Opinionista Lebo Keswa 14 August 2015

ANC Women’s League should celebrate Thuli Madonsela

The African National Congress Women’s League chose to listen to male speakers rather than invite Advocate Thuli Madonsela to address its conference. But then, celebrating women’s excellence as symbolised by Madonsela would go against the dominant politics of loyalty within the ANC, which puts personal loyalty to President Jacob Zuma first. This personality driven loyalty to one man, divorced from commitment to the organisation, is dangerous to both the ANC and the country as a whole.

It would have been great had the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) invited Advocate Thuli Madonsela to address its conference. Madonsela is a product of the ANC and it would have been a befitting honour for this woman who champions the pursuit of good governance through the Office of the Public Protector. It would have sent a very strong message to society at large that the ANCWL recognises this powerful woman, and the democratic principles the office she leads upholds. The ANCWL, would have signalled, strongly, that it stands for transparency, accountability, and the responsible use of public resources. This simple gesture by the ANCWL would have contributed greatly to much needed faith and confidence in the strength of women, as symbolised by Madonsela and the Office of the Public Protector in its current moment of siege.

But then, celebrating women’s excellence as symbolised by Madonsela would go against the dominant politics of loyalty within the ANC. Nkandla has become the absolute measure of loyalty within the party. It is a displaced loyalty because it is neither loyalty for the ANC, nor the country. It is a personality driven loyalty to President Jacob Zuma. In the process, it lacks loyalty to the organisation, and has all the hallmarks of patronage seeking. This personality driven loyalty to one man, divorced from commitment to the organisation, is dangerous to both the ANC and the country as a whole.

Rather than celebrating Madonsela’ s good governance crusade through the Office of the Public Protector, the ANC is at the forefront of demonising her. The fact that this sustained attack is peaking during Women’s Month is shameful to the country, the ruling party, and more so, to the ANCWL. The conduct of the ANC women in relation to Madonsela within the Nkandla ad hoc committee leaves a lot to be desired. They are absolutely willing to demonise one of their own in favour of one man.

The ANC women in the Nkandla committee were eager to listen to two men in the form of the police and public works ministers. Then they did all they could to prevent the key architect of the Nkandla investigations, Madonsela, from addressing the committee. In the process, they became accomplices in the marginalisation of a woman of excellence, and the Office of the Public Protector.

The project to demonise Madonsela over Nkandla is preventing recognition of excellence in women, it is destroying the public’s faith in women’s organisations within male-dominated political parties; and it is also destroying public confidence in the useful institutions run by women. The unfortunate message is that women do not recognise each other’s worthiness, unless it is endorsed by men. At worst, where a woman goes head-to-head against a man, women will take their cue from men, and side with men. Even more deplorable is the message that women will even vilify their own, even if they are in the right, in order to appease the male powers that be.

This is the problem of misguided personal loyalty. It is loyalty that borders on patronage. In the process, it negates the historical mandate of the ANC. More than any other political party in South Africa, the ANC carries the responsibility to build and sustain this democracy. The essence of building democracy rests on the establishment, and the consolidation of the institutions of democracy. One of these, is the Office of the Public Protector.

Therefore, when the ANC goes on the rampage against the Office of the Public Protector, it is actually dismantling the very democratic institutional foundations it has established. Zuma has stated that occasionally he meets other Africans who express admiration for South Africa’s democracy. Thus, he has advised that MPs must guard this democracy jealously. However, when the party he leads viciously attacks the Office of the Public Protector, it mauls a key aspect of this democracy.

In its vilification of Madonsela, the ANC has failed to distinguish between her as an individual, and the institution she leads. In the process, the Office of the Public Protector has been as vilified as Madonsela. It inconceivable that there will be a strong Office of the Public Protector after Madonsela leaves next year. The next head of the Office of the Public Protector will be suspected of having been appointed based on his or her loyalty to the powers that be.

The vilification of the Office of the Public Protector has a cancerous effect on other Chapter 9 Institutions. It means they are treading a very thin line if they find against the ruling party in disputes. For example, it means the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC) should think twice before it finds against the ANC in electoral disputes. Already the South African Human Rights Commission, which used to make progressive pronouncements on the government’s shortcomings in poverty alleviation, has fallen silent. The silence of the Commission for Gender Equality over the onslaught on Madonsela is equally telling. This is the body established to promote gender equality, yet it is conspicuous by its silence.

Sadly, the wheels are coming off at all other institutions as the ANC is targeting the media and the judiciary. Is it time for civil society to worry about the foundations of our democracy. In the face of so much strife for our people it is sad that the ruling party is spending so much time defending what is wrong and indefensible, instead of focusing on building the economy. It is sad that so much money is being wasted while so many people are suffering without the basics.

The ANC will be judged harshly by history for this moment of poor judgment. One hopes we won’t wake up too late to salvage what is left of the integrity of our politics for the sake of our people.

Whatever happened to the slogan Wathinta abafazi, wathinta imbokodo (You strike a woman, you strike a rock). Does this apply to some and not others? Or does it require “MALE APPROVAL”? DM

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