Is SA really becoming a banana republic?
So what is a banana republic? This is important to me because I like bananas. Yes, I was one of those well-raised children who believed everything that parents said. “Aeroplane!” I shouted every time I saw one, “bring us chips, sweets and a baby.”
I remember my shock when my friend, the late Meshack Masilela, and I saw a pregnant woman and he teasingly said: “She ate a banana.” He put me off bananas for a long time.
I had a banana in my bag when I heard my good friend Bra Paul referring to South Africa as a banana republic. This was after the infamous Gupta plane had landed at Air Force Base Waterkloof.
The term ‘banana republic’ was coined by the American author O Henry in his book called Cabbages and Kings. Banana Republic is a fictitious republic of Anchuria, but it is based on his real experiences in Honduras while he was hiding from the US authorities for embezzlement.
The banana is the food that nourished the fast-growing American economy. Cheap and nutritious, it fed the voracious appetites of hard-working railroad labourers. So it was only natural for railroad investor Minor C Keith to plant banana plantations along the railroads he was laying. So he planted and transported bananas, and this gave him the monopoly on importing bananas to the US with his company, which was called the United Fruit Company, the predecessor of Chiquita Brands International.
Monopolies are bad for consumers because they can keep the prices high, but three Sicilian brothers – Joseph, Felix and Luca Vaccaro – got into Honduras and started exporting bananas to rival United Fruit Company.
The only way to keep the prices low in the US was for the banana companies to manipulate the land prices of the producer nations. So the railroad companies demanded 500 hectares of land for every kilometre of railway laid, and soon they controlled the whole transport infrastructure of Honduras, including roads and ports. To protect their investment, they controlled national politics as well, sometimes violently overthrowing elected governments. The Cuyamel Fruit Company, also a US firm, was accused of having supplied the mercenary army as well as the weapons that overthrew the government of Honduras in 1911.
A banana republic is a country in which foreign companies have undue influence on the government. It has grown to mean a monkey country, where the vindictively powerful are the law, and the foolish do as they please, such as the sacking of a government minister without due process.
Some people feared that arresting Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan would turn us into one.
While National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams was drooping like a captured soldier as his case unravelled, the finance minister of Saudi Arabia, Ibrahim al-Assaf, was sacked by royal decree.
When the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, announced that he would be running for president in his native France against Nicolas Sarkozy, he was charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeping staff member at a hotel in New York. The charges were later dropped, but Strauss-Kahn was finished.
Last week, as Hillary Clinton was opening a wide gap against Donald Trump in the US election race, the director of the FBI, James Comey, revealed incomplete information about further investigations into her email saga. Trump has since narrowed the gap.
Is South Africa a banana republic? In other words, are the Guptas (whoever they are) the new El Pulpo – octopus – that has captured the country? Perhaps not. We are learning that democracy can be as unappealing as an overripe banana, and as unpalatable for dictators.