2 August 2020
Not even the president can stop the descent
The ANC this week took a heavy beating on Twitter, as it is wont to do, but the commentary this week appeared more crass, more intense – questioning the party’s raison d’etre.
The ANC would, in the past, be able to explain away individual malfeasance, or even downright criminality, as behaviour foreign to the organisation and one that needed to be understood as an aberration.
The #VoetsekANC and #ANCFriday/s trended at number one and two respectively, with an increasing number of people attributing a lack of transformation to the ANC leaders’ preoccupation with self-enrichment. Initially, some were more disappointed at the names of individuals associated with the looting of funds meant to help fight COVID-19. How vain must you be to steal from a people helpless in their fight against a global health pandemic?
My interest here isn’t the ANC families (Diko, Masuku, Magashule et al) caught up in the personal protective equipment (PPE) tender maelstrom, but more about what the ANC is, as an organisation, becoming. In psychology, there is what is termed correspondent inference theory, in terms of which people (perceiver) make inferences about what a person or organisation intended to achieve through certain actions or behaviour. Often, people look at the behaviour of others to make a judgment call on whether such behaviour is made possible by internal or external factors.
Is the environment within which the actor (say cadre) takes certain corrupt actions a simple choice made by the actor or a cumulus of the environment within which that action is taken?
Put differently, are some or many of the ANC comrades caught up in corruption victims of organisational disposition or people acting out of sync with the character of the party? More directly, is the party itself a symbol of corruption?
A few ANC leaders put their necks out to defend Khongolose, as the oldest liberation movement on the continent is known. Minister in the Presidency Jackson Mthembu, who is also a national executive committee member of the party, tried: “On this #ANCFriday, we commit once again to fight all forms of corruption and malfeasance, especially committed by our @MYANC members, leaders and public representatives. Where we have dropped the ball, we extend our sincere apologies but we will and shall make amends.”
It went up like a lead balloon.
Communicator and ANC member Kay Sexwale seemed to read the mood: “Loving the ANC doesn’t mean losing your head. Read the mood my comrades. Too many of our leaders are shameless thieves. Let them answer. They mustn’t drag @MYANC down with them.”
The point is she too can see that the indomitable lion that the ANC used to be is, at least online, like the rickety tin shacks about to collapse because of shameless thieving.
But the important thing here is Sexwale and Mthembu’s backfired attempts to separate the thieves from the mother body. In the eyes of tweeps, the ANC is no longer that great organisation with a few rotten apples.
Looked at through the correspondent inference theory, people are now looking at the ANC brand as a vehicle to self-enrichment rather than as a tool to serve. It has become what former president Thabo Mbeki warned about in that interview with Given Mkhari. It has also become what Chris Hani said in 1992: “What I fear is that the liberators emerge as elitists who drive around in Mercedes-Benz and use the resources of the country to live in palaces and gather riches.”
President Cyril Ramaphosa may be partially right to blame himself for what the ANC is becoming. One day he says he is unable to ensure the speedy prosecution of high-profile criminals because he must leave it to the Hawks and National Prosecuting Authority. Fine. Well, not fine. When he is overcome with emotion upon discovery of theft of funds meant to help in our fight against the coronavirus, he waxes lyrical about how he will now receive fortnightly briefings on investigations – forgetting what he said earlier about staying away from investigations.
And yes, the leitmotif of his leadership – pursuit of unity – between what Sexwale calls “shameless thieves” and those who serve increasingly appears a ruse not to discipline anybody. And therein lies the seed of the rot.
When no one is disciplined or tried in court, the view is cemented on the ground that comrades who become corrupt do so not only because they’re an aberration, but because one cannot be anything else within the ANC. It is this psychology that David Makhura’s cadres ought to understand because it, more than any other province of the ANC, is at greater risk of rejection by the black, impatient, tech-savvy GP-based middle class.
Yet even with Ramaphosa’s good intentions, the ANC card membership has come to represent, in the eyes of many, an opportunity to escape poverty through crooked ways. Even if the ANC was led by someone else, they would not be able to stop what the ANC is becoming. Even if the EFF or the DA became the ruling party, their membership will exponentially grow not because people started believing in their policies.
The challenge is intractable. I can’t see how, in the midst of our poverty, it can be resolved. But it certainly can be mitigated. The entire criminal justice cluster must be capacitated and freed from political control. Those leaders who steal must then be subjected to the rule of law without interference. In this way, a strong message will be sent to those who are changing the ANC from an organisation whose membership attracted torture and killing by the apartheid police to one that is a ticket to ill-gotten gains.