The line between politics and crime, and politicians and criminals is not a big one in South Africa. Before you start gnashing your teeth at the current and government and that poor chap, Julius, who’s on his sickbed, it’s been like this for a long time. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
Think of Colin Chauke back in 1997, on the run and at the birthday party of then deputy transport minister Peter Mokaba. There are several reasons for this. One of them has to be that those who put themselves in harms way in the struggle, didn’t all find post-liberation South Africa a land of milk and honey. On Wednesday we got another inkling of how serious the problem may be getting.
David Makhura is one of the more accessible and media-savvy of the ANC’s provincial secretaries. He’s been running the ANC in Gauteng – the country’s biggest media market – for over ten years, so he’s learnt a few tricks along the way. He’s also learnt a few things about political management. One of them is when to suspend people. He and his executive have suspended six individuals for what happened in Tshwane over the weekend.
To cut a very long story short, the Tshwane region of the ANC held its conference, while down the road, another group of ANC members claimed to be holding the “real” conference. So there were two parallel conferences running at the same time. The right people won the one arranged by the official ANC. A man called Mafika Mahlangu won the other. Makhura and co have now suspended Mahlangu and his posse.
So far so good. But there is a difference. Makhura is worried about how well-funded this group seems to be. He doesn’t help himself when he calls them “notorious anarchists”, but otherwise his message is an important one. Makhura says that this group is “destabilising” the ANC in Gauteng. Okay. But it’s the money that matters here. He says it’s “dirty money”. What does he mean? In previous situations like this one, it’s turned out that the people suspended “have been involved in heists. These people are armed… they don’t use political means of persuasion, they use violence”.
This is serious. The head of a provincial ANC is worried that criminals are quite literally trying to take over his organisation. He talks about protests and marches that happen around Gauteng, a sit-in at an ANC regional office, for example, where the demonstrators were brought in by rented buses. That’s the kind of detail that points to money and organisation. He also says that “at conferences, there is always money around”. That seems to be true, there’s professionally produced leaflets, strangely wonderful cars, the smell of expensive booze – all of that involves money.
The ANC is particularly vulnerable to this, not because of any wrongdoing by its leaders, but because of its circumstances. It is, by design, a broad-based movement. It tries, usually, to be democratic; that means that numbers matter. And because it happens to find itself in South Africa in 2011, many of its members are going to be poor. There’s not much that the ANC can do about that (jobs instead of decent work perhaps Stephen – Ed). And Makhura deserves some credit for being so open about the problem.
He also deserves a pat on the back for saying that “We will not let them render the ANC ungovernable”. He is going to fight back. However, the problem could come when one day, that balance between discipline and democracy is tipped. What do you do if someone who seems to be a known criminal is voted into a high office? Stop it please. Seriously, it’s something that’s happened in many other places. Italy springs to mind.
So then the ANC has to become more disciplined. That’s probably not a bad thing for the party. But it also means that the cost will be to its democracy; there’s not much anyone can do about it.
But there is the spark of a solution in Makhura’s mind. He says that the province is growing in ANC membership, “slowly, but steadily”. And while some provinces have grown rather quickly over the last few years, he says he’s happy with the unspectacular growth. Because it means that they examine each of the new members, they can look at who these people really are. It means they can pick and choose those “who can resist temptation, including that of dirty money”.
It may be spin, or it may be truth. But it’s a good point.
Makhura and his counterparts in the other provinces are going to have their backs up over this. It’s easy, and scary, to think of a national criminal mastermind who decides to take over the ANC through the provinces. That’s probably not how it would happen; South Africa is just too big and rambunctious for that. And our gangs don’t seem to be organised enough to pull something like that off. But that doesn’t mean that some provinces won’t be more vulnerable to it. The ANC in the Western Cape would appear to be an obvious place to start. But it’s such a mess, most would-be political/criminals could just be put-off by the spectacle it creates of itself. Many of the other provinces are too poor, and some of the others, KZN and the Eastern Cape are perhaps insulated by the sheer force of numbers of their membership (240,000 and 220,000 respectively).
But Gauteng is different. It’s a smaller ANC province by membership (just over 100,000). There’s very real money. And if you control the tender machinery, well, there’s easy pickings.
There’s much lamenting of late of how so many of our politicians appear to become criminals in office. The tenderpreneur brigade sometimes seems to look very powerful. Perhaps it’s time we also spent a bit of effort examining the other side of the equation: criminals who go into politics. DM
Grootes is an EWN reporter.