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16 December 2017 01:38 (South Africa)
Opinionista Sisonke Msimang

A long walk to Nkandla

  • Sisonke Msimang
    sisonke-new-photo-02.jpg
    Sisonke Msimang

    Sisonke Msimang is currently working on a book about belonging and identity. She tweets @sisonkemsimang.

Even the ‘good guys’ – leaders like Nelson Mandela and Frene Ginwala - have had their role to play in building a culture of defensiveness, deflection and lack of transparency in the ANC. Zuma is not the ANC’s problem; he is its creation. It has been a long walk to this dark place called Nkandla and the ANC has spurred Zuma on, every step of the way.

Madiba defends Sarafina

In 1996, two years into our new dispensation, the Sarafina 2 scandal rocked the country. The then Health Minister, Dr Nkosazana Zuma, had awarded a contract for the staging of a play about AIDS - an ill-conceived production called Sarafina 2 - to her friend Mbongeni Ngema. As the press reported at the time, Ngema sent in his detailed proposal for the staging of the play on the same day that the department officially asked for bids. His first payment was deposited two days before the contract was signed.

Months of media questions and official inquiries ensued. The Minister was defiant. Initially, she had claimed that the European Union was supporting the production of the play but EU officials denied this outright. Then she suggested that a mystery donor was funding the play. In the end, she conceded that no mystery man would be stepping forward, and the R40 million production costs were paid for by our taxes.

The minister did not lose her job. Instead, she was defended by her party and by her boss. President Mandela told the media to back off and let her do her job. The ANC suggested that the press had been co-opted by pharmaceutical companies that were angry at her stance on drug pricing.

It was an early lesson in how the ANC would handle misdeeds by its heroes: it would denounce the critics and defend its own regardless of the facts.

Frene stands up for Baleka

The following year, the then Deputy Speaker of the House, Baleka Mbete, was found to have illegally obtained a driver’s license in Mpumalanga. Mbete also told a number of “stories” when she was called to account. She was forced to give back the license.

Her boss, the Speaker of the House, Frene Ginwala emphasised the farce, pointing out to the public that the commission had not found Mbete guilty. She suggested that everyone should leave Mbete alone.

The Mbete affair was also instructive. It was an early taste of how state commissions would be set up justify immoral things. Just like in the bad old days, commissions would be used to subvert the rule of law, with rule by law.

Essop is Yengeni's friend

In 2006, a decade and many scandals later, Tony Yengeni was carried into Pollsmoor Prison on the shoulders of his comrades. You would be forgiven for thinking the man had been jailed for defending someone’s human rights. Instead, he was being jailed for his role in the noxious arms deal. Then Western Cape premier Ebrahim Rasool, provincial ANC chair James Ngculu and then minister in the presidency Essop Pahad were at his side.

Pahad was quoted as saying, “I am here to wish him well as a friend and a member of the NEC of the ANC.”

Third Term Lucky

By 2016, when President Zuma makes a bid for a third term as the head of the party, the ANC will have completed its transformation from a principle-based liberation movement to a bloated and parasitic organisation that thrives on secrets, lies and state resources.

While Zuma has presided over the Nkandla crisis, it is important to note that he is not its sole architect. The Nkandla crisis has in part been brought about by the fact that since the beginning of our democracy, the ANC has chosen to close ranks when one of its members has been accused of wrongdoing. The 'loyalty' of ANC members – a strength for an organisation that was constantly under siege under Apartheid - has been lethal in peacetime. In today’s South Africa the insistence on loyalty before integrity has had a devastating impact on the way that the party operates.

This loyalty factor is a weak point that Zuma has exploited and turned into a personal boon. The crisis that Nkandla represents has been a long-time coming. One can trace it back to the time that Zuma spent in the political wilderness, after Mbeki relieved him of his duties of Deputy President in 2005. There can be no doubt that in the two years that he was out of circulation, many people beat a path to Zuma’s door to ask why he should take the fall when there were others who had eaten more than him, who had done worse.

In other words, Zuma’s actions have been justified and encouraged by many within the party. The virulence with which senior leaders are prepared to defend one of their own is not a recent development. The closing of ranks, the celebration of bad behavior by loyal cadres, these are not new at all. Perhaps the scale is different, but the characteristics have been present for some time.

Calls for Zuma’s departure fail to recognise that Zuma himself is not the problem. Zuma is the monster that the ANC has created. If by some unlikely turn of events, Zuma were to suffer the same fate as Mbeki (unlikely since his patronage networks run so deep), another monster would simply take his place.

Until the culture of loyalty over integrity is changed in the ANC, Zuma and other ‘uncontrollable creeps’ will continue to multiply.
DM

  • Sisonke Msimang
    sisonke-new-photo-02.jpg
    Sisonke Msimang

    Sisonke Msimang is currently working on a book about belonging and identity. She tweets @sisonkemsimang.

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