A teeny bit of history: in response to centuries of conquest and exclusion from participation in the governance of the land of their forebears, African leaders assembled in Mangaung in 1912 to form the ANC. Having won the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) Britain, through its Parliament, passed the South Africa Act 1909 which established the Union of South Africa in 1910. A not-often-told fact is that Britain stipulated that South Africa should be governed by people of European descent. This was despite the fact that Africans from its Cape and Natal colonies had fought alongside British forces and contributed to the defeat of the Boers. Black Livelihoods Mattered not much, obviously.
That race-based exclusion in place, the ANC had its work cut out. It had to build national awareness among the indigenous ethnic groups and mould them into a force that would fight against minority white rule and, in the fullness of time, build a democratic country where all citizens would enjoy full political, social and economic rights.
Come 27 April 1994, the most important date on the South African calendar, and people of all races participated in the country’s first-ever democratic elections. The “wretched of the Earth” turned up in their numbers to give the ANC the mandate to govern the country. It has done so for the past 26 years, attaining some memorable highs and also sinking to depressing depths – think State Capture and endemic corruption.
Fast-forward to 27-28 June 2020 and the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC is in session discussing issues of national importance. The coronavirus pandemic features prominently on the agenda, as it should. So also does the little matter concerning the urgent need to end the suspension of Florence Radzilani, the provincial deputy chair, and Danny Msiza, the provincial treasurer in Limpopo, who were implicated in the theft of close to R2-billion from the VBS Mutual bank. So devastating was the looting that the bank had to close down, costing poor people their life-savings.
Those who wanted the suspensions immediately lifted thought two years was too long a period to keep a comrade suspended. That violated their right to fair treatment. The matter was hotly debated and was followed by a decision to rescind the suspensions. President Cyril Ramaphosa appealed to his comrades to think about the plight of the poor people who had lost all their savings, and to reflect on the wider implications of their decision. He made an impassioned plea and called for consultations with relevant stakeholders before Radzilani and Msiza could return to their party positions.
It was a puzzling decision by the NEC, given that it is incumbent upon an implicated individual to clear his or her name. Upon evaluation and approval of such a submission the Integrity Commission would end the suspension or recommend that the NEC does so. It so happens that when the NEC voted to end the suspensions, senior advocate Terry Motale, who carried out the investigation on behalf of the SA Reserve Bank, had not changed his position on the alleged complicity in the crime by the two individuals. The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) had already started its investigations into the VBS theft and charged the first batch of the accused. It made it clear that more arrests would follow.
When he briefed the media on the NEC’s decision to end the suspensions of Radzilani and Msiza, ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule stated that their reinstatement would take place “with immediate effect”. He said relevant stakeholders would be consulted. Surely, by that he must have meant the stakeholders would be merely informed of the decision, since, according to him, its implementation was meant to be “immediate”. Pressed to clarify the position, Gwede Mantashe, the ANC chairperson, dismissed Magashule’s version of the NEC decision as an expression of his personal views – top ANC leaders contradicting one another publicly on an important issue.
When Magashule said the ANC position was that Radzilani and Msiza remained “innocent until proven guilty by a court of law” he was indulging in his familiar trope. This is understandable in light of his personal circumstances in which he faces a plethora of corruption allegations. As he well knows (he signed off on the conference report), the ANC National Conference meeting at Nasrec in December 2017 resolved to “summarily suspend people who fail to give an acceptable explanation or to voluntarily step down while they face disciplinary, investigative or prosecutorial procedures”.
It’s as clear as crystal, SG.
What is not clear is why the NEC and national officials have never bothered to call him to order on an issue that gives the public the impression that the ANC is not committed to combating corruption.
Predictably, the announcement of Radzilani’s and Msiza’s reinstatement was met with anger and fierce resistance from ANC structures and allied organisations in Limpopo. The Vhembe Fraternal Association, that ropes in Nafcoc, Cosatu, Samwu, Contralesa, the Pastors’ Forum, the ANC Veterans League, the VBS Shareholders’ Forum, the ANC MK National Council and several community-based structures, addressed a memo to Magashule expressing their opposition to the reinstatement. Significantly, they made their position public.
There are hard lessons to be learnt by the ANC leadership from the Msiza/Radzilani debacle. The course of action it chooses to take to resolve this matter will see the organisation either slide further down the road to ignominy and rejection by the people; or it may result in a slow turnaround to respectability and, in the longer term, a return to former glory. Bold leadership and a commitment to ANC values and ethics can still achieve the organisational renewal that has hitherto remained elusive.
Mavuso Msimang is an ANC stalwart who served on the Military High Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe.
Bern, Switzerland has an old statue of a person eating babies. Nobody understands exactly why it's there.