A few weeks ago, a friend of mine from Upington called me to discuss an issue that has stayed on my mind. He usually calls to canvas cute, naughty things, as is the culture between us, but this call was different. On this day, it seemed he had called only to tell me how gullible and soft we Africans have become – by Africans I mean everyone whose heart is buried in this continent, black and white.
He called to discuss the resignation of Theresa May, the UK Prime Minister, and the reasons why she had elected to step down. In truth, I had never taken serious interest in the matter because we have countless problems of our own here at home.
But something was striking about this resignation; it seemed British people take themselves far too seriously than we do ourselves here in Africa. Poor May lost her political grip for merely failing to marshal the UK out of the European Union as she promised. I am certain she wished she was an African leader for a moment. Here we keep you in office against overwhelming evidence that you are a rapist, swindler, liar, sociopath, paedophile, misogynist or dunderhead. Whether it is Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasongo of Equitorial Guinea, Jose Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, Omar al-Bashir, Robert Mugabe or Jacob Zuma – we keep you nonetheless.
Coincidentally, May announced her decision to step down after we had been engaged in national elections, with the ANC recording a reduced majority of 57.5%. In essence, we dropped by 4.5% from our 2014 result of 62%. What this means is that our party is experiencing a downward spiral since the 2004 elections. There are many reasons for this decline, but without any doubt a lack of ethical leadership and entrenched corrupt networks during the fifth administration are among the main culprits. The Gupta criminal network caused panic among voters and radically collapsed our credibility.
The ANC head of elections and now Minister of Transport, Fikile Mbalula, would correctly insist that the outcome could have been worse had President Cyril Ramaphosa not emerged at the Nasrec conference. Realistically speaking, the current administration has maximum possibility and ability to restore public confidence in the ANC. Already there are positive signs with President Ramaphosa clamping down on a ballooned Cabinet and some premiers promising to radically cut down on unnecessary expenses to give meaning to the promise of a “New Dawn”.
However, what we witnessed on Monday at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry into State Capture will harm us into the foreseeable future. The conspiratorial testimony of former president, Jacob Zuma, is a strong indication that the criminal network wants to collapse the ANC, after failing to collapse the country.
The beneficiaries of State Capture want to divert the attention of the commission from the sins they committed against our country. I do not know what to make of a former president who goes to the commission of inquiry not to answer questions but to use the platform to cast aspersions on witnesses who testified against the capture of our state by the Gupta family.
This is a well-choreographed script; in an organisation where many comrades and leaders were killed through collaborative work between apartheid security branch and askaris, being a spy is an ultimate sin. This is why talk about askaris in the ANC usually takes place mutedly. The Gupta Criminal Network knows this too well. So, by calling Ngoako Ramatlhodi a spy, the network deliberately wants to deter would-be witnesses from testifying against State Capture. Anybody who has a smallanyana skeleton would not dare testify against Zuma and his network after this.
The other spectacle on Monday was when the former president decides to spend three full hours linking the Gupta outrage to some fictitious conspiracy designed to isolate him. Consistent with the argument during his corruption trial, the former president stubbornly confuses a legal question with a political one. Let us assume for instance that Ngoako Ramatlhodi was indeed a spy; how does this invalidate his testimony in relation to the Gupta family more specifically? In fact, one is shy to even consider the sobriety of a president who found it appropriate to appoint a known “spy” in his Cabinet.
And so, when one contrasts the resignation of Theresa May with the comedy that we witnessed during Zuma’s first appearance at the commission, many questions come to mind. I ask myself where Africa would be if we held our leaders with the same degree of accountability as British people do their leaders. What is it about us Africans that suggests to our leaders that we do not deserve respect and accountability?
Leaders who lack accountability are dangerous for us in the ANC, but citizens who fail to hold us accountable are even more dangerous. A country that does not set for itself a deliberate standard of accountability is bound to come to ruin. For some of us, Zuma is an exhausting affair, he lacks accountability, like most leaders on the continent. However, his (mis)rule has presented us with the possibility to imagine new ways of being. We must not dare squander this opportunity. DM
Tshediso Mangope is a UCT alumnus and ANC member in the Free State
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