AT THE Centre for Policy Studies I worked with a researcher from Zimbabwe with whom I discussed South African and Zimbabwean politics.
Usually, we would complain about what we thought were democratic and delivery deficits in this country, and these complaints would be followed by a similar litany of lamentations about the state of affairs in Zimbabwe. My Zimbabwean colleague told me on one of these occasions that in her community, complaints about democratic reversals in Zimbabwe always ended with the question — when will independence come to an end?
I suppose the opponents of former Egyptian president, Mohamed Mursi, must have been asking themselves a similar question in the months leading up to last week’s coup — when will the revolution end?
Until democratic theorists and the western media find a new name for the 2011 Egyptian revolution, let’s call it the "first transition". As the land of the Pharaohs enters the "second transition", I am still unsure about what to call the end of the first one since some of my Muslim friends get quite emotional when I call it a coup d’état. And those who have more of a Pan-Africanist bent among my friends say I deserve death by dashiki strangulation for being a liberal afrophobic Afropessimist.
Am I the only one who saw an army general on Al-Jazeera telling Egyptians and the world that the military had dethroned a democratically elected president barely a year after he promised he would leave office voluntarily if citizens stopped liking him and told him to vat his goed and trek?
If you do not speak the African language I have used here, when people ask you to vat jou goed en trek, they, with politeness bordering on violence, are asking you to voetsek. This is almost what happened to Mohamed Mursi, who is now an unwilling guest of the military at a location that has been the subject of speculative analysis on international media platforms such as the BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera.
In case you did not see what happened because you were still looking for an outfit for the Durban July, what really happened is that the military told Mursi to voetsek. It is not the anti-Mursi protestors who removed him.
The army removed him because of them, and since then, those among us who have been accused of being intellectuals have been debating the question — was it a coup, and when is a coup not a coup?
After many hours of thought — something I try to avoid before I write this column — I have come to the conclusion that a coup, like homesteads and beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. To the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and dimwits like me, it looked like a coup, and the gun, not the pen, is pointing Egypt in the direction of the second transition.
For anti-Mursi protestors, I suppose it is not a coup because it was popular with them. But spare a thought for the US government. It just went blind and cannot say whether it was a coup or not because it did not see anything. It was blinded by the $1.5bn in aid to the Egyptian military.
In all seriousness, the anti-Mursi movement must ask itself whether it has not committed the Faustian sin of signing a pact with the devil in order to remove a disastrous but democratically elected Mursi. Between it and the military, who is the host and who is the parasite?
While popular consent and the will of the people are important, they are surely not enough on their own. They must attach themselves to principle. Popular consent and the will of the majority must never be the cheerleaders of the removal of a democratically elected government by unconstitutional means.
Mursi was, by all accounts, a disaster and was the cause of the instability which preceded the coup. Some of those who argue that it was not a coup, aver that the opposition had to choose between Mursi and a civil war in Egypt. My fear is that, by supporting the coup, they may not avoid civil war after all.
• Matshiqi is a research fellow at the Helen Suzman Foundation.