A tale of two Miracles

First Published in City Press, 16 November 2014

A week ago I was walking through the Genocide Memorial in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Somewhere between the photographs of the children that were being hacked to death while we were celebrating our Freedom in 1994, and a display of the weapons neighbours had used on each other, I couldn’t help but think of how lucky we were.

There have been rumblings from a number of quarters across South Africa, that the negotiated settlement reached by in the early 90s was rubbish. It was “selling it out” 

Blacks don’t feel that their lot has changed. Indeed white families still take home up to 12 times more than them.

Whites, rather poorly represented by a buffoonic Steve Hofmeyer, feel that their language, culture, and even their are under threat.

Meanwhile the Coloureds and Indians were once too dark and are now too light for their own good. 

Often, I have heard it said “we should not have negotiated, we should have keep fighting”. 

I get it. Noone likes a stalemate. It’s like watching a heavyweight bout being declared a draw. Imagine how unsatisfying Polokwane, the site of the last Elephantine battle of our time, would have been had Presidents Zuma and Mbeki polled the same number of votes.

But the truth is, our negotiated settlement was not a stalemate. 

Let’s check the “balance of forces”. On one hand was a bankrupt state with the most sophisticated army in Africa. Despite the support of the West, the Apartheid state was increasingly isolated. Sanction activism and the fall of the communist East meant support was wearing thin. Back home the country was ungovernable; the natives were rising, a full blooded civil war was imminent, and the enemy was in every white home – cleaning up their baby poo. 

On the other hand were increasingly fragile liberation movements in countries whose appetite for fighting the big gorilla of the region was waning. Support from the East collapsed as they did. Keeping up morale in guerrilla camps was like walking on water, it was obvious the leadership could not for long hold both its trained and rag-tag members from attacking “soft targets”. 

Add to this powder keg right-wing nationalist Afrikaaners threatening to pool military reservists, armed black Bantustan soldiers who may or may not have been loyal to their leaders, the vicious killing machine of Inkatha assisted by Askaris. Violence, anger and fear in the streets. Hate in our hearts.

It is indeed a miracle that South Africa even exists today. 

Certainly South Africa is far from perfect, and has many challenges. But these challenges pale in comparrison with what we would be dealing with were it not for South Africa’s miracle of negotiation and “reconciliation”.

In Rwanda, after 3 decades of oppression of one part of the population by the other, both of which incidentally spoke the same language and shared a culture, such miracle did not happen. 

Instead, one side walked out of a peace process in 1993 and, as one government official Bagasora said they would, “prepared for a catastrophe!” 


Théoneste Bagosora, the defector head of the Rwandan military when the Genocide commenced was sentenced to life imprisonment for his role in masterminding and orchestrating the Genocide.

When the catastrophe came, after a plane carrying both Rwanda’s and Burundi’s presidents was shot down, it came swiftly.

Within 90 minutes roadblocks were erected all over the country. Armed militia whom the government had given over $4m worth of new arms went house to house. Ordinary citizens were given machetes and, after years of government propaganda, sliced their friends and lovers in half. After raping them.

A million people were killed. It was the fastest genocide in history. 

That so easily could have been us.

Rwanda’s real miracle is where they are today. Already considered the Singapore of Africa, they boast a 7% growth rate, and last year were rated a better place to do business in Africa than even SA. They have almost zero corruption, whilst ours seem to be stratospheric. Recently Chris Bishop, the founding editor of Forbes Africa, pointed at Rwanda when asked where he would personally invest in Africa.

Kigali, Rwanda’s capital is arguably the cleanest and most orderly city on the continent. Tribal talk is effectively outlawed, everyone is Rwandan, and pays their due by participating in nationwide community service programs every month.

It is unfathomable how far the country has come from the stench of death and chaos to order and prosperity in just two decades. That’s the Rwandan Miracle.

Behind both Miracles is leadership.

Visionary, courageous, focused, selfless, disciplined leadership.

Our leaders then, across both sides, prevented catastrophe. Theirs now are getting them out of one.

Theirs are creating a nation their progeny can be proud of. Ours created the freedom and democracy from which we can now create a caring, economically free society if we wish.

Leadership is the only way economic parity and growth (liberation) will be manifest.

Sadly, our leadership across the divides isnt living up to this promise. It’s time we stopped faffing, splintering and arguing. 

Judging from the enmity we are seeing in our politics and in our social discourse, it would seem a miracle if we were ever to pull together again. Another miracle of good leadership. Something we have a blueprint of. A colour by number book.

All we have to do is follow the lines.

It is time we led the African rise that our Freedom promised. 

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