Opinionista Ronnie Kasrils 2 May 2014

Dear JJ Tabane: a response from Ronnie Kasrils

There is nothing like a recent convert to effect a “holier than thou” attitude proving allegiance to a new patron. Frankly speaking, that references you, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, having jumped ship from COPE, to ingratiate yourself to an ANC leadership you once were so busy castigating.

You say you find it mindboggling that I chose to criticise the ANC in the month when the anniversary of Chris Hani’s death was being marked (“Comrade Kasrils, you have rattled the cage”).

Well JJ, it was precisely owing to a memorial lecture I delivered to trade unionists on Chris Hani that I was stirred to protest the corruption in the ruling party. At the end of 1991, after becoming secretary-general of the SACP, he stated that democracy would be meaningless if an ANC government did not deliver.

With negotiations underway in 1992 he declared: “I will work to have the ANC elected into power. But if that ANC Government does not deliver I will not hesitate to march against them as we marched against Apartheid”. Pausing for a moment Hani laughed and added; “Look it’s going to be our government, the people’s government, they wont teargas us or shoot us like the present bunch.”

Now Chris Hani was a man of his word, and if you accept that you would have no doubt whatsoever that protesting is exactly what he would be doing now in a country where 34 striking Marikana mineworkers were massacred and no week goes by without service delivery protesters being shot at with live bullets and teargas. So, I believe I am not behaving like the “political coward” you paint me to be for daring to oppose the ANC with its present crop of leaders.

JJ, you are extravagant with words. For you my crime is explained as follows: “The quick fix of spoiling your ballot is such undiluted cowardice that I have no words to describe it. To spoil your vote is essentially to say we can have a stateless nation. If all citizens followed your lead, they would fail to choose who would govern them. There is no politician called ‘spoiler’. Other than you, that is. But your party is not on the ballot, Comrade Ronnie”.

Well JJ, get the facts right. In the first place what is being advocated by the SIDIKIWE! VUKANI! VOTE NO TO CORRUPT GOVERNMENT! initiative is to urge many disillusioned citizens not to abstain from voting on May 7, but to go to the polling stations and vote tactically for a small opposition party other than the ANC or DA.

Should the voter have no confidence in the parties on the ballot paper then they should exercise what is an acceptable democratic right to register their protest by spoiling their vote. How you can allege this translates into a declaration for a “stateless nation” frankly beggars belief and is a display of downright ignorance. Spoiling a ballot paper is accepted throughout the democratic world and countries like India and Australia actually legislate a place on the ballot paper for just such a vote.

Neither does one have to create a political party in order to make such a proposal. JJ, there is something called civic society and in our country there have in fact been quite a number of formations proposing such action in previous elections. Have you not noticed?

In the 2009 national election there were 230,000 spoilt votes; and in the last local elections over 600,000 – not all of these stemmed from poor voter education. If the number of spoilt papers increased significantly it certainly would sound alarm bells for not only the ruling party but all the parties signifying to them that the people are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the parliamentary process.

That is not to undermine parliamentary democracy but to act as a wake-up call to solve the problems, which so many feel are getting worse. Voting tactically for a small party and reducing the ANC vote is a similar wake-up call and a warning to the ruling party that it cannot take people’s votes for granted. For lifelong ANC supporters, who wish to see a reaffirmation by their party of its values, ideals and principles, it is an act of “hard” love where one is voting for the opposition to support the ANC in the long run. An act of love where instead of whispering and muttering disapproval from within, covering up scandalous defects behind drawn curtains and closed doors – and getting nowhere because in effect debate has been closed down – rather being prepared to holler in public “Family put the House in order!”

That is why I will vote for a smaller party – but certainly not for the DA or a religious or ethnic-type party. Even having a single lone voice in parliament, courageous to speak up and raise the pressing issues, exposing government graft and corruption, police killings and maladministration, can make a big impact – as Helen Suzman demonstrated for long years in the apartheid-era parliament.

JJ, where have I alleged that corruption started with the Zuma administration? I have written about a “Faustian Pact” in the introduction to the 4th edition of my memoir “Armed and Dangerous” (2012), where one’s soul is sold to the devil in exchange for power and wealth. I locate corruption and its attendant ills within the economic and property compromises of the 1992-1996 period.

This was when the ANC under Mandela scuppered clauses 3 and 4 of the Freedom Charter, on public ownership of the key elements of our economy – mineral wealth, big industry, banks and land – in return for political power. The new political elite that has emerged generally shut out from the private sector’s control of the commanding heights of the economy, can only milk the state of resources to grow rich at the expense of the people we are meant to be serving. The corruption that began in the 1990’s has become a veritable plague, with no holds barred, under the Zuma administration.

Where leadership at the top is so badly compromised – from the corrupt relationship with Schabir Shaik to the rise of the Guptas and the Nkandla scandal – it acts as a green light for kleptocracy and the devil takes the soul out of the ANC.

Mandela and Mbeki might have made mistakes but these were not linked to motives of personal greed but errors of political judgement, which in politics you have to accept and live with. The line in the sand must be drawn when your leadership abandons the principle of serving the interests of the people and substitute this for feathering their own nests.

Frankly speaking JJ, I have never heard of you engaging in so much as whispering about the need to change the internal malaise within the ANC. Try it and see whether you can make headway within an organisation where dissent has been shut down and the struggle for positions has been elevated above all else. How far have those got who say they strive to change the ANC from within?

Why should an attempt to apply pressure from without be tantamount to cowardice and betrayal? The ANC is no longer a national liberation movement fighting a ruthless and powerful enemy where the closing of ranks and unshakable unity was a necessity for survival. It is a political party, and a ruling power at that, where the greed and shenanigans of leaders has come to undermine service to the people and country. With others we deem it our duty to raise a public debate rather than a whispering campaign from within. I am not prepared to maintain a blind loyalty to a set of corrupt leaders. The future of all our people is at stake. In a democratic South Africa I place loyalty to the people, constitution and country above that of a blind loyalty to the party. And that JJ, is not playing with clever words or indulging in hyperbole but genuinely frank talk. DM


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