Chris Gibbons

Like many of his generation, my late father fought in World War II. He was on the British side, part of the victorious Allies who defeated Nazi Germany. He didn’t talk about it much. Well, that’s not strictly true: he’d spend many a happy hour nursing a brandy-and-coke while recounting hair-raising escapades and madcap encounters of the kind which only seem to happen to young men and women in the armed forces. The dark side of war  the horrors, the devastation, the loss of comrades, even his own injuries  all that stayed locked inside his memory.

I’ve spoken to many people of my own generation whose parents also fought in that war and they tell similar tales. But one thing is very apparent: for these men and women, the war was the central event in their lives, a defining six-year long moment that changed everything.

In particular, they all said the war united the British nation.

I’m sure that many other countries had similar experiences. The Russians especially, having lost some 27 million people in what they call the Great Patriotic War. But I can’t say for certain. Although I was born in South Africa, I went to school and university in Britain in the 60s and 70s, which means that I’m talking from first-hand experience. The war was still very recent and for a schoolboy in those days to encounter a ‘grown-up’ that had not been in uniform was quite unusual.

We heard repeated tales of ‘derring-do’ and ‘the wartime spirit’ which had brought the ‘tiny island nation’ together, winning the Battle of Britain along the way. Even the inglorious retreat from Dunkirk early in the conflict was somehow painted in shades of glory. Rule Britannia, with the script written and performed by Winston Churchill.

Business, civil society, political parties and ordinary individuals are being drawn together....

All in the name of seeing off Adolf Hitler and the beastly ‘Gerries’.

Something similar is happening at the moment in South Africa. Business, civil society, political parties and ordinary individuals are being drawn together to see off Jacob Zuma and the equally beastly Guptas.

For the first time, business is attempting to speak with a single voice. That it did not do so during the apartheid era is to its eternal shame, but better late than never. Leaders of industry, investors, ratings agencies and many others are saying “Enough!”

I hear similar sentiments from ordinary, blue-collar South Africans like cab drivers, waiters and domestic workers. They are also saying “Enough!”

South Africans look back with great pride at the transition to democracy which culminated in the 1994 election. Don’t forget that at one stage, very late in that game, we were extraordinarily close to civil war. Yet somehow we pulled through.

Would it be too much of a stretch to argue that the threat posed to our young nation by the ‘State of Capture’ is at least as great, or even greater? In her Dean’s Note in this edition of Acumen, Professor Nicola Kleyn warns that waiting until the 2019 elections may be too late – the coffers could be completely empty by then.

We know how World War II ended, but the outcome of this particular clash is still far from certain. In times of conflict, it’s often said that “God is on the side of the big battalions” and President Zuma controls a formidable array of state machinery, most of which he has deployed to his advantage and with considerable skill.

But either way, thank you, Mr. Zuma, for uniting the nation. Just like the small Austrian with toothbrush moustache who united Britain in the 1940s.

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