Opinionista Ryland Fisher 14 January 2013

SA’s politics: ambition spinning out of control

Ambition is shaking up South African politics, but in all the wrong ways. One would hope that, after 20 years as a democracy, both our government and citizens would have the maturity to look beyond immediate material gains.

A good friend once said that anyone with political ambition should not be allowed to practice politics.

Unfortunately, while there are some reasons why politicians and public servants can be disqualified, having ambition is not one of them.

But political ambition gone out of control is at the heart of the discomfort felt by many people who were involved in the struggle and who now watch disconsolately as our politicians, especially those from the ruling party, engage in activities that seem to go against the grain of what many sacrificed so much for.

There was a lot of expectation when our struggle ended and our country became a democracy. This expectation, which now seems misplaced, was probably based on a noble but stupid belief that those who had been committed to fighting for a non-racial and democratic South Africa during the struggle years would use the opportunity of being in government to right the wrongs committed under Apartheid and help to build a better future for the majority of South Africa’s citizens.

We did not consider the possible effects of political ambition. It has the ability to turn communists or socialists into capitalists of the worst kind, and those who used to care about the people into caring only about themselves. It has had the effect of turning former comrades against each other with each one only concerned about their own political ambitions – without worrying about what is important to the nation.

One would have hoped, when the president delivered his traditional 8 January statement this year (albeit on 12 January), that he would have addressed the misguided political ambition which is at the root of the corruption which has become endemic in our society.

This political ambition has different forms and manifestations in South Africa.

It has led to many of those in power using their positions to promote their own interests and that of their families.

It is behind the slow rate of service delivery which has seen more and more protests over the past few years.

The majority of South Africans have been very patient in the 19 years since we became a democracy.

There appears to have been a mature understanding that the problems of Apartheid would not be sorted out overnight and that the ANC government would need time to come up with lasting solutions.

However, almost 20 years into our democracy, many people are legitimately asking: “How much longer must we wait for the ‘better life for all’ that you promised us before the 1994 elections?

“And why is it that, while you ask us to be patient, you do not have the same expectation from those in your inner circle who appear to be benefiting all the time?”

It is clear that there are many people in government who have forgotten that they are supposed to serve the people, unselfishly, and not seek to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor. They also seem to have forgotten that, as servants of the people, they are not supposed to see themselves as being exalted above the people.

The ANC has, for all intents and purposes, kicked off its 2014 election campaign in KwaZulu-Natal at the weekend, and the party would do well over the next few months to go way beyond empty promises and to make delivery their main priority.

We expect more from our ruling party than from anyone else, because they were voted into power by the majority of our citizens. So, while it is okay for others to analyse our problems, we expect the ANC to go much further. They need to convince us that, not only are they aware of the many problems we face as a society, but they also have a plan to deal with these problems.

Even though we are only at the beginning of 2013, it is already clear that 2014 is going to be a significant year.

Already we are certain that, in the year that we celebrate our 20th birthday as a democracy, our country will have a different deputy president to what we have now. Of course, there are people who wish/hope/pray that we will also have a different president, but that’s another story.

At its 53rd Annual Elective Conference in Mangaung, the ANC committed the next 10 years as the “decade of the cadre”.

The intention, it seems, is to develop a better crop of ANC leaders and members over the next decade, people who will hopefully be able to help the ruling party and the government deliver on its many promises to the electorate.

One would hope that one of the things that the ANC will teach their new crop of cadres is that the only political ambition they should have is to serve the interests of the majority of South Africans.

If they do, it could go some way towards giving hope once again to those people who feel the ANC has lost its way. DM



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