Like most people who concern themselves with those kinds of matters, I sat in front of a television set on the afternoon of the January 8 2012 in anticipation of President Jacob Zuma’s keynote address. This was, after all, no ordinary day. It was the hundredth anniversary of the formation of the South African Native National Congress which would later be aptly renamed the African National Congress. Scores of people gathered at Mangaung’s Vodacom Park Stadium to celebrate a rare feat by a political organization not only as far as Africa is concerned but perhaps in the nations that form part of the rest of Non Aligned Movement.
The ANC’s credentials as a liberation movement are formidable; impeccable; enviable and matched by a few other movements of similar disposition. Its organizational skills were tried and tested, particularly during the period of 1960 and 1990 when it was banned along with its offshoot, the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania. So, it really wasn’t a surprise when a group of white businessmen and intellectuals, at the height of turbulence of state of emergency of the mid 1980s, and at the realization that Apartheid was becoming bad for business, decided to initiate talks about talks of a ‘new’ South Africa with ANC and not any other liberation movement. Such is the colossal history and authority of the broad church that is today’s governing party.
As herculean and near legendary as the achievements of the governing party have been in prior the democratic dispensation are, it is the transition from liberation movement to governing party that has led to one questioning the party’s centenary celebration pay off line-“100 Years of Selfless Struggle”. Can the ANC truly claim to have been “selfless” from 1994 to present day South Africa? If so, then it means the word “selfless” has taken an entirely new and quite foreign meaning to what it has previously known to be. It is true that in its 18 years in office the governing party has done more for the citizens of the Republic than any other government that it succeeded. This is because the previous regimes focused almost exclusively on white people while the ANC dispenses services to the entire populous as guided by the constitution. The rot in the public service machinery as a result of incapacity and corruption has led to a near collapse in many national; provincial and municipal offices. The deployment of party members to key position merely because of the political influence they wield and with little regard to capability of managing that portfolio has many a time led to money being returned to the treasury unspent while the deficit of underdevelopment consistently dehumanizes the lion’s share of the electorate that has faithfully returned the governing party to office every election year.
The government is the single largest procurer of goods and services and there’s nothing wrong with contesting government contracts. The problem arises when businesses are quickly set up and politically relevant people are given seats on boards so they could swing contracts to a particular business entity. We have seen this “tenderpreneur” phenomenon grow and the substandard services it leaves in its wake. The governing party’s various administrations have not thoroughly dealt with the phenomenon in a manner that inspires confidence that indeed it is serious about keeping corruption at bay. It would seem that the risk of being voted off the ANC National Executive Committee list during elective conferences outweighs that of punishing corrupt members. In an opinion piece, A Meditation on Corruption, published in the City Press, Prof Njabulo S Ndebele was of the view that:”Corrupt concealment becomes the primary mechanism by which corruption in general spreads throughout the body politic. The impact on state governance is severe. Corruption becomes a principle of solidarity. It feeds and maintains solidarity. The political party thus infected becomes itself the very agent of corruption. Corruption becomes its raison d’etre, lived but never declared; condemned generally, never specifically; and threatened but never rooted out.” The manner in which the governing party has dealt with its political heavyweight caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar betrays the revolutionary morality with which many party members claim to have been guided by in the Struggle days. How many members of parliament involved in defrauding so sacred an institution in Travelgate were substantially taken to task? Why is it that ministers who’ve acted improperly in their duties are merely ‘punished’ with a cabinet reshuffle and then thanked with an ambassadorial post? The arms deal remains a dark cloud that refuses to go away and it boggles the mind how this multibillion rand venture has led to the imprisoning of only two figures in Tony Yengeni and Shabir Shaik, who both didn’t serve even half of their sentences. Another suspicious case is the one involving the governing party’s investment arm, Chancellor House, and Hitachi Africa, a company that was given the contract for the coal fire stations that are being built by the ANC-led government. Even though the governing party has denied playing a role in the contract being awarded to Hitachi Africa, a perception has been created that Hitachi Africa got the contract because of its politically connected shareholder. In politics perception goes a long way.
When the Zuma administration came into office its cabinet members and their provincial counterparts demonstrated with alacrity the willingness to be more selfish than ‘selfless’ when they, at the height of the recession, went for top of the range vehicles such Range Rovers, BMW, Mercedes Benzes and the like. Surely less extravagant yet equally industrious vehicles would’ve sufficed and that would’ve communicated to the broader public that hardships of recession weren’t theirs alone. But that would’ve been too much to ask of members of a party that now wants to include those scandalous acts, along with those of booking into exorbitantly priced hotels, as part of its “100 Years of Selfless Struggle”. How deplorable. The governing party must realize that it will be increasingly judged on what it delivers as a party in government and not as a liberation movement. The dangers of liberationist rhetoric in a democratic regime is that it gives rise to a paternalistic mentality that leads to the (former liberation) party in office believing that it is indispensable; did the citizens a favour by ‘freeing’ them from oppression and that citizenry is forever in its debt. The extent of the ‘selflessness’ of the governing party will be determined when we see a significantly marked improvement in the public schooling and healthcare systems; when government contracts are awarded to credible businesses with the capacity to deliver services that match the value for the money offered; when a serious dent is made on unemployment and crime amongst others. Until then the last 18 years of “100 Years of Selfless Struggle” will be seen as an undeserved inclusion something like fielding an out-of-form player merely because s/he wears the captain’s armband.