South Africa


South Africans’ trust in ANC’s empty anti-corruption words runneth over

South Africans’ trust in ANC’s empty anti-corruption words runneth over
Johannesburg Mayor Geoff Makhubo. (Photo: Gallo Images / Sharon Seretlo) | Former president Jacob Zuma. (Photo: Gallo Images / Rapport / Elizabeth Sejake) | ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule. (Photo: Gallo Images / Frikkie Kapp)

As the ANC continues to debate, argue and openly contest its own decision that people implicated in corruption must ‘step aside’, voters are entitled to ask why they should believe the party that has so comprehensively reneged on its many promises to act against its members’ wrongdoing.

One of the main indications of what is happening in the ANC is the party’s own public statements, what its structures, provinces and regions are saying. Sometimes, these statements have an eerie echo of our past, indicating that the national leadership’s public statements must sometimes be deliberately disbelieved.

It is clear that the party has not learnt that words alone are insufficient, and what matters to the voters is actions. Without actions, people will be fully justified in simply ignoring the party. 

On Tuesday the Free State Premier, Sisi Ntombela, said during her State of the Province Address that, “attacking corruption remains high on our development agenda”. She particularly referred to municipalities while making this comment.

This comes after the Free State has seen several arrests and charges laid against important officials in the province, including its former premier, the current ANC Secretary-General, Ace Magashule.

But in the past Ntombela has refused to answer questions about corruption in the province.

Once, on SAfm, she refused to talk about the Zondo Commission, after this writer asked, “Doesn’t it worry you that R600-million of your province’s money might have disappeared?”

Her response was: “No, no, my darling. I am busy now, can we just try by all means to build this Free State, can we try to make sure that Free Staters have a little bit of hope…”.

But now she is claiming to be acting against corruption.

In the penultimate weekend of February the ANC Joburg Region had a lekgotla, a scheduled meeting to discuss the major issues facing it. After that (virtual) gathering, the region issued a statement.

It said: [The] lekgotla resolved to commit to rooting out corruption at all levels of the ANC as well as exposing corruption from the private and public sector organisations”, and to “continue the implementation of resolutions of the 54th National Conference (Nasrec) as we chart the way forward”.

It is, if you like, a very normal statement, it is what should be expected from an ANC region.

Except that it simply cannot be that this region is telling the truth. The statement must be, and is, a lie.

The statement says they will focus on “rooting out all forms of corruption”.

But the leader of the region, Geoff Makhubo, has credible and voluminous evidence of corruption against him.

It is true that he has not been found guilty in a court of law. But his inability to explain to the Zondo Commission the payments his firm received from the City of Joburg through another company when he was in charge of Joburg’s finances, reveals his involvement, and surely guilt, in corruption.

He continues to deny wrongdoing. And he denied it, in articles and on radio, when the groundbreaking amaBhungane investigation was published. And then the Zondo Commission showed how he had been lying.

Amazingly, he was nominated and then elected to the position of Joburg mayor after – not before – after the claims against him were first published.

If the Joburg Region of the ANC was telling the truth, and was serious about corruption, it would not have elected Makhubo as its leader. And it would act against him now. But it will not – despite claiming to be following the Nasrec resolution, which would require people implicated in corruption to step aside.

There is also no evidence that Free State’s Ntombela was actually going to act against corruption; she may discuss it in a set-piece speech full of platitudes and points repeated so many times they lose their meaning. And yet, she cannot answer simple questions about it.

One of the risks for any ruling party is that a sense of despondency takes over, that people decide to ignore what the party says, and just do their own thing. In other words, they will live their lives without it.

We have seen this kind of obvious lying before. A historical example:

In 2013 then-president Jacob Zuma told the nation, during his State of the Nation Address, that: “To further boost the fight against corruption, we will fill all vacant posts at the upper echelons of the criminal justice system.”

At the time the National Prosecuting Authority had been without a head for almost a year. Menzi Simelane’s appointment to the position had been struck down in October 2012, but Zuma finally made the appointment only in September 2013. On the same day, Zuma appointed the head of the Special Investigating Unit, which had been left without a head for nearly 18 months.

The point here is that when Zuma said “we will fill all vacant posts”, it was only because of his own actions that the appointments had not been made. He was the only person who had the legal power to make the appointments and he was the person who had failed, for his own personal reasons, to make the appointments. And sometimes not making an appointment is a deliberate political action.

In other words, he was responsible for the problem that he was promising to now fix. And he made the promise with a straight face.

There have been numerous other statements of this kind over the years – too many promises to fight corruption to even begin to count.

And precious few have been implemented. (Hello, John Block, tough luck, man. Ed)

It is partly because of this context that so few people will believe the Joburg Region of the ANC when it promises to fight corruption, or Ntombela when she makes that same promise. Or anyone in the ANC.

Zuma didn’t mean it when he was president  – why would Makhubo mean it when he is mayor? Why would Ntombela mean it now when it would mean taking on her political patron?

All of this feeds into a much deeper cynicism that may be appearing in our public debate.

Without proper public polling, it is impossible to judge what some call the “national mood”. But some of the indicators, such as tweets, and calls to talk radio, suggest that there is more anger, frustration and simple cynicism about the ANC than ever before.

This has been fed by its recent history, its inability to change course after the Zuma years, the fact it cannot implement its own “step aside” resolution (as symbolised by the person of Magashule), the PPE corruption scandal, the continued public appearances of people like Malusi Gigaba, and of course, the testimony at the Zondo Commission and the reaction of some of the party’s leaders to it.

However, what this statement by the ANC Joburg Region, and the “promise” by Ntombela reveal is that there is still a belief that words are enough, that if leaders simply make a public statement the people of South Africa will believe it.

There is nothing to prove that anything has changed since Zuma promised to fill “all vacant posts”.

The National Prosecuting Act has not made any high-level prosecutions (with the obvious exception of Magashule) and there are no convictions to show for all of the obviously irrefutable evidence that is now in the public domain.

One of the risks for any ruling party is that a sense of despondency takes over, that people decide to ignore what the party says, and just do their own thing. In other words, they will live their lives without it.

But worse than that, this statement is proof that the leadership of the ANC in some, or most, provinces and regions simply don’t care. Many voters might one day decide it is insulting to be treated like this.

The lesson here is that in politics, as in life, actions speak louder than words. Without actions, those same words mean nothing. In the case of the ANC, in a country as rapidly deteriorating as South Africa, the empty words may end up costing everyone a whole lot more. DM 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Coen Gous says:

    Brilliant article Stephen, thank you! But as Ismail Lagardien’s article yesterday, very depressing as well. In fact, hardly a day now passes, where the media is not loaded with wrong doing, or falsehoods coming out of the governing party. And with sport not back to normality, joy is only a memory

    • Glyn Morgan says:

      Hi Coen. What is your solution to this problem?

      • Coen Gous says:

        Have no idea why you ask me, as you seem to have all the answers

        • Glyn Morgan says:

          Giving up is not the solution.

          • Coen Gous says:

            Please refer your question to the DA

          • Glyn Morgan says:

            I see that DM have been reading my comments! Today there is a note that – “DSTM team is taking on a SOLUTIONS JOURNALISM theme, exploring some of South Africa’s biggest and pervasive problems”. Was the a case of coincidence? Or thinking people think alike?

      • Coen Gous says:

        Your last comment refers. Please just don’t comment on my own comments any longer. If DM wants to ban my own, so be it. But your own replies and comments are beyond acceptance to me as a person.

  • Sam Joubs says:

    I can’t say what I want but most certainly I can think what I want.

  • Hiram C Potts says:

    Corruption &theft by the criminal cabal masquerading as a government has become so entrenched & widespread, it’s now accepted as the norm in SA.
    People see govt. officials all the way up the chain, brazenly looting with impunity & few consequences. Lawlessness sets in, the state implodes & fails….

  • Peter Doble says:

    It is time to face facts – corruption, looting and incompetent governance – is the future face of South Africa. No amount of hope nor endless empty words will erase the dispiriting prospect of an unchanging party intent on leading the lemmings over the cliff edge.

  • Mthimkulu Mashiya says:

    Disillusionment and apathy made me and others leave ANC branch activism. This left space for all sorts of fraudsters to lead. As Plato puts it, “One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors” – and by corrupt people, I may add

  • Sergio CPT says:

    The anc are masters of speaking with a forked tongue. A lot of hot air, putrid I might add, a case of talking the talk but not walking it. Experts in deception, lies and theft. Pathetic and laughable, if it wasn’t so devastatingly serious. They have zero credibility and are 100% untrustworthy.

  • Robert Mitchell says:

    And the people still vote for the ANC. I had hope in CR. (no longer).
    But seems the population are very stupid. Viva ANC. Go for it ACE. the people love you, because they are stupid! if you get in, it will be because people are scared to go to jail or just plain stupid. ..your following! Nice!

  • Robert Mitchell says:

    Come on Cyril. Just speak the truth. just go for it. the people will back you. get rid of BEE and build your municipalities up with qualified people. put these idiots like ACE and Zuma not to mention Juju the clown, in jail and move along! You were right. the whites woll be like frogs in the water!

  • One of the problems is that, for voters who feel emotionally connected to the ANC, there is no real alternative. I was hoping that Herman Mashaba’s party would have gained more traction by now. The country is slip-sliding away. Where is freedom of choice?

    • Coen Gous says:

      Share your feelings Carol

    • Louis Potgieter says:

      ActionSA is the only remote upside I see. As a bridge player knows, if your only chance of making your contract is a certain distribution, you must play for that distribution. I suggest a debate about ActionSA’s chances, followed by a support drive. (Non-registration setback.)

  • Jens von Delft says:

    What their double speak actually means, said looking over a raised middle finger is, “as long as our people vote for us we can do what we like…”

  • louis viljee says:

    Seems we’ve come full circle: from when 60% of voters voted consistently for the corrupt NP to when 60% of voters vote consistently for the corrupt ANC. While we and the ANC display no better sense of direction than the US Republican Party who continue support of Trump no matter his blatant corruption and failure to comply with the most simple morality, rules of political engagement and what the position of the Presidency demands. And, to crown it all, we have no viable opposition. Bleak days indeed. Still, we’re not Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. Although we would be if the Zumas, Aces and Malemas could have their way.

  • Christoph Lombard says:

    Ace is in power because he is supported by millions of voters. Those voters by default, support a culture of corruption, nepotism and perhaps soon…dictatorship. Unless through a divine act of intervention, that is the culture that will prevail for many generations to come. Unlikely that us, reading this article today, will experience a change for the better in our lifetimes. We may not agree with it; we can belittle and loathe it; we can even scream and shout as much as we want…if you want to stay in South Africa, then you better learn how to live with this.

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