Lebanon is hardly an example of democracy and freedom. The civil war that decimated the country, created a vacuum that would allow Iran’s proxy, the terror organization Hezbollah, to assume significant power. The government, as a consequence became known for corruption and for the neglect of its people.
This is backdrop that saw the devastation of Beirut, where in excess of 220 people lost their lives, another 110 missing, where more than 5000 were injured and where 300,000 were left homeless. A fire is believed to have caused the detonation of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been stored for six years without safety measures at Beirut’s port.
Prime Minister Hassan Diab was quick to blame the blast on years of endemic corruption but avoided taking responsibility.
Mr Diab, a university professor who took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies following the resignation of the previous government, blamed last week’s blast on the entrenched political elite.
“Their corruption created this tragedy,” he said in a speech on Monday night. “Between us and change stands a thick wall protected by their dirty tactics.”
Even without assuming ownership of the situation, he and the rest of the Lebanese cabinet chose to resign. It had taken this blast for them to recognise that they had failed spectacularly. It had cost lives and homes and devastated an already compromised economy. The people had had enough and it was time for them to go.
As dark as the last few days have been, there are some valuable lessons that South Africans might want to consider learning. Two weeks ago, President Cyril Ramaphosa stood in front of the country and spoke of the corruption that had resulted in the looting of funds that had been earmarked for Covid relief. It was not the ANC’s first offense. The Zuma presidency had exposed the country to a level of corruption that was hard to imagine. Despite promises of reform, assurances of responsible behaviour, and despite what looked like the best of intentions, the ANC simply could not help itself. Not with all that spare cash lying around and not with Louis Vuitton winking suggestively., as it does. And so, the blast of poverty and ill health decimated the nation. Perhaps slower than in Beirut. But no less deadly.
The people of Beirut had had enough. And so they took the streets and demanded change. The government knew they had no choice and so they did the only thing they could do. They stepped down.
It’s time. It’s time for South Africans to dust off their figurative Doc Martens and to demand change. Beirut is a clear example that corruption kills. It is a demonstration of what happens when the interest of the government and the interest of the people no longer align. The ANC might once have had the best of intentions. It might have been able to scribe the Freedom Charter. But that ANC is long gone. In its place is a group of greedy and gluttonous imposters who have stolen everything. Including its name.
The age old adage that people get the government they deserve is true to South Africa. Failure to hold the ANC to account has allowed them to fail in their duty. It has allowed them to fail the country. Beirut has provided us with all the proof we need. The failure to learn lessons from Lebanon will be a great failure indeed.