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The Second Liberation: Covid-19 corruption triggers UDF moment in South Africa

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Sello Lediga is a social commentator, author and CEO of the Patriotic Movement, a civil society organisation that promotes patriotism in SA.

South Africa is experiencing the kind of corruption no one would have thought possible under the leadership of the father of our Constitution. While thousands perish because of a ruthless pandemic, a small clique of politically connected tenderpreneurs has become fabulously wealthy. It is time for civil society to mobilise.

“Zuma must fall, Zuma must fallZuma must fall, Zuma must fall.”

Nothing demonstrated the spirit of the post-Pravin Gordhan axing by former president Jacob Zuma in 2017 more than a video clip of three elderly white women chanting the #ZumaMustFall mantra on top of a bridge somewhere in South Africa. The clip went viral and was played again and again by those seeking comic relief from a truly serious crisis.

There is no doubt that Zuma’s decision to relieve Gordhan of his position of finance minister, in order to deliver the state to the Guptas, triggered a national backlash that led to his fall the following year. The national outrage at a corrupt and captured president firing a highly respected minister in charge of the national fiscus sparked an unprecedented level of civil society mobilisation under the banner of #SaveSouthAfrica.

Not since the advent of democracy had civil society mobilised on this scale. As soon as Zuma was disposed of in February 2018, civil society, in anticipation of a Mandela-like presidency of Cyril Ramaphosa, dismantled its protest structures because Mr Thuma Mina and his New Dawn had promised a new, glorious and prosperous society.

How wrong civil society was. Today, under President Ramaphosa, South Africa is experiencing the kind of corruption no one would have thought possible under the leadership of the father of our Constitution.

While a ruthless pandemic spreads death, pain, grief, poverty and joblessness, a small clique of politically connected tenderpreneurs has become fabulously wealthy. These instant Covid-19 millionaires have brought shame to South Africa. It is this shameful behaviour that has galvanised civil society from its slumber.

Had it not been because of the pandemic and accompanying lockdown, civil society mobilisation through marches and pickets would be choking South Africa’s major cities in protest against the wholesale looting of Ramaphosa’s historic R500-billion Covid-19 fund. 

The optics of the mobilisation would have reminded the country of the emergence of the United Democratic Front in the early 1980s when, in the absence of political parties, civil society, led by the churches and their courageous clerics, took the war to the apartheid state. Civil society leaders like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Allan Boesak, Reverend Beyers Naudé and Reverend Frank Chikane have a special place in the struggle against injustice in South Africa. 

Once again, civil society is called upon to lead a new struggle – this time against corruption.

On 13 August, the South African Council of Churches (SACC), the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and a handful of other organisations named after our icons, convened a virtual civil society meeting to address the crisis caused by the wholesale theft of Covid-19 funds by companies and individuals working with corrupt government officials.

The meeting produced a “#StopC19Corruption” plan of action endorsed by a large number of civil society organisations. For the first time since the anti-Zuma SaveSA campaign of 2017, South African civil society organisations are once more ready for battle. 

The enemy is, strangely, the Ramaphosa government, despite the man having come to power through a vigorous and highly publicised anti-corruption campaign that defeated the Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma faction at Nasrec in December 2017 during a titanic battle for the soul of the ruling ANC.

The time for the people to defend themselves against the state is now. The churches, traditional leaders, unions, business, students, youth, celebrities and all societal formations must rally around civil society for their second liberation. 

Today, ironically, the guns of civil society are trained on Ramaphosa, the anti-corruption gladiator under whose leadership South Africa is on the verge of collapse due to corruption and incompetence.

The slumbering civil society giant is re-awakening precisely as a result of Covid-19 tender corruption that has infuriated and outraged the South African nation. Even generally apolitical citizens are up in arms over this looting of national resources by the politically connected few. 

Fortunately for the government, because of the declared State of Disaster and the lockdown, the masses cannot take to the streets. However, civil society is at war against corruption, even if it is through the use of technology. The Kathrada Foundation is hosting the first virtual protest rally on Friday, 21 August 2020.

With the political system broken in the country, mainly because of the gradual collapse of the ANC – the glue that held our country together for 25 years – South Africa is at a crossroads. The once-powerful glorious movement of Oliver Tambo has been captured by evil forces. By electing Ace Magashule secretary-general, the ANC consigned the great people’s organisation to the scrapheap. Fikile Mbalula warned as much when Free State’s political boss contested the powerful position.

The ANC of today finds itself where the National Party was in the early 1980s. In the same way the NP was synonymous with apartheid, so the ANC is synonymous with corruption. The racist monster that confronted the people under apartheid has morphed into a corruption monster.

The reason civil society must step in is because political opposition in Parliament is weak and fractured. The DA and EFF cannot offer viable alternatives to the ANC government. Only civil society, the last bastion against kleptocracy and injustice, can mobilise the people in their millions to resist State Capture, exploitation and corruption. 

It was through the UDF moment in 1983 that, once all their political parties had been banned, the people began mobilising outside organised political groupings. Two years later, in 1985, a labour giant called Cosatu was born. Five years later, the apartheid regime surrendered.

What is the difference between the racist regime of the 1980s and the corruption regime of 2020? For the people, the academic difference is immaterial. Those who were poor and marginalised under apartheid find themselves in a similar, if not worse, situation. Yes, Jacob Zuma largely got us to where we are today – an economically devastated, politically fractured and socially decaying state. But even Parliament has become increasingly irrelevant. Only the judiciary and the media remain standing firm against corruption and State Capture.

The time for the people to defend themselves against the state is now. The churches, traditional leaders, unions, business, students, youth, celebrities and all societal formations must rally around civil society for their second liberation. 

The ground is fertile, the state is arrogant, and the people are angry. 

Civil society has a plan called “A CALL TO ACTION” that all of us must familiarise ourselves with. All patriotic South Africans should stand up and support this clarion call by the people. 

The time is now. DM

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