Opinionista Lebo Keswa 22 June 2015

Nkandla – the undoing of the ANC

Politics where patronage trumps principle is the biggest obstacle the ANC has to overcome, if it is to win the confidence of the voters once again. That is why the utterances of Paul Mashatile, which drew so much media attention recently, were so welcome. The ANC is missing valuable opportunities to see that Nkandla will be its undoing.

Last week media pages were awash with praise for ANC Gauteng Chairman Paul Mashatile’s pronouncements on Nkandla. Cartoonists and satirists also were having a field day at the ‘bravery’ of one known to be within the ANC, who seemed to be speaking out on Nkandla.

All he said was that the suggested additional spending was not an ANC position, and he suggested strongly that Minister of Police Nkosinathi Nhleko was on a frolic of his own.

It is a sad day for the ANC when so many seem to be intellectually paralysed when it comes to the Nkandla matter, despite the fact that everyone with eyes can see that this scandal is the undoing of the ANC. The less said about the report of the Minister of Police as a symptom of this bigger malaise of lamentable conformity within the ruling party, the better.

The politics of the stomach, where patronage trumps principle, is the biggest obstacle the ANC has to overcome, if it is to win the confidence of the voters once again. That is why the utterances of Paul Mashatile, no matter how casual or accidental they may have been, are so very rare, and yet so welcome. That is why they were balm for so many who love the movement and want the ANC to succeed in its mission to liberate the people from economic hardship. One wonders what has happened to the men and women of principle within the 86-strong National Executive Committee for the Nkandla scandal who continue in so brazen a manner. What has happened to robust debate within the movement, in the face of the undoing of the movement?

There are many commentators who are falling over themselves to declare that the ANC has lost its way. There is no longer a need to do so. An entire book has been written on The Fall of the ANC. Last week, at The Gathering, there was so much that could sink one’s soul when civil society was lamenting the state of our nation – where education and health are in a crisis, yet the authorities are refusing to acknowledge such a crisis. Before then, there was a summit that lamented the state of energy and the crisis that is engulfing Eskom, as well as an international conference focusing on the parlous and painful state of South Africa’s children and the problems faced by South Africa’s women – abused daily and murdered by their partners. Top this with the pathetic state of unemployment in the country, where over a third of our country’s youth are languishing in the streets, then you sit back and wonder which country the ANC is governing, if by silence or stealth they are spending so much energy on defending Nkandla.

The irony was not lost on Mashatile, who claimed that there was progress made on e-tolls, as the Nkandla matter was being discussed. One wonders at what point the electorate will be ‘feared’ by the ANC. On the one hand they are expected to pay what amounts to additional taxation; on the other, they must stomach a head of state who thinks spending R260 million on his pad is a matter over which regular jokes can be cracked and an occasional giggle can be the answer.

In this context, the Gauteng leadership of the ANC has to break ranks further, to ensure that the rot stops. It can’t be an aside at the conference gaining you kudos, nor can it be a panel that is aimed at showing that you are listening to the e-tolls lament from the public. It will have to be more a lot more substantial than that if it is to be taken seriously. The Gauteng ANC, following on what Mashatile has said, must stop speaking in hushed tones on Nkandla. They must speak out in rejection of the Nhleko report in its totality and stand up for the Public Protector. Already the ANC is seen as hostile to the Public Protector if the goings on in the Justice Portfolio committee are anything to go by. This is the backbone of cynicism that must be cracked once and for all. The Public Protector has suggested remedial actions that if implemented will ensure that the ANC comes out of this unscathed. Zuma pays back the money related to non-security upgrades and makes arrangements to pay this off over many years. The Nkandla issue is then laid to rest and the public is left with the security that they are taken seriously.

The Gauteng ANC should also then go a step further. The only way to remove e-tolls as a campaign issue for the opposition in the upcoming elections is to design a solution that will remove the system altogether and replace it with something that is sensible and will not create the kind of emotion that we saw ahead of the last polls. The reality is that the ANC almost lost the province, and to bounce back from that brink and avoid losing the local government elections, half-baked measures will not suffice. The so-called Cyril deal goes a long way, but will it be enough to tilt the scales of voters who are fed up with Nkandla? Can the ANC risk finding out the hard way at the polls?

And what about Eskom? Here we have a situation where the ANC had to march against itself. They have leverage as shareholders, yet seem pretty much helpless if they have to resort to a march on one of the utilities literally owned by themselves as the ruling party. The issue here is that a big chunk of the constituency based in Soweto actually have never paid for electricity for years on end. Now a new fellow at Eskom says ‘enough’. But he says so on the eve on a decisive election. The ANC is not known for dying for principle these days, if Nkandla is anything to go by. So an ordinary Sowetan who is unemployed may well be asking: if the president won’t pay back any money, why should I? The ANC in Gauteng is on the spot again. Are they going to insist that Eskom not implement the stringent recovery measurers in Soweto given that here sits the vote that will see Parks Tau in the opposition benches?

And so anyone with eyes to see can now admit that Nkandla is the undoing of the ANC on so many levels; an event that is eating at the credibility of the ruling party in the face of its support base. One wonders what else President Zuma should do for the ANC to unhitch its wagon from him for the sake of protecting the party’s electoral fortunes. Since a day is a very long time in politics, I am holding my breath that someone else will join Paul Mashatile in standing up before it is too late. The ANC, however, is known for closing ranks, and one will not be surprised if it will only awake from its slumber when the public sees through its good-cop-Paul and bad-cop-Zuma tactics and make it suffer at the polls to lose a substantial metro as punishment. The ANC in Gauteng under the leadership of Paul Mashatile and David Makhura may just be the last hope for the ANC to live and to lead. DM

* Keswa is Businesswoman and Marketing Executive, she writes in her personal capacity. Follow her on Twitter: @lebokeswa

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