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Power and principle: Has Zuma checked reason and rationality at the door?

Yonela Diko is currently the Spokesperson of the African National Congress (ANC) in the Western Cape. Prior to assuming his role in the ANC, he worked in various companies in the private sector. Between 2007-2009 he worked for one of the Leading Retirement Fund Companies, NBC Holdings as an Employee Benefits Consultant. After that he joined the Corporate Strategy and Industrial Development (CSID), an Economic Research Unit housed under the School of Economics at Wits University. He did his BCom degree at the University of Cape Town majoring in Economics.

If the ANC government continues to be seen as continually despising and disregarding the people or the law, if suddenly as this government we are held no better than the caprice of a mob, then the alienation of people’s affections for the ANC and the government will be the natural consequence.

Comradeship, which must by definition possess an intrinsic revolutionary value, has been the ANC’s inter-relations governing mantra for 105 years. It is comradeship that has meant that, despite our reservations about many activities done by those privileged to lead the ANC in that elections cycle, we will try by all means to maintain comradeship as the lifeblood of the organisation.

The society we are honoured to lead, which does not always share this intrinsic revolutionary value, has watched in shock as many of us chose not to overtly attack one another as ANC leaders, preferring to leave the attacks internally and always portray a united public front. This has resulted in many comrades being called lackeys, yes-men, protecting corruption and singing for their supper.

The only time comradeship ever collapses, however, is when those privileged to lead become legalistic when they are called to honour comradeship, using among other things, “office-bearer prerogative” to frustrate comradeship and shut others out. The result of the abandonment of comradeship for legalistic reasons is a complete revelation by others that we share, more than members of society, the great concerns about our organisation and our country, more so because we are also co-leaders in society.

The recently published organisational renewal documents show exactly how alive the ANC as a whole is to what is ailing both the ANC and the country. The document laments our organisation’s declining fortunes which are as a result of corruption, money politics, poor performance in government, internal squabbles, all undermining ANC’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

What is different is that as leaders we have always known that these concerns are not new in global politics and although they may shock society, as leaders we are forced to use certain measures, if that of comradeship has been abandoned: rationality.

Historically, whether you look into the United States’ history or Nkrumah’s Ghana, none of the decisions and the ensuing outrage about Zuma’s activities are new. The question is, are his actions rational and if they are, will history vindicate him?

When Abraham Lincoln took office in March 1861, the executive branch was small and relatively limited in its power. By the time of his assassination, he had claimed more prerogatives than any president before him, and the executive branch had grown enormously.

Lincoln’s critics witnessed his expanding power with alarm. They accused him of becoming a tyrant and warned that his assertions of authority under the guise of “commander-in-chief” threatened the viability of a constitutional democracy.

Lincoln ignored his foes and kept moving. And, despite lingering discomfort with some of his actions – particularly around the issue of civil liberties – history has largely vindicated him.

In 2017, South Africa finds itself wrestling with the question of presidential prerogative. President Zuma has claimed more prerogatives than any of his predecessors, he is daily classified as “being controlled elsewhere” by many and a threat to our constitutional democracy. The question is, will history vindicate Zuma as it did Lincoln?

Surprisingly, in a Constitutional Court judgment in favour of Congress and against Lincoln, Lincoln ignored Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, questioning whether the nation should be so attached to a law that “the government itself go to pieces, lest that one be violated”?

Lincoln was willing to do anything he thought was right to win the war. Still, the evidence suggests that Lincoln’s decisions were rational. Historians have scrutinised all Lincoln’s actions and found them completely rational given his ultimate goal of emancipation of slaves.

Unlike Lincoln, who did not invoke war powers to target specific groups of people in a wholesale fashion, including political enemies, there is a lingering feeling that President Zuma has used his prerogatives to target certain people. Is Zuma being rational?

Zuma’s radical economic transformation is not presented as a legal argument, which is usually a precursor to steps towards constitutional amendments. As a result, radical economic transformation seems to be used to commit all kinds of evils. Is Zuma being rational?

Zuma is engulfed with perceptions of corruption and decadence. Instead of dealing with this conspicuous corruption, the President seems to be continuing with inflicting mayhem on the country and his so-called political opponents and detractors, which unfortunately will result in a possible fall of his administration. Is Zuma being rational?

Under Zuma, citizens have bemoaned government excess, his cohorts flaunting their wealth in the midst of mass poverty. Worst of all, a perception that an ANC card and the right faction is the yardstick for employment irrespective of qualification has been an enduring perception, being affirmed every day by poor governance.

The current attempt to achieve socio-economic revolution within the shortest possible time, even though it is not genuine, has made Zuma possibly enter into unfavourable financial arrangements with rogue individuals here and abroad to the detriment of the country’s economy.

Under his administration deficit financing has become a growing feature of government fiscal policy and making inflation an ever present reality. Again the question of rationality is lingering.

The reality is that South Africans are much attached to the ANC and their government. For 105 years they have suffered much for its sake; they have endured evils long and patiently.

Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the ANC government continues to be seen as continually despising and disregarding the people or the law, if suddenly as this government we are held no better than the caprice of a mob, then the alienation of people’s affections for the ANC and the government will be the natural consequence.

And to that, soon conditions of greater mayhem will visit not only our organisation, but our nation.

If the President abandons comradeship and becomes legalistic, and go it alone, there is nothing that stops MPs from becoming legalistic themselves and claim their prerogatives. Then our organisation will cease to be a unitary organisation.

This is the year of #UnityInAction. We are off track. DM


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