South Africa

Road to 2019

Corruption, still the axis of political evil

Former president Jacob Zuma in court, 8 June 2018. Photo by Felix Dlangamandla/Pool

Ahead of the elections in 2019, amid claims that the ANC has changed, that the DA is changing, and the Economic Freedom Fighters are still the Economic Freedom Fighters, one of the biggest variables is going to be how voters view ruling politicians’ class as a whole. This is based on the headlines they see, and the stories behind those headlines, and whether those responsible were actually tried in court and appropriately punished. But, despite what the ANC claims are huge changes within the organisation, for voters it may simply be a case of voting for the least worst of the options available.

There may now be some evidence that corruption has become so deeply entrenched that almost no one in our political system is immune. Through the years it became obvious that some people in our political class believe their privileged and powerful positions are their god-given right and not a responsibility entrusted to them through the grace of voters.

Recent events have suggested that it could now be possible to argue that there are members of our political elites who believe that they have some sort of divine right to govern, allowing them to treat voters with contempt, and then get away with it, every time. (It is important to note that this is not limited to one party.) As happens in democracies (and in other systems of government) around the world, there does appear to be a trend that the longer a particular group is in power, the more corrupt that group can sometimes become. This group of people, which is obviously not everyone in any one party, can give the impression they don’t care about voters, and are thus above the law.

It is important to consider some easy evidence here.

Just three weeks ago, Phumlani Mkolo was elected to the position of branch secretary of the ANC’s region around East London. He is one of the people accused of making money corruptly, out of the funeral of Nelson Mandela.

Just consider that again. He is accused of making money, corruptly, out of the funeral of Nelson Mandela… A more immoral act is hard to imagine.

But he has been elected to a high position. He is not alone. Of course. Qedani Mahlangu was elected, awfully, to the provincial executive committee of the Gauteng ANC earlier in 2018. After allowing at least 144 people to die during the Esidimeni tragedy. There has been virtually no public apology, no accounting for what she did, and no taking of responsibility. And yet, members of the ANC in Gauteng feel that she can be elected to this position.

It goes on and on. In the Northern Cape, the former leader there, John Block, has been convicted, by the Supreme Court of Appeal no less, on corruption charges. He didn’t go to jail, he instead appealed to the Constitutional Court. There is, surely, no case for them to consider. But he did it anyway. In KwaZulu-Natal, Mike Mabuyakhulu faces serious corruption charges. And yet, he was elected to the position of deputy leader as part of a deal with Sihle Zikalala, who became the leader.

Then there is the case of one Mduduzi Manana, the former MP and former Deputy Higher Education Minister who tried to bluster it out for as long as he could, after he assaulted one woman and offered another money not to charge with him with a second assault.

Manana’s’s mother, former Mpumalanga Health MEC Sibongile Manana, claimed in court documents to be ashamed of what he had done. She has, as far as this writer is aware, never articulated the shame she feels for kicking a rape NGO out of her hospitals claiming that they were trying to “poison a black woman” by giving them ARVs after being raped.

Last week, the ANC caucus said it would allow the party’s MP, Vincent Smith, to step down from the position of chair of three parliamentary committees, after the admission that he had received a loan from Bosasa (now trading under a new name). The Bosasa scandal appears to be growing, with fresh revelations over the weekend that it was pressure from former president Jacob Zuma that led to the company also helping Hlaudi Motsoeneng with his legal fees. The importance of the Smith example is that he was seen as generally clean. His role in chairing Parliament’s committee exploring land expropriation had won him plaudits for his sobriety in the position. Now it appears even he is not above taking what at best is a soft loan from a company that a committee he was on investigated.

In Nelson Mandela Bay, the new mayor there, the United Democratic Movement’s Mongameli Bobani, has been accused, by the one person who should know, of perfecting “extraction” from the systems of the council. In other words, he benefited, immorally (if not illegally in a way in which can be proven), from his position. Crispin Olver, the author of How to Steal a City, says:

The corruption wasn’t restricted to particular party divides, but the person who was really thinking up that scheme and co-ordinating it was Bobani.”

Ten days ago, on SAfm, the leader of the UDM, Bantu Holomisa, defended Bobani to the hilt, and claimed that Olver was corrupt. From a man who has always appeared to fight corruption, Holomisa’s comments may come as a surprise to many, and could have further consequences should proof of illegality by Bobani be officially revealed.

The EFF, of course, is in so many ways exactly the same. There is the case of Julius Malema himself. The NPA was due to say by 18 August whether it would prosecute him for corruption cases in Limpopo going back several years. It has not said so publicly, as far as can be determined. And it only made that promise after AfriForum (yes, them) said it would prosecute Malema privately if the NPA did not act. And there has been no proper explanation as to why the NPA did not restart the prosecution of Malema after his co-accused, who claimed he was unwell at the start of the trial, made a full return to health (in other words, it appears that for the NPA, if someone is unwell at the start of a trial, and then gets better, the case just disappears anyway).

Going down one rung at the EFF takes us to Floyd Shivambu, who has assaulted a journalist and lied in court under oath at least twice. First, in a case involving hate speech against a white female journalist, and second, in a paternity case (the DNA evidence against him was convincing).

Then there is the DA. It likes to claim that it is different. While it may be able to provide evidence of this, the recent issues around Patricia de Lille, and other incidents in places like Knysna (where a DA councillor managed to convince councillors from other parties to vote him in as mayor after a no-confidence motion in the DA’s mayoral appointment), may mar the image somewhat. That said, it is probably difficult to claim that it has quite the same culture of impunity. As far as can be determined, it has not elected someone to an office when they are facing criminal charges, which has happened several times in the ANC.

The greater question then is what are the consequences of this political culture, a culture in which someone like Nomvula Mokonyane can tell people in Bekkersdal that “we don’t need your dirty votes” and still end up as a minister in the Cabinet. It must surely be the case that there is a long process in which politicians from all parties become delegitimised. It is not just that they are not trusted, it is that people may not believe they have the authority to actually govern. This can lead to incidents in which politicians are threatened with violence in some situations: Mosiuoa Lekota needed police to help him out of the Merafong area in North West in 2006. That’s 12 years ago, and much will have changed since then.

(Ed’s interesting fact: Merafong’s mayor at the time was a man called Des van Rooyen).

But the biggest consequence which can be measured may well be in the number of people who actually vote. It is important to look at the correct numbers in this case. The poll of people who vote is not the percentage of those registered to vote who actually vote, but the percentage of people who qualify to vote, and vote. It’s not IEC numbers that need to be examined, but census numbers. While many other countries have poll rates similar to ours, it is surely disturbing that the percentage of people who vote in our elections is declining. And if this dynamic were to hasten that decline, it could lead to bigger questions about the legitimacy of those who are proclaimed the winner.

In a different way, it may be pertinent to ask this question: what is it that could push millions of people whose parents were not allowed to vote due to apartheid to 25 years later not vote themselves? The answer may well be rooted, partly at least, in the behaviour of those who show, again and again, that they do not fear voters. DM


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