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We might well bury the ANC alongside our Covid-19 dead

South Africa

OP-ED

We might well bury the ANC alongside our Covid-19 dead

The ANC has stooped so low as to feed off the suffering and the dead amid the greatest crisis the country has faced, says the writer. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Bloated with corruption and fraught with internal intrigues and divisions, where normalised deviance is the compass that points to the way ahead, might it be that the body politic can no longer endure the ANC? Might it just be that the ANC’s comorbidities render it fated to an abrupt death in the face of the virus?

In an ill-fated moment of spectacular destruction on 4 August 2020, 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate – improperly stored in the port of Beirut – blew sky-high, wreaking devastation across the length and breadth of the city. An explosion of public outrage soon followed. 

Slow to act, corrupt Lebanese authorities – who have been largely absent in the crisis – have presided over a spectacular decline in governance, with the country nearing the status of a failed state. Any threads of public confidence remaining in the Lebanese government have all but been obliterated. The explosion has amplified earlier calls for revolution, and angry protesters have flocked to the streets. 

A lot can happen in a moment. It is a lesson for South Africa.

While corruption in South Africa has substantially withered public confidence in key institutions, its persistent and pervasive influence has largely proven exhausting. In the face of a steady stream of corruption allegations that prevail across all sectors and institutions, we have largely become consumed with corruption fatigue. 

We raise an eyebrow and shake our heads. Sometimes we give vent to an expletive or two to express our long-suffering frustrations, but it tumbles out like the last breaths of a sputtering exhaust, weakened by the deluge of daily revelations of how little power the citizenry has over its very own institutions. 

The beating heart of political corruption in South Africa resides within the ANC itself. Our erstwhile liberators are now firmly entrenched in the business of enriching themselves, while only a few isolated cadres remain faithful to the original tenets of the oldest liberation organisation on the continent. These rare comrades in arms have endured deep personal turmoil and anguish at the fate the ANC has brought upon itself, choosing to work from within to save it from itself. 

On the day I write this, over 300 Covid-19 deaths were reported, down from previous highs exceeding 500. Despite the decline, it is still the equivalent of an airliner crash happening every day. No reasonable society would stand for that becoming normalised. 

Likewise, a majority electorate that does not yet have viable, representative opposition, has endured a fraught loyalty to the ANC. Voting for the ANC has become an unpleasant chore; one that leaves the voter feeling soiled by the act. It no longer feels like an act of liberation. Whatever loyalty to the ANC prevails, it is one that invokes an ANC that is now long gone. We search for a familiar image in the mirage that now prevails in the wake of a long-dead, once-loved liberation party, and are left wanting. 

Yet despite the fatigue and sense of hopelessness that has prevailed, what is clear is that the recent predatory corruption committed during the pandemic has inflamed sensibilities. With ‘covidpreneurs’ descending on funds intended as relief, the unthinkable has occurred. Corrupt elites have shown they aren’t above targeting PPE and food parcels intended for the most vulnerable at a time when they are facing malnutrition, unemployment, economic decline and amplified vulnerability to the disease due to lack of basic services. 

Even staunch ANC loyalists are outraged and aren’t holding back. Although we have endured sickening corruption before, as in the case of the VBS bank, it is very difficult to stomach the fact that our hitherto liberators so keenly rush in to enrich themselves off the death and devastation that we as a nation are enduring.

On the day I write this, over 300 Covid-19 deaths were reported, down from previous highs exceeding 500. Despite the decline, it is still the equivalent of an airliner crash happening every day. No reasonable society would stand for that becoming normalised. 

One needs only look to the corruption and neglect that led to the devastating explosion in Beirut to visualise what is occurring; the pandemic is devastating society itself. It’s like an invisible bomb has gone off, damaging everything that stands in the path of its shock wave. 

A Beirut resident put it perfectly. When expressing his complete and utter lack of confidence in authorities to hold themselves accountable for the recent port explosion, he explained that investigation after investigation would continue for 20 years and, in the end, the matter would simply die out. 

It is difficult to countenance the notion that whoever profits off this destruction and impacts our ability to save lives and restore society, can reasonably be said to represent society faithfully. It is so clearly immoral and bereft of ethical integrity that no sane and reasonable person could possibly defend it. It is simply beyond the pale; unacceptable in every way. 

Intuition suggests there will be a price to pay for the Covid-19 corruption that has considerably weakened our ability to respond to the pandemic. Healthcare and frontline workers face the very real and imminent prospect of death, or long-term comorbidities as a result of being hung out to dry as they themselves try to save lives. 

Everybody knows someone who has succumbed to the virus, and it may well get worse. It is entirely foreseeable that the average voter will carry this deep betrayal into the voting booths with them next year. 

At the heart of the ANC’s failure to deal with corruption lies the paradoxical logic of deflection. Simply put, the routine defence that is spun out with thoughtless frequency when allegations of corruption are made, is that the accused is “innocent until proven guilty”, effectively deferring the matter to the toothless and ineffectual police and prosecution agencies, and the slow-moving court system. This sleight of hand has rendered the fight against corruption impotent. The long arm of the law is effectively useless in this fight.

A Beirut resident put it perfectly. When expressing his complete and utter lack of confidence in authorities to hold themselves accountable for the recent port explosion, he explained that investigation after investigation would continue for 20 years and, in the end, the matter would simply die out. 

This is precisely what South Africans are enduring in the fight against corruption. Politicians aren’t held accountable. They are simply held “hypothetically” accountable in terms of the law. Cases are deferred to the legal realm precisely so that they can be drawn out for shamelessly long periods of time. The few who have been convicted and sent to prison have been released early on trumped up “medical” or other grounds. 

While it is understandable that an ordinary citizen would seek to defend themselves in a court of law when faced with accusations of wrongdoing, the same logic does not apply to those who occupy public and political office. This is simply because they are elected or appointed representatives of an office. When serious accusations of wrongdoing are made, whether it is corruption or maladministration, officials should vacate the office to which they have been appointed in order to maintain the integrity of that office. 

Bloated with corruption and fraught with internal intrigues and divisions, where normalised deviance is the compass that points to the way ahead, might it be that the body politic can no longer endure the ANC? Might it just be that the ANC’s comorbidities render it fated to an abrupt death in the face of the virus?  

If the allegations are serious enough to warrant investigation – whether by parliament itself or by prosecution agencies of the state – it would suggest that there is reasonable doubt hanging over an official’s tenure in office. Hence, that official should vacate the office to preserve the integrity of that office. Importantly, it is the duty of leadership at the top to deal firmly with those who will not go willingly and need to be pushed out.

It’s that simple. The problem is that the ANC has allowed a rhetorical, self-serving logic to take hold within its ranks; one that does not serve society or its key institutions in any way. It obfuscates personal responsibility with that of the office to which one is appointed. It is unsurprising that the 2020 Edelman Barometer survey found that South Africans ranked lowest – from all countries surveyed – in respect of trust in key institutions (ie government, business, media and academia). 

Caught in this intractable reality – one that has been compounded by the devastation the pandemic has wreaked on lives and livelihoods – the ordinary public are justifiably outraged and disillusioned. Endemic corruption has breached a moral limit that cuts so deep that there is simply no explaining it away. 

The ANC has stooped so low as to feed off the suffering and the dead amid the greatest crisis the country has faced. This image is going to be hard to shake in the run-up to local elections, given the long history of abuse that the country has endured at the hands of corrupt ANC officials. 

It is now clear that the ANC would prefer to feed off the dead carcass of our nation rather than breathe life into it. It is a one-way street, and it leads to a frightful end for all of us.

Bloated with corruption and fraught with internal intrigues and divisions, where normalised deviance is the compass that points to the way ahead, might it be that the body politic can no longer endure the ANC? Might it just be that the ANC’s comorbidities render it fated to an abrupt death in the face of the virus?  

This could well be the moment when frustration with the status quo, and the realisation that there is no limit to the corruption that we are enduring, finally takes the form of expression that democracy requires it to. 

As we bury the bodies of loved ones who have succumbed to the pandemic, it might well be that we bury the ANC alongside them – never again to be entrusted with majority electoral support. DM

Camaren Peter is an associate professor with the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business (UCT GSB). He holds a cum laude BSc (Hons) degree in theoretical physics, an MSc in astrophysics and a PhD in Business Administration. He writes in his personal capacity.

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