South African president, Jacob Zuma pictured receiving a ZAR1m cheque on behalf of the Jacob Zuma foundation. Telkom which donated the funds is a 39% state-owned company.

South African president, Jacob Zuma pictured receiving a ZAR1m cheque on behalf of the Jacob Zuma foundation. The funds were donated by Telkom, a 39% state-owned company.

Tribalism seems to be a re-emerging threat to South Africa‘s democracy. Simply put, tribalism is the favouring of individuals who share a similar ethnic background to oneself. The manifestation of the favouring of some individuals could be seen in the awarding of tenders or even in job placements. If not investigated and curbed soon, this could potentially result in violent conflicts between the diverse ethnic groups in the country.

The factors which have resulted in this threat developing are numerous. Poor political leadership has been suggested as one of the main causes of tribalism. Similarly, a perception shared by many South Africans is that, when venturing into the job market or in an attempt to secure a tender, it’s not what you know that determines your fate but, rather, who know. In this way, it might be stated that South Africa has established a society based on patronage rather than merit.

The effects of tribalism can be seen at the highest levels of government. There are numerous leaders who are guilty of employing their friends, family and people from their own region or ethnic group in vital government positions. Instead of basing their choice of the successful candidates on skills, experience and education, these leaders choose to employ candidates based solely on their tribalist patriarchy.

Corruption has also played a role in the furthering of tribalism. Through corruption, the public has lost their confidence in government and believe that the only way to get ahead in this country would be to ally themselves with their fellow well-placed compatriots. President Jacob Zuma, himself, has been accused of only worrying about his “own” and not utilizing the skills of diverse ethnic groups which exist in the country.  By contrast, if he were to make use of this diversity, he could reverse the current standard of creating wealth and prosperity for a select few and would be creating wealth for all.

This ethnocentric patronage has filtered down to other areas such as voting as well. Kwa-Zulu Natal is a predominantly Zulu populated province and Zuma is also from the Zulu tradition. Zulu people, therefore, might be inclined to vote for Zuma along ethnic lines even though they might not be happy with the way he has run the country. This sort of mind-set is not only prevalent amongst black South Africans, however. Other races are also jumping on the bandwagon of tribalism.

In the private sector, English-speaking white South Africans favour job candidates who share their language, the community they come from and even the University that they attended. The same goes for Afrikaans-speaking whites, and coloureds and Indians as well. Everybody feels that they need to “look after” their own ethnic groups. This sort of outlook not only breeds acrimony but also ensures that only an elite group benefit from the country’s resources.

Another model of governance may be considered in order to rid the country of tribalism. After the Second World War, Western Europe developed asocial model that aimed to lift citizens out of poverty, regardless of ethnicity. This model based its aim on the principle that everyone in a society, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation, should be looked after.

In order to eradicate tribalism, members of government need to come to the party by setting an example. They should lead from the front and base their appointments and tender awards on merit rather than ethnicity as a means of moving forward.

– Political Analysis South Africa