Being uninformed is so last season
24 March 2017 17:53 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mark Heywood

So what did the anti-corruption marches really achieve?

  • Mark Heywood
    mark-heywood.jpg
    Mark Heywood

    Mark Heywood is Executive Director of SECTION27 and an Executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign.

Let’s be clear: We always knew that a day of marches on September 30 would not end corruption. This is the start of a long battle. But nonetheless a great deal was achieved.

Now that the nay-sayers have said their nays, the ‘I told you sos’ have ‘I told you so’, the Poplaks have popped and the Munusamys have sung, what did the Unite Against Corruption (UAC) march achieve? We have to ask that question because most analysis so far has been superficial, sensational or gossip driven. In the swirl of our politics it seems that finding disunity in unity is the place to be.

Let’s be clear: We always knew that a day of marches on September 30 would not end corruption. This is the start of a long battle. Those who celebrated the Treatment Action Campaign’s victorious struggle for antiretrovirals must remember we didn’t kill Aids denialism in a day. Actually it all started with a lonely group of about 10 people on the steps of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, placards in hand, drawing attention to the demand for treatment for Aids, a virus nobody would talk about then.

Before the anti-corruption marches we aired our fears that hundreds of thousands of people might not yet be ready to take to the streets. They weren’t.

But nonetheless a great deal was achieved.

In the weeks and days before September 30 the anti-corruption march was part of the air we were breathing. It was in every newspaper, on every television news channel and was being talked about on every radio station. A new national discourse on corruption was emerging that went far beyond the issue of Nkandla. According to independent calculations, in the week before the march there were over 130, 000 interactions on our facebook page, the march featured over 300 times in local media alone and #MarchAgainstCorruption trended prominently throughout the marches.

On the day itself big marches took place in Pretoria, Cape Town and Durban while smaller marches took place in Bloemfontein, Polokwane and Grahamstown. The numbers combined were about 15,000. Paltry if that’s how you choose to look at it. But if you see that amongst the marchers were leaders of all the churches and faiths, the biggest trade union in South Africa, more than 350 nongovernmental organisations, several political parties, groups of eclectics, academics, atheists and bikers, then you would see that the marchers represented many millions of people.

If you were part of the process and persuasion that went into the mobilisation, you would see the possibility of a new politics. The re-awakening of the Christian churches are for me the best example. In the course of persuading churches of UAC’s seriousness I came to know moral giants like Reverend Moss Ntlha, Canon Mpho Tutu and Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana. These giants won their struggle school colours in the past. Now they are bringing the same vision to the present. In younger people like Miles Giljam, Marcus van Wyk and Oya Gumede, they have the leaders of the future.

The same could be said of the artists. A generation of older activists, led by Nadia Meer, Mike van Graan and Maishe Maponya, played a crucial role in birthing a future generation of artists committed to justice. Witness, if you bother to look, some of their wonderful drawings and dance. Interview, if your journalistic eyes can see beyond Zwelinzima Vavi, the young poets and performers who travelled by bus from Durban to perform outside the Union Buildings. Did any journalists ask them their thoughts? For change to occur it must capture the imagination and the artists will help us do that.

And then there were the ‘ordinary people’, learners and gogos who got on the Gautrain, public servants who walked from their government offices. A significant number of young people under the banners of organisations like Equal Education and Students for Law and Social Justice. They came in their tens – in future they will come in their tens of thousands.

But what impact did all this have? I now hear you ask.

A significant one I would suggest.

At the 11th hour, Minister in the office of the Presidency Jeff Radebe arrived to receive the memorandum. Predictably Radebe couldn’t say much. He’s between an Nkandla and a hard place. But he did make a commitment to strengthen the National Anti-Corruption Forum and to meet with march organisers. We will take him up on this. We will demand its strengthening and restructuring.

UAC has told him that he must reply in detail to the memorandum within two months.

The African National Congress (ANC) weighed in separately. Zizi Kodwa, who was also present, welcomed the march and the role of civil society in our democracy. He mentioned that the ANC national executive council (NEC) has recently given teeth to its dilapidated Integrity Commission – a commission that includes Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Gertrude Shope but which has been as good as dead.

For the record, the September ANC NEC stated: “Corruption (perceived or real), factionalism, political ill-discipline and the use of money to subvert internal democratic processes were identified as posing a very serious and real danger to the unity and cohesion of the ANC.

“Consequently, the NEC reaffirmed the critical importance of the Integrity Commission. The NEC further directed that moving forward, the Integrity Commission must present its decisions to national officials after which they will be implemented; avoiding the current long processes.

“Further, members of the organisation implicated in wrongdoing are expected to consider the implications of the allegations levelled against them on the reputation and integrity of the ANC. Members of the ANC, notwithstanding the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, are expected at all times to carry themselves in a manner that sends an unambiguous message to society that the ANC does not tolerate any wrongdoing, including corruption, among its members.”

In the coming weeks UAC will put together a public submission to that commission. We should ask questions about ANC leaders who, despite being on trial for or implicated in corrupt activities still hold office – people like Free State Health MEC Benny Malakoane, ANC Gauteng leader Brian Hlongwa, John Bloch, Baleka Mbete and numerous others. We suspect the Integrity Commission can’t act against them because of their allegiance to Number One, for as one poster declared, ‘No 1 is above the law’. Yet until the ANC acts against its own we cannot take their protestations seriously.

And then there was the elephant not in the room. The day before the march Business Leadership SA (leadership? What leadership?) finally found a voice. It issued a statement in which it stated that a “BLSA committee will be established to consider the actions of any member company that may credibly be alleged to be in conflict with the values set out in the Code of Good Corporate Citizenship”. This may be little and as yet untested, but UAC nonetheless demands that it be given teeth.

So where to now?

At the same time as siyaya ePitole the Constitutional Court was handing down its judgment in the application by My Vote Counts to try to get Parliament to fulfill its legal duty to pass legislation requiring transparency of private funding for political parties. It dismissed the application more on a matter of “form than substance”, according to Edwin Cameron in his minority judgment.

On the day of the march we welcomed the participation of leaders from the Economic Freedom Fighters, the United Democratic Movement and the Inkatha Freedom Party. As a result of demands from his supporters, we relented and allowed Julius Malema a few minutes to speak. The Democratic Alliance was markedly absent. And we knew the ANC could not be seen to participate although, privately, significant leaders had conveyed their support. But there is a glaring irony here: the same parties that say they are united against corruption are simultaneously united against transparency on who funds them, leaving them vulnerable to corruption. We were reminded of this for the umpteenth time with the breaking news about the Hitachi/Chancellor House scandal.

With local government elections less than a year away, the question of who funds the political parties we vote for has never been more important. We challenge them once again. Break with the pack, open the books, and if not tell us why not? As for our part, it is time the struggle for transparency of party political funding is made into a mass campaign. It is the belly of the beast of corruption. What we lost in the Constitutional Court, My Vote Counts, supported by UAC, should now seek to win on the streets.

So, for me, September 30 was not the end but a beginning, a harbinger of a new politics, a politics where political people, rather than just political parties, make their presence felt in the media and the body politic.

Frankly, that way social justice lies. DM

  • Mark Heywood
    mark-heywood.jpg
    Mark Heywood

    Mark Heywood is Executive Director of SECTION27 and an Executive member of the Treatment Action Campaign.

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