Thursday, April 9, 2009

Movies: Behind the Rainbow

If you’ve heard the names Mbecki and Zuma in the news and haven’t quite understood why, this film is an excellent primer on their back story: the history of the ANC (African National Congress) party in South Africa, from the beginning of apartheid to the recent unseating of Thabo Mbecki by his close friend-turned enemy Jacob Zuma, to the most recent division inside the ANC with the break-away COPE party.

The ANC is the party of Mandela, one which started as a revolutionary, underground movement, complete with a military arm, that brought apartheid to an end and promised black South African citizens racial equality, complete with education, housing, electricity, and clean water. In addition to its domestic mission, the ANC set out to not only set an example for the rest of Africa, but also to actively engage in keeping the continent on the right path, which would require a strong military.

Of course, each of these promises was incredibly expensive to keep, and Mbecki, who became President after Mandela, could not keep them all. While he was once a political prisoner, he was also once a student in England, and his allegiances are primarily to the Western capitalist system. In order to bring industry and wealth to his nation, he engaged with multinational corporations who did not keep their promises to the people of South Africa.

Jacob Zuma, who was imprisoned for years with Mbecki, and who also served as his Deputy-President (as Mbecki had served for Mandela), but who is less educated than Mbecki and rose instead by a military credentials, is far more openly nationalistic. His bombast, combined with South Africans’ frustrations with Mbecki’s broken promises and back-room dealings with Western nations, was strong enough to inspire the ANC to elect him President in Mbecki’s stead, despite a mudslinging campaign, likely started by Mbecki himself, that accused Zuma of being a rapist without actually bringing legal charges against him (and therefore withholding the opportunity for him to clear his name).

The squabbling between these two, meanwhile, has left an opening for the rise of another ANC bigwig—a military man called “Terror” Lekota cut from Zuma-style cloth. Lekota insists that there can be no real, positive change in South Africa until the government is divided between more than one party (the ANC, which started as a kind of minority coalition, has become the majority party). The film leaves us watching Lekota's new party rally, wondering what will become of South Africa.

Everything I know about the current political situation in that country I learned from this documentary, so it’s hard for me to definitively say whether the film is factually correct, fair and unbiased, and therefore a good source of information. But I can say that I constantly found my allegiances shifting back and forth between Mbecki and Zuma (ultimately, I think I like neither; nor do I find Lekota any better), and that the tone of the documentary is more even-toned BBC than incendiary Fox News.

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