Opinionista Johann Redelinghuys 24 March 2014

Twenty years on, the ANC is still not ready to govern

The hundred year old ANC has been in power for twenty years. Enough time to build a measure of political maturity and to understand some of the principles of sound governance. In 1992, two years after its unbanning, the ANC declared that it was “ready to govern”. Now twenty years later we see how premature that promise was. Fired by the exuberance of expectations being met and idealism realised, leaders at that time misjudged the complexity and challenge of running a country and of providing proper leadership.

Ignoring the many other ills of the ANC body, ask only why after so many years there has not been the development of a more statesman-like leadership. Why are we confronted every time that there is another embarrassing revelation with the politically naïve ducking of accountability and failure to face blame? Why is there so little indication of a maturing leadership twenty years later?

As if any more evidence was needed the Nkandla shambles illustrates starkly that the ANC’s key leaders don’t yet have the judgement or the integrity needed to sustain any level of respectful governance.

Behaving like teenagers caught out in some misdeed, a cabinet delegation of ministers with Jeff Radebe, Angie Motshekga and Siyabonga Cwele resorted to a pathetic show of dissembling and blame-shifting; pretending that they were on to the corruption case all along and that the matter was not as negative as indicated. Shielding the president at all costs and trying to minimise the corrupt processes they and a collection of other minister and officials were falling over their own footwork.

The president himself lied to parliament insisting that his family did not benefit from the upgrade at Nkandla and that the whole upgrade was for security reasons imposed on him by his advisors. The ANC spin then found that his lie was “not intentional”. In the process, and to the applause of his co-conspirators, Houdini Zuma again broke free.

They were all behaving in what has become an ANC standard response mode to being caught out. Deny culpability and avoid any form of due process that may lance the boil and lead, God forbid, to any form of cleansing repentance.

Setting the tone for his party the president with his litany of poor judgements has been masterful at behaving badly and then avoiding accountability. He even managed somehow to avoid appearing in a court of law to face the charges, and then, again somehow having them withdrawn.

This wounded leader, declaring his triumph of a “good story to tell” but limping from one shabby episode to the next is not being helped by the ANC. Instead of protecting him at all costs and hiding his corruption why are the senior members of his cabinet always placing loyalty above integrity? Why are they allowing themselves to be sucked into each disgraceful mess? Every one of them will have to give an account of themselves as individuals, but it is the culture of the whole party that stands accused.

Allowing for the fact that for most of its existence the ANC was devoted to the liberation struggle and was not primarily preoccupied with what it would do when it came to power its history of actual government leadership has not been that long. Never having been in power before the party has not had the benefit that opposition parties usually have in a democracy where they can grow and mature. There is much evidence that sound governance, like all skills takes practice. The ANC never had it.

But it also needs the right attitude and a measure of character if it is to develop properly. In its present commanding position where the ANC is assured of winning, according to a recent poll a two-thirds majority, this knowledge does not provide the element of uncertainty that would encourage it to polish its performance. The arrogance of believing, as the president has told us so clearly, that it will lead this country “until Jesus Christ returns” is not compatible with a willingness to learn. Striving for growth and personal development needs a degree of humility

The fervent hope and the optimism we all had in the early years of the ANC are gone. The moral stature of Madiba and the collaborative style of that time gave us comfort but now has evaporated

We must be fair. What the ANC has achieved in its twenty year tenure is not to be ignored in all of this. The president’s “good story” is indeed a good story. Millions of poor people have been given houses. They now have electricity and access to clean water. The country has changed dramatically in terms of black economic empowerment and the growth of a surging black middle class is evident in the suburbs and the shopping malls. But with all these check marks for good performance why are we feeling so disillusioned and disappointed? Why is there so little respect for government and why do we have such a sense of impotent doom?

If we are to take encouragement anywhere in this sorry mess it is with the media which has penetrated every nook and cranny of the story, giving us saturation coverage of the entire business. It is compelling evidence of an open society and of the value of an unfettered media. Surely the ANC realises by now that there is no longer anywhere to hide and that it is better and less painful to come clean than it is to shape-shift in the hope of finding safety in the shadows.

It is also encouraging to hear that there are some singular senior ANC members who are not just prepared to play along and are expressing their anger. Gwede Mantashe ANC secretary-general told journalists that there will be consequences for national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega who was also found out lying. She insisted that the swimming pool at Nkandla was not built for recreation but as a “fire pool”. Again the forlorn attempt at putting a palatable story to a corrupt reality

Is Mantashe’s anger a signal that readiness to govern is only now beginning to emerge? Would the responsible thing for a concerned citizen in the up-coming election be not to vote for the ANC and to hope that a reduced majority will send a message and will stop some of the reckless confidence? DM