Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 29 September 2015

Dear Comrade Gwede Mantashe, Let’s talk frankly …

Corruption is eating at the heart of the movement. The movement is gripped by a horrible conflation of politicians and business that will see it implode in no time. The anatomy of such corruption is simple. Every political move is entrapped by business interests.

Upon closer examination, I expect the Companies Register would show that more than 50% of all political office-bearers are businesspeople of some hue or shape. Members of legislatures and executive councils in all provinces boast several directorships of companies that inevitably conduct business with the state. I am not really interested in reading you chapter and verse about how this is entrenching conflicts of interest in the tapestry of corrupt relationships. This is an open secret. It has come to be accepted that political leaders have proxies through mistresses, wives or children and therefore what ought to be clean decisions of economic value for the country in virtually all executive committees, be they the national Cabinet or all of the hundreds of municipal councils, are mostly about these embedded economic interests of the members of the movement.

The appointment of people to positions in the civil service has come to be directly connected to whose interests they will represent since they have access to tenders. The few who aren’t chosen with business in mind soon get tossed to the wayside. Please don’t get me wrong – I am sure no structure of the African National Congress (ANC) sits down and determines that this blatant corruption must occur. But the unwritten rule of bribery and tjotjo has become so entrenched that those who don’t partake in it, not those who do, are seen as abnormal. And so, sadly, it is considered normal that if you are awarded a tender, even a tiny one of no margin at all, you have to factor in bribing someone. If you are not prepared to do this, you will always be dealing with crumbs. The big ones have interests painted all over, them including the biggest political names you can fathom from all layers of government. My heart always goes out to anyone attempting to conduct business in an honest manner by responding to the farcical calls for proposals wastefully advertised in the newspapers …

The ANC is a revolutionary organisation and its pronouncements on corruption must theoretically give direction and inspire confidence in society, but you won’t argue with me if you are being honest that the ANC is not meeting its mandate on this score. Its actions more than anything should speak louder. So far they speak softly, if they speak at all. One wonders how much follow-through there was about your repudiation of the Gupta landing saga that pointed a finger at the president. The public’s scepticism and cynicism grows when they see the fellow at the centre of this flagrant disregard of a key security structure promoted to one of our country’s ambassadors in Europe. Your silence was loud on this one.

A message of utter impunity is what is sent to society. But many in the party’s ranks also confirm the dysfunction of our cadre-deployment practice because there is a typical test case where intervention was necessary but was woefully absent.

The Nkandla matter has been thoroughly canvassed and the only person with some half-courage to call it by its correct name was Pallo Jordan. It is your criticism of the public protector that worried me. Your deputy labelled the public protector someone with a political agenda, the Eastern Cape region of the ANC labelled her a political grandstander and the ANC Youth League even said she had a ‘big nose’. You did not read any of them the riot act as secretary-general – this left the poor impression that it was tactical to show her in a poor light and thereby soften the blow of the Nkandla report. This misplaced strategy is what has made the ANC fail to handle the saga for the good of the party to date.

To his credit your new spokesman, Zizi Goodenough Kodwa, has been making, on your behalf, the kind of noises you should be making, saying that these structures are a product of the ANC and must be respected. I know that respect must not mean coalesce. His utterances however did not seem to be good enough if the embarrassing attack by your head of research, Thami ka Plaatjie, was anything to go by – a matter I will revisit in my letter to the public protector.

Under your leadership the membership of the ANC has passed a million. One of the biggest challenges facing the movement is to rethink how to persuade more of the 53-million other South Africans to become members. A movement of the ANC’s size should easily have 10-million members. The 1-million existing members must not close the door behind them and create an elite club but each should be tasked with recruiting just one other citizen who is not a member. Less time should be spent vying for positions and more on recruiting others to the ranks. Focus on how to reduce infighting and careerism in the name of the downtrodden. I believe you have done well in this regard, but can still do better.

Now that we’ve dealt with these issues, let’s talk frankly about some ways to tackle the next 20 years:

1. Elevate the issue of integrity

The integrity committee must be given the teeth to rein in those who seek to embarrass the ANC. Ingrain a culture of falling on the sword ‘Jordan style’ but instead of celebrating those who fall, rehabilitate them.

2. Set an example on action against corruption

A good starting point is the action to be taken against the 2,000 civil servants found guilty as far back as 2009 for ‘doing business with themselves’. Stop redeploying and recycling corrupt comrades from one place to the next.

3. Encourage a culture of speaking out and public debate

Abandon Leninist tendencies of blindly closing ranks. The ANC is not an underground party any more. Through structures such as the progressive business forum and the progressive professionals forum, a cacophony of progressive voices can be heard at public platforms created by the ANC to shape doctrine. In the era of social media, the archaic practice of closed sessions at conferences makes the party something to be publicly ridiculed and only serves to distort the party’s messages – take control of the message to bring transparency into the inner workings of the movement. This way you will worry less about things leaking from your meetings but rather worry about doing the right things. I know there is a place for secrecy where it is necessary. So far what we have seen is secrecy where it is meant to cover up the wrong things.

4. Celebrate excellence not mediocrity

There is too much professional jealousy in the ranks of the movement. The knives are out for people even before they can settle into their new jobs. Our parastatals have become laughing stocks with boards changing hands faster than people can spell the name of the organisation. Cadre deployment has to be about the best cadre for the job, not the most factionally inclined or who can lobby the hardest. Until we strike a balance between political loyalty and professional ability we are headed downhill. There is no justification for some of the horrible appointment decisions that have been made. Something new is needed in this space, Comrade, and as head of the deployment committee it is all in your hands.

5. Rethink the decision to centralise tenders

The problem with the tender system is not about the mechanics of how the decisions are made. As it is, the system is dysfunctional, with tenders being rigged and delayed. It is about changing how conflicts of interest are managed. It is also about stopping the theft of public resources. Until some of our leaders stop stealing from the public purse you can change the tender boards daily but you will arrive at the same ugly conclusion.

6. Renew the focus on the poor

The hundreds of service-delivery protests are a sign that the movement is losing its grip on the ground. But it has thousands of foot soldiers, MPs and members of the provincial legislature. They must use their constituency offices as a clear presence amongst the people. It is a shame for an organisation as huge as the ANC to be taken by surprise. One wonders where the intelligence is if there is so little warning about this chaos.

… (Five more suggestions made in the full letter)

Finally, Comrade Gwede, as you plan your political future, perhaps as a future head of state, I hope you will leave a legacy of political tolerance and help define the politics of the movement and by so doing reshape South Africa. Your power has been deployed strategically to often make the much-needed noises to move the party forward, but frankly you are also a politician. Let’s work hard to clean up the culture of the unbridled theft of public resources that has set in. I believe there is still hope to move South Africa forward.

See you at congress.

Yours frankly,

Onkgopotse JJ Tabane DM

Tabane is the author of Let’s Talk Frankly. This is an edited extract from the book Let’s Talk Frankly – Letters to Influential South Africans about the State of the Nation.

This week Tabane launches his book at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University on 1 October 2015 at 6:30pm. If you wish to attend please RSVP to masego@oresego.com


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