“For people like us, it’s not like asking where were you when the planes hit the Twin Towers. It’s like we watched the hijackers being recruited and trained, infiltrating the country, learning how to fly planes, boarding the aircraft, slitting the throats of the pilots and then flying the planes into the towers. And now we are watching the towers falling down.” This is the voice of an ANC veteran, so angered by the decay in his organisation, epitomised by the Nkandla scandal, that he has resorted to self-loathing. Others cry, some search for ways to intervene, most shake their heads in desperation. The Nkandla issue has provoked a range of reactions in South African society, and for many in the old guard of the ANC, it marks the point of no return. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Which ANC? This is a question which has come up over the past few days as people lamented the ruling party’s reaction to Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report on the upgrades at President Jacob Zuma’s Nkandla residence. A distinction is being made between the current democratically elected leadership of the ANC and the legend of the liberation organisation with its litany of selfless heroes. The problem, of course, is that the legend is not in charge of the country and the legend is certainly not dictating the behaviour of the ruling party in how it is these days dealing with corruption, excesses and abuse of power in its ranks.
The former Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) veteran, drawing the parallel between the September 11 terrorist attack on the United States and the degeneration of the ANC, is one of several old guard leaders who have reached the end of their tether and are now voicing their revulsion and anger about the state of the organisation. The problem, though, as he points out through the analogy, is that it might be too late as the “towers” are already coming down. The time to speak was when the looting of the state and patronage was taking root, when the Gupta brothers were appointing the Cabinet and certainly when the Marikana massacre happened.
Within ANC circles, there were some expressions of disquiet but the organisation views public criticism as ill discipline. There is also the ever-present danger of being shouted down by the mob and having the attack dogs unleashed. So, most people kept quiet.
In September 2012, then-Human Settlements Minister and ANC national executive committee member Tokyo Sexwale delivered a speech at the University of Fort Hare, which raised uncomfortable issues about the state of the party. He began the speech by recounting a telephone conversation he had with his elderly father in the wake of the Marikana massacre.
“No son of mine should become part of a government that has just killed with rifles its own people in the manner we saw on TV. Take a stand and leave the Cabinet,” the elder Sexwale said. When Sexwale junior tried to argue against this, his father said: “It’s your call. But you know my view. I’m ANC and I will die ANC.”
Sexwale went on in the speech to talk about the risks facing the ANC, and the prospect of the “incorrigibles” taking over.
“The horror of this is unimaginable for the future of the ANC as this scenario, this disease of the power of incorrigibles, spreads from branch to branch, structure to structure, and so on. The good, the loyal, the best in the ANC do get cast away, get isolated, humiliated, shouted down, frustrated, their roles become diminished, they become belittled, are called names, are character assassinated, marginalised, ostracised and finally made to feel unwelcome. They lose heart, lose interest, become dejected and resign themselves to being political non-entities. Each day new enthusiastic members and veterans alike become reduced to all these kinds of humiliation and subterfuge. Let alone members of the public who are potential supporters within the electorate.”
Sexwale went on to ask: “Who may be these incorrigibles? These are people who as comrades were originally morally upright, dedicated, well trusted and committed to the struggle. They have now become political misfits, who no longer serve the people but are self-serving, politically degenerates, morally bankrupt, power abusers, ill disciplined while disciplining others, rely upon fear, stifle debates and internal democracy from the branch, as base unit of the structure and elsewhere.”
And then something unthinkable for someone who served 13 years on Robben Island to say about his organisation (while serving in its national executive and government): “Today, with the ANC government where the multiple evils of power, money-politics, privilege, favouritism, factionalism, nepotism, regionalism, provincialism and tribalism are threatening to become the norm, the danger has become more aggravated. Rampant corruption has become a daily occurrence at all levels of government where some who are entrusted with public authority and funds, have become so arrogant and so conceited that there is total disregard for differentiation between public funds and their private pockets.”
Sexwale’s sentiments were dismissed because at the time he was engaged in a foolhardy bid for the presidency of the ANC and what he said was seen in the context of the “Anything But Zuma” campaign. Not surprisingly, he was eliminated from the ANC leadership and axed from Cabinet. The sentiments are, however, even more poignant now, following the release of the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla and the attempts to cover up the shame of the president inappropriately benefiting from the upgrades and his ethical breaches.
There is now a growing murmur of uneasiness in ANC ranks, even though it is drowned out by the thunder of the ANC secretary general, the ANC Youth League, the ANC Women’s League and other structures speaking out to defend the president.
On Sunday, City Press ran a forthright and emotional open letter to Zuma from MK guerrilla Marion Sparg, in which she asked him to step down. “There are so many loyal, long-serving members of the ANC I know and have spoken to, including Umkhonto weSizwe veterans, who are truly heartbroken. And I don’t use that word lightly. They are heartbroken. They are heartbroken not because they believe you as an individual have done wrong, but because they believe government has done wrong,” Sparg wrote.
“These comrades of whom I speak, JZ, love the ANC and will vote for the ANC on May 7, as I will. But they all want a sign, JZ. And it’s only you who can give that sign. Forget about the DA (Democratic Alliance) and their impeachment process, and their silly criminal charges. The decision is yours to make… What I speak of is the decision to resign, comrade JZ. Don’t wait. You have the moral courage, JZ. I know you do. It’s tough but it’s the honourable way.”
There have been other voices of concern over the past few days.
At an event over the weekend, former president Thabo Mbeki said: “Regrettably, today, a mere 20 years after our liberation, it is obvious that many in society have forgotten or are oblivious of the human cost our freedom entailed. Accordingly, these [people] abuse the gift of our liberation to exploit our precious freedom to do things for themselves whose only objective is personal aggrandisement. [They] use their access to state, corporate and social power radically and systematically to subvert the required sustained and speedy advance we need to make towards the realisation of the objective of a better life for all our people.”
Mbeki did not mention the Nkandla scandal, but when asked about it during a subsequent interview with Business Day TV, he said: “The story… in all its elements is very worrying. It is very worrying about our future, about the manner in which our society is being managed and very worrying about the quality of leadership that is required, given all of the challenges that we face.”
The Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation commended Madonsela for her courage in her report and said they hoped South Africans would respond appropriately to it. “The suggestion by the ruling party and its allies that the timing of the release of the report was a political ploy by the Public Protector to influence the looming general election is a scandalous nonsense”, the foundation said in a statement.
Former Constitutional Court justice and ANC veteran Judge Albie Sachs said he was amazed how many people who were part of the liberation struggle were no longer sure whether they would vote or who to vote for. EWN reported that delivering the ninth Dullah Omar memorial lecture in Cape Town, Sachs said there was a sense of disenchantment with the ANC.
While he did not mention the Nkandla scandal, Sachs said, “The problem with a movement is that it gains a huge majority and loses itself”. He said despair was the worst response but the Constitution allowed for people to speak out and to mobilise for change.
Another ANC veteran said Zuma was beyond the point of apologising. “It takes a big man to apologise and he won’t. In the NEC and Cabinet they fear him. They will not oppose him.”
“This is the state of our organisation,” he went on to say. “If they can take back the poo protestors, it tell you a lot about the people we keep in our ranks. That’s the lowest you can go… It is only monkeys that can do that (throw their poo).”
The veteran says his own anger is not isolated. “There is a quantitative build up of discontent coming from inside the ANC,” he said.
But will it be enough? Will the voices of morality, the voices of the elders and the voices of those who can tell good from bad be enough to break through the wall of arrogance and power-drunkenness that characterises the ANC leadership today?
Sadly not. The situation is beyond where reason can prevail. The central focus is on the preservation of power and privilege. The difference between right and wrong does not feature in that milieu.
The ANC leadership could have taken the Public Protector’s report to heart. It is much more than a damning revelation of one project’s excess; it is a big-frame painting of a once proud organisation gone wrong, a picture that should have been a wake-up call. Instead, the leadership of today, through its many arms and mouthpieces, has chosen to wilfully ignore, deny and misinterpret report’s devastating conclusions, trashing the last shreds of respect it was still commanding, the respect that was over a hundred years in the making. It is now burnt on the altar of political expedience.
Nkandla was perhaps the ANC’s last opportunity to detach from the rot, to affirm once more what it always stood for. Those who remember the legendary organisation of yesteryear look at the debris and weep. Those who chose to become willing executioners, and defenders, of the Nkandla excess have no qualms about dragging the ANC over the edge of the precipice. They believe it is theirs to run and theirs to ruin. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma is seen during a visit to the Kwanyamazane township with the ANC’s 102nd birthday celebrations in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, Wednesday, 8 January 2014. Picture: SAPA stringer
"I know of a cure for everything: salt water...in one way or the other. Sweat or tears or the salt sea." ~ Karen Blixen