Everyone who has ever left a career in business for politics has always encountered this one question in one or other form: “Why do you want to go into something as dirty and nasty as politics?”
This question arises out of what has been a growing cynicism, not simply with politics but with the notion of public life. A cynicism that in the case of politics has been nourished by a generation of distasteful behaviour and a series of broken promises in public service.
This week’s allegations of hacked emails detailing extramarital affairs by the Deputy President with at least eight women three months before the ANC elective conference have brought this nastiness and dirtiness of politics to the fore.
It is true that statistically speaking, the moment you set your foot inside the political machine, your independence, your good name, your marriage, is put in jeopardy. The time spent away from home, political affiliation and expediency, those who want to win by any means necessary, all put the most important things in our lives at risk of disintegrating.
How did politics, which is supposed to be a means of organising society around achieving and exercising a country’s governance, become an ugly contest of life and death? How did we arrive at a situation where the shackles of civility and common decency have been cast off, leaving behind sore spots in a bruising power contest.
Over time, elected candidates and those who seek to be elected, along with their supporters, have followed their political leaders down into a disturbing and ugly place where our politics has since found residence. We have seen all over the world politicians who put political expediency above everything else. They are cunning, they are calculating and they align with those they need to keep their position of power.
You don’t need numbers, however, to know that people are weary of the death zone that politics has become, where narrow interests vie for advantage and powerful and moneyed minorities seek to impose their own version of development.
For the ANC, however, there has always been a different tradition, a tradition that stretches back to the founding fathers, a tradition based on the simple idea that all South Africans are each other’s keeper, and that while the colonial government formed a Union of South Africa in 1910 which excluded the majority of South Africans, the ANC would respond two years later by forming the all inclusive, all South African union, symbolising that what binds us together is much stronger than our racial, religious and cultural differences and that we have enough South Africans who believe in this truth enough to act on it. Since 1912, we might not have solved every problem, but we have accomplished remarkable things.
How did the ANC then deteriorate from these lofty heights to what we are now witnessing as we approach the 2017 December elective conference? Today, daily, we feel the lack of honesty, rigour, and lack of common sense in ANC politics. At this rate we will surely become the first generation that has left the ANC and the country weaker than we inherited it.
Before 1990, there was little broad interest in the elective conferences of the ANC other than among its members and active supporters. However, the Durban 1991 National Conference generated significant interest just a year after the unbanning of South African liberation movements. The attention thus garnered derived from the recognition of the ANC as the leading political force in the country. Observers and supporters alike knew that whoever emerged as the president of the ANC in 1991 would most likely also be the first president of a democratic South Africa.
Since then, the levels of interest in ANC conferences has increased exponentially. Disconcertingly, however, each time the ANC approaches conferences, particularly in the post-1994 political milieu, there are widespread accusations that factions in the ANC are holding the country to ransom. In 2017, these factions have taken over the republic.?
There are three things the ANC did not have to worry about pre-94, that are today strangling the organisation and exposing that it’s not a divine organisation after all, pre-ordained by the higher forces with angels at the helm for the complete salvation of a nation so divided. The ANC, like all organisations that have been in government, have been hit by the institutional forces of money, media, interest groups, and the legislative process – that stifle the best intentioned politicians. These institutional forces have eaten away at the ANC year in and year out, throwing many old and seasoned comrades out of favour with the nation and casting the organisation under a cloud of suspicion and mistrust.
All is not lost however. There remain within the ANC comrades so clear and committed to the accomplishing of the National Democratic Revolution, they represent the purity and moral superiority that was once the hallmark of the organisation. How do we preserve and push these comrades to the front? There is no doubt that it is only through these comrades that we will be able to move beyond our divisions to effectively tackle concrete problems – economic insecurity, racial and religious divisions, and other threats that plague our people daily.
Our current political discourse has unnecessarily divided us and we need to find ways to ground our politics in the notion of a common good. We understand what the source of today’s bitter political divisions is and we need to confront it head on. We need to find common things that can serve as a foundation for a new political consensus.
The country’s galvanising point for all of us is the Constitution, not just as a source of individual rights, but as a means of organising democratic conversations around our collective future. DM