of your latest cartoons depicts a xenophobic South Africa which brutally assaults immigrants. Why did you choose to focus on this topic? Do you consider the situation of immigrants in South Africa as a mirror for a larger problem with inclusion and exclusion?
On the one hand, we have to agree that SA has been a very violent society if you look at its history and its apartheid system which has been violent against blacks for generation upon generation. That has destroyed the socio-economic fabric of the society and so forth. Therefore, if you look at it from that perspective you do not expect miracles after 25 years. On the other hand, yes SA is part and parcel of the world we are living in where all these global forces and dynamics that are happening have helped to exacerbate the problem. This means that for a country that has gone through violence for so many years and on top of it subjected to all these global economic pressures, the people will obviously react. Let us not forget the world is facing rising extremism, nationalism and authoritarianism and these has in my view worsened the problem in SA. However, they are not necessarily the cause of the problem. I think it’s the reaction and symptoms of what has been happening for many years or rather it is symptomatic for a society that has been subjected to such a cruel system.
In 1994 many people hoped for a democratic and economically powerful South Africa as a stabilising actor on the sub-continent. How do you see South Africa’s influence on other African countries and especially on Kenya today?
As a frequent visitor of South Africa and as a media practitioner I follow South African current affairs a great deal. When South Africa rejoined the global scene 25 years ago it emerged as one of the biggest economies in Africa with the promise of a better future for all and there was Mandela in the euphoria and so forth. All these were great to see and experience but we also have to be realistic. We are talking of a country that has experienced centuries of violence and of people being denied freedom, political rights, human rights etc. These have done immense and irreplaceable damage to any society. In my view, I think in terms of the relationship with other African countries it could have been better, especially in areas such as trade. But it’s important to mention that there are lots of Africans working in different fields and many African students in various disciplines in Universities across South Africa. At a personal level, we have collaborated with SA production and we are trying to work together on some of our projects. Lastly, as a true pan-africanist, the borders we have should not impair our visions and should not by any means make us hate each other because we are all born humans and Africans to begin with before we were divided by borders and into countries.
What are the most pressing issues in South Africa today, 25 years after the end of Apartheid?
I think they are many but there is one that I find very pressing and that for me is inequality. This is the biggest issue that South Africans have to deal with and they need to find a way to deal with it as a country. It is an issue globally but in SA, due to the inequalities created and enforced during apartheid as a result of racially based segregation and marginalisation violation of human rights still remains a big issue today. As much as corruption is an issue in South Africa, I would say inequality has affected and is still affecting the South African society as we speak. The government has put some programmes in place to tackle it but they need to do more in terms of reducing the gap of inequality. In my view, that is probably a threat in terms of where the country is heading.