Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa was a prominent cleric in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. He was a former Member of Parliament, Deputy Minister of Education, and Mayor of the Tshwane. He currently heads up the Moral Rejuvenation Movement. The organisation, partnering with many others, is a civil society-driven initiative that seeks to halt moral degeneration by paying special attention to development, social cohesion and nation building.
When the ANC was unbanned by FW de Klerk in 1990, and prisoners on Robben Island were to be released, Mkhatshwa was part of the ANC’s national reception committee. They were to receive those who were being released, making sure that they had what they needed after being away for many years. Mkhatshwa chuckles as he says that he was tasked with looking after their security. “We could not trust the police,” he says, “so we visited embassies who had been good to us and asked for advice on securing VIPs. We had no experience of this.” He goes on to talk about how he and a young Cyril Ramaphosa were flown to Europe where experts were put at their disposal to guide them in the task ahead.
In his small and simple office in downtown Johannesburg, Mkhatshwa resolutely says that the stalwarts “are forging ahead with the consultative conference”. The day after the ANC policy conference ended, ANC stalwarts and veterans released a statement in which they said they “remained sceptical throughout the policy conference, as it is obvious that a national policy conference could never address any of the substantive issues we articulated in our ‘For the Sake of our future’ document”. They went on to say that it was their “resolve to continue to work towards a national consultative conference” and that this resolve “is strengthened with every new revelation of the depth of project state capture, other instances of corruption and the factionalism that threatens to rip the party apart”.
Mkhatshwa says that the reason they wanted a separate consultative conference was simply “because we wanted to invite people who may not be card-carrying members of the ANC but are concerned about the way that the ANC is conducting itself. If you look at our original document, it is about how to save the country.” He says the decisions the ANC makes affect everyone so anyone with an interest in the country should be invited to such a consultation.
The stalwarts’ statement said it was there objective “to continue to serve all the people of South Africa and ensure the historical values and principles of the ANC are restored”. They said that they felt “a profound responsibility to the movement and the country, to ensure that the principles and values of the ANC are not destroyed”.
“The ANC I joined and fought in was a glorious movement, it is no longer,” Mkhatshwa says. He says the ANC is in a leadership crisis because of the “quality of leadership, especially at the top”. He says the top influences different layers of leadership at the local and provincial levels. “It is common cause that everyone is very concerned about the extreme forms of materialism that have, in a sense, engulfed our form of behaviour and relationships.”
The second reason he cites is corruption. “People will say that there is corruption all over the world. I agree, but that is not very helpful. It is not good enough to say my father was a drug dealer and therefore I have no option also but to be a drug dealer.”
Mkhatshwa says SA started so well in 1994. “Everybody, all over the world, admired us, not just Mandela as an individual, but also the manner in which the liberation movements – I will be broad and include the PAC, the black consciousness movement and so on – all those movements who were fighting for democracy and freedom, behaved.
“We live in South Africa, we love this country and we would like to see it develop in peace and prosperity, we would like to see democracy become a reality,” he says. Ethics and ethical values, he argues, were at the centre of their conduct and behaviour. “That’s what stimulated so many people to work voluntarily for the movement, to sacrifice their time, their energy and their talents for the good of bringing about a just and equitable society… we had a lot of integrity during those days and that, quite frankly, was why people around the world had very great respect for us.”
Mkhatshwa says they were not admired for the armed struggle but the way in which they “conducted an ethical liberation struggle”.
“I give that background because, to some extent, it explains that over the past 10 years or so things have not worked in the manner that we had hoped.”
Mkhatshwa laments that there has been an “almost declared departure from the manner in which our ethical leadership conducted itself over many years. We therefore find ourselves in a situation where even certain arms of government are not operating optimally.”
He gives the example of the way the Nkandla scandal was handled. “The Constitutional Court severely criticised the Members of Parliament saying that they are there [in Parliament] to represent the best interests of the people.” Mkhatshwa says ordinary people send representatives to Parliament to defend their rights and therefore this is not so much “a political issue but an ethical issue”. He says something was done “that grossly, not just illegally, was against the welfare of the common good of the people”.
He goes on to cite another example, this time the office of the Public Protector (PP). “The manner in which the PP’s office was absolutely lambasted and people tried to frustrate it simply because Thuli Madonsela, I think, almost reinvented the office of the PP, the Constitutional role it was supposed to play, was wrong.” He says that until Madonsela was PP, the office hadn’t really played the role that it should have. “A lot of people didn’t know very much about what the PP was doing,” he says.
He also points at SARS, the auditor-general and the security cluster. “They are fighting crime and, true, they have done some very good work, but the NPA and some of the police are not really discharging their duties, their responsibilities, the way they should, so when you look at them – and the ANC leadership running the country – you have to address them in terms of good governance; things are not going the way they should.”
Mkhatshwa mentions other challenges that face the country. He comments on the plight of young people and unemployment, which he calls a “time bomb” unless it is dealt with. He speaks about the growing general poverty and the way in which the country’s economy is ailing. “The way in which the economy is not operating optimally, again, is because of political decisions and behaviour that have led us to being relegated to junk status.” If the economy is not operating well, he says, then you can expect negative spin-offs: poverty, unemployment and corruption. He says that the education system is not what it should be. “All these things happen, by and large, because of the type of leadership that we have.”
Mkhatshwa makes it clear that SA will still have challenges, even if it had good leaders. “But,” he says, “the point that we are making at the moment is that we have got a leadership that has by and large really lost moral legitimacy.” He says that once you have lost moral legitimacy you can only stay in power by the “use of force, by the use of illegal and unauthorised means, because moral legitimacy is what gives you the authority to run things in a particular way.”
The cleric is still hopeful that the ANC will get a majority in 2019. He says this is why the ANC electoral conference in December is important. It is “crucial because of the long-term consequences, the outcome will be with us for better or for worse for some time to come”. Some people say “let’s revisit the electoral system that we have”. He does not think this is the answer. “At the end of the day this issue transcends even electoral processes, it is about the type of people we elect. That is the reality.”
Asked about state capture, Mkhatshwa responds: “The leaked Gupta emails are disclosing frightening things.” He says that the “state of capture” or of certain individuals or leaders in society is blatantly immoral because it implies that someone “has taken control of your decisions and you have someone who is taking decisions not in the best interests of the nation but mostly for their own benefit and the benefit of their cronies”. Once this has happened, “you probably do not have the moral legitimacy to govern”.
Mkhatshwa says he is horrified that the Gupta family, apparently unknown in their own country, have come to SA and managed to “ingratiate themselves to lots of influential people and apparently tried to run the country using people that are duly elected”. He says that if this has happened it is one of the greatest problems the country faces. “The undue influence on the appointment of people in key positions, like finance and so on, is, for me, one of the biggest challenges that is facing us.”
Mkhatshwa says state capture has huge ethical implications, not just political ones. He says he has heard arguments like “Anton Rupert and the Oppenheimers have also captured”. He disagrees. “I don’t see that to be true. It would be true if, for example, they were so central in blatantly, blatantly influencing the policies and the conduct of political leaders of the country.”
He says the fact that they obviously have, as good capitalists, interest in making sure that the system or method of running the country supports a capitalist ideology, is acceptable. “It is a question of degrees.” The reality is, he suggests, that although the ANC talks about socialism and is sympathetic to socialist ideals, the way in which it chooses to run this country means that it adheres to a capitalist ideology. “There is a difference between capitalism and actually allowing one business family to dictate how you run the country.”
During his opening address at the ANC’s recent national policy conference, President Jacob Zuma went off script and took the opportunity to severely criticise veterans and stalwarts. He accused them of going outside of party structures and treating branches on the ground as “riff-raff”. He said that veterans who asked for a separate meeting to discuss the troubled state of the ANC made a “funny” move. Mkhatshwa responds to this by saying that “Zuma was really misleading, I have no quarrel with him criticising us, we criticise him, but he was practically rubbishing us. But also for me, what really upset me, was the distortion of facts.”
Mkhatshwa says Zuma came across very antagonistically and that it was totally unnecessary. He adds, “but then of course he also miscalculated, because you could see the reaction, even by some members of the ANC. They were not very happy, they were not impressed. There was a way in which it boomeranged, there is a way in which he did not show very much wisdom.”
Asked if he thinks Zuma feels under threat, he responds, “Yes, and I can understand that.” He says Zuma is “probably, to some extent… fearful” because the veterans still wield a lot of influence and are “ethically, a moral authority, which is still accepted.”
“If people think the veterans have a sinister agenda, and therefore must be resisted… the president and the secretary-general [Gwede Mantashe] need to take responsibility for misleading the nation because both of them made public statements.” He says the unfortunate part of this is that the secretary-general attended all the meetings with the task team mandated by the veterans who had been talking to the NEC and to the presidency. “They have been liaising with the secretary-general so for him to come up and make a statement that is untrue is, I mean, no, please, no.”
The current ANC leadership, its “mentality, mindset and undue influence of the spirit of materialism”, does not suggest that renewal of the party is possible, Mkhatshwa says. “I am quite sceptical, I am not saying impossible, but I am sceptical. The ANC as a movement and political party is redeemable, but you would need different people to do it.”
Asked what different means, he says the ANC needs a different kind of cadre, “not saintly but someone who is principled, someone who really has a commitment to the common good of the people, to democracy, to good governance, but also someone who has got courage because obviously someone who comes in and tries to reverse what is happening now will probably also have to make sure that he or she has a very thick skin.”
He predicts that there will be lots of resistance because there are “too many people with vested interest in the system as it is right now”. He suggests someone is needed who says: “It is not about me, alright I am a politician and I love political power and influence, but my priority is to ensure that the people of this country, black, white, young, old, rich, poor and so on, are governed in such a way that they are allowed to realise their full potential, whether it is in the economy, in education, in whatever they embark upon.”
Mkhatshwa believes that the real focus of a new leader must be to “create a climate and environment where the real common good can be realised”. This will mean that the leader must put his/her foot down, “not just set up a commission like the one they have set up, which is toothless”. The idea of a commission was an excellent one but “the ANC and country needs someone who says that if you are found having done this or that wrong and there is evidence, this is the course of action which will be followed. Not action we will contemplate, but action we will take,” he says.
He believes that the new leader must be a person with guts “but also a person with a good heart, quite frankly, a person of integrity, who is honest, and is dedicated and a hard worker”. He says that above all a leader is needed who “is able to work in a team, someone who will also give a lot of space to civil society to play the role that it should play”. For the ANC to be redeemed, “you need ethical people, more committed people, dedicated people, almost idealists”.
Mkhatshwa does not mention names but does say, when asked about the ANC’s presidential candidates, that he is hoping that “another name gets thrown in”. He says that he feels that “another quality” needs to be added.
The big question is: Can the ANC find that quality it needs now, or will its leadership continue to boomerang and show little wisdom? DM
Photo: Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa (Photo by Earth Negotiations Bulletin)
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