Over the course of history, and particularly the democratic era, there have been instances when people have given up some of their agency for organisations that are bigger than them. They commit deeds that would normally go against their own conscience because their loyalty comes first. This is happening in the US right now, with Cult of Trump showing its ugly face daily. As evidence before the Zondo commission shows, in excruciating detail too, the same thing, in a particularly intense way, has already happened in South Africa.
The past four years in the US have shown how people, who have abided by certain principles throughout their life, can quickly abandon them. Members of the Republican Party (GOP), some of whom who have long and honourable careers in public life, are almost fighting to be the first to defend him, no matter how damning the accusations against him are. This is despite the evidence that clearly shows he is guilty of grand scale wrongdoing that warrants impeachment and removal from the office.
Perhaps the most significant element is that, to the ardent defenders, the truth no longer matters.
Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas who is now the departing Secretary of Energy, has made a complete U-turn. As CNN puts it so succinctly, Perry once said that Trump, “offers a barking carnival act that can be best described as Trumpism: a toxic mix of demagoguery, mean-spiritedness and nonsense that will lead the Republican Party to perdition if pursued”.
Now he says that Trump is part of “God’s plan for the people who rule and judge over us on this planet in our government.” Huh?
Lindsay Graham used to be the most ardent Never-Trumper in the GOP. Today, he is nothing less than Trump’s lapdog.
There is no evidence that Trump is the result of the Lord’s blueprint, whichever set of beliefs one may subscribe to. The evidence, rather, points in the opposite direction. More facts are emerging daily about how Trump has engaged in “corruption, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanours”. And yet people in the GOP appear to ignore the facts and prefer to throw their reputations and careers behind Trump and happily jump under the bus for him.
In South Africa, the testimony given to the Zondo commission shows strong parallels of our own flavour.
Just this week, the former head of the foreign side of the State Security Agency (SSA), Mo Shaik, explained how the then state security minister, Siyabonga Cwele, stopped him and other intelligence chiefs from investigating the Gupta family. Later, evidence from the former head of the domestic side of the SSA, Gibson Njenje, detailed how Ajay Gupta used president Jacob Zuma’s private study as a meeting room.
Last week, the former minister of international relations and cooperation, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, was asked why she nominated Bruce Koloane to represent South Africa as an ambassador after he had been held responsible for a Gupta plane landing at Waterkloof Airbase. Her responses were unsatisfactory.
The real reason, of course, is that, like Cwele, she did it because Zuma wanted her too.
Others behaved in a similar fashion and the common link is Zuma. They did what they knew to be morally wrong because he asked them or expected them to.
SACP general secretary Blade Nzimande once described the reports about government spending on Zuma’s Nkandla home as “white people’s lies”. Throughout Zuma’s campaign ahead of Polokwane it was claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy.
Yunus Carrim, another member of the SACP, who is seen as an honourable man, still led the campaign to shutter the Scorpions. We now know-how, and why, was it important for Zuma to ensure that the National Prosecuting Authority did not have the capacity to investigate financial crimes.
Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu, who has spoken against corruption many times, was once a member of an ANC task team set up to convince the NPA not to charge Zuma with corruption. She said at the time that the ANC had told the NPA it “was not in the interests of the country” for Zuma to be prosecuted. One can look through the laws of South Africa and is guaranteed no find such an argument anywhere. The basic tenet of our democracy is that no one is above the law. No one, that is, unless you are Jacob Zuma.
Former Presidency Minister, Energy Minister, Justice Minister, and so on, Jeff Radebe is another example. As long ago as 2006 and 2007, as then-acting health minister, he was able to help the then deputy president, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, get anti-retroviral drugs into state hospitals. This was against the wishes of then-president Thabo Mbeki and was courageous.
But during the Zuma era, he behaved very differently. He played a role in Zuma’s appointment of advocate Menzi Simelane as head of the NPA, and then defended the appointment. The Constitutional Court disagreed, and found that Simelane should not have been appointed because of an earlier finding that he had lied under oath. And Radebe was okay with such person taking the reigns of the NPA??
It is possible to suggest that almost every single person who was a member of Parliament for the ANC, at some time or another, went against their conscience for the party and for Zuma. Only one of them, MP Ben Turok, refused to vote in favour of the Protection of State Information Bill. This bill was so badly formulated that even Zuma could not sign it into law.
Then there is the vast majority of ANC MPs who failed to vote against Zuma during the no-confidence vote in the National Assembly in 2017. The vote was secret, it was a chance to remove Zuma, to stop the Guptas and to stop the looting that was happening at the time. Instead, the vast majority of ANC MPs voted to retain Zuma as president, after the then ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said that “this is about the ANC, not about Zuma”.
The ANC is not the only political party in South Africa that displays slavish and misguided loyalty to its leader.
One of the important aspects of a political party having a diverse group of leaders, as the ANC claims to have, is that it prevents a party from being controlled by one person. It prevents someone like Zuma from ever gathering momentum and restrains the behaviour of those already in leadership.
But if party members give up too much of their own agency, if they simply allow leaders to do as they wish, if they forget their duty (and, in Parliament, their oath) to the country and to its people, then corruption will thrive and corrupt people will be protected.
It is happening now in the US. It has happened here. The question for leaders everywhere is, have they learnt the lessons of this?
Or will we be doomed to repeat our recent history, the Groundhog Day-style? DM
A groundhog is actually a type of squirrel.