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The country, not the ANC, comes first, always

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Sibusiso Ngalwa is the politics editor of Newzroom Afrika and chair of the South African National Editors’ Forum.

This weekend’s special national executive committee (NEC) of the ANC was meant to be one where President Cyril Ramaphosa reasserts his authority in the governing party.

This column first appeared in Daily Maverick 168

Having penned a strongly worded seven-page letter to the party’s rank and file membership, a week ago, the president was clear that corruption will not be tolerated and that he had drawn a line in the sand.

The meeting is meant to deal with the issue of corruption and how the ANC treats its members facing allegations of wrongdoing.

But alas, it was not to be as political mercenary Andile Lungisa challenged Ramaphosa directly – writing to the party’s top six asking that the controversial issue of Ramaphosa’s CR17 campaign funding be investigated. 

Let no one be fooled into thinking that Lungisa is a virtuous ANC member driven by the principle of accountability. Instead, the revival of the CR17 campaign issue on the eve of the crucial NEC meeting is intended to weaken Ramaphosa going into those crucial discussions.

Instead of joining the fight against corruption, the anti-Ramaphosa grouping is mobilising against him. 

All these developments happened against the backdrop of the bizarre appointment of controversial former eThekwini mayor Zandile Gumede as a member of the provincial legislature in KwaZulu-Natal last week. Unmoved by the criticism of the ANC over its decision to appoint her and imbued with the characteristic arrogance that has come to define ANC leaders, Gumede boldly declared — during an interview — that:

“To Zandile Gumede, the ANC comes first”.  She went further: “Because without the ANC there is no country”. 

The reporter had asked her, what comes first between the party and the interests of the country.

This is our reality. Gumede represents everything that is wrong with the ANC and sadly the majority of its leaders are no different from her. 

Not only does she face a raft of charges including fraud and corruption, but she is currently out on R50,000 bail in connection with a R200-million Durban Solid Waste tender where millions were siphoned off the public coffers.

She also stands accused of contravening the following laws: the municipal finance management act, the prevention and combating of corrupt activities act, the prevention of organised crime act, the contravention of the local government municipal act and the riotous assembly act.

Is this a person worthy of election as a public representative?  Ordinarily, the answer to such a question should be a no-brainer. But to a depraved organisation that is the ANC and its morally bankrupt leadership, the Gumede issue is nothing more than an issue that they can easily explain away.

The sheer levels of arrogance have reached grand proportions. 

Not even a seven-page missive from President Ramaphosa to the party’s one million members can change that.

It is an understatement to say that the ANC is not accountable to anyone, least of all its members and the millions of South Africans who voted it into power.

The government and by extension the governing party should always act in the interests of society. Accountability sits at the heart of any democracy.

For as long as there are those who believe the ANC to be above the country, we are in deep trouble.

The Gumede example is a classic case of a lack of political accountability on the part of the ANC. 

In ANC KZN chairman Sihle Zikalala’s words, they moved Gumede to the provincial legislature so that they could give her successor at eThekwini, Mxolisi Kaunda, space to work without having Gumede around.

So all of this just to cure awkwardness on the council corridors because Gumede had been reduced to an ordinary councillor? 

What is clear is that the ANC, despite its public pronouncements, will never self-correct. Not even Ramaphosa, no matter how well-meaning he may be, will change that.

The reality that South Africans need to realise is that Ramaphosa only won the ANC presidency at Nasrec in December 2017. He did not win the conference. Had he won the conference, then Ace Magashule would not have been the governing party’s secretary-general. Instead, Senzo Mchunu, who was on Ramaphosa’s ticket, would have been in charge of administration at Luthuli House.

So basically the ANC’s national executive committee is split into two factions — one supporting Ramaphosa and the other one firmly behind Magashule. Lungisa, although he is not an NEC member, represents the latter grouping.

In 2017, former president Kgalema Motlanthe raised the party’s ire when he argued that the ANC would only get a wake-up call when it loses power. No truer words have ever been spoken.

In a normal society, the ANC in Gauteng would be taking its cue from Luthuli House. Instead, it’s the other way round. 

Evidence of this has already been seen in Gauteng where the party is at its weakest point.

Faced with the possibility of further electoral humiliation reminiscent of the 2016 local government elections, the party in Gauteng has been the most consistent and has shown seriousness in dealing with corruption. 

Not only has it suspended its Health MEC Bandile Masuku, but it has also subjected its provincial executive members, presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko and her best friend, Masuku’s wife Loyiso, to the provincial integrity committee. 

The same structure has asked Merafong mayor Maphefo Mogale-Letsie and former West Rand mayor Boyce Maneli to resign over the VBS scandal. Unlike the two Limpopo ANC leaders who are directly implicated in VBS-related corruption, Maphefo-Letsie and Maneli stand accused of failing to act against officials who invested millions of public funds in the collapsed VBS. 

In a normal society, the ANC in Gauteng would be taking its cue from Luthuli House. Instead, it’s the other way round. 

This is hardly surprising as the party lost its majority in the three metros — Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni — in 2016. Through a fragile coalition, the party is able to govern in Ekurhuleni and with the support of mutinous DA councillors it regained the mayoral chain in Johannesburg in December last 2019. 

The battle for the control of Tshwane is being fought out before the courts.  

The ANC won Gauteng by a whisker in 2019 — garnering 50.19% of the votes.

Without voter support in urban areas, the party knows that it will not be in government in Gauteng come 2024.

What is evident is that unless the ANC  faces similar challenges in other provinces, as it does in Gauteng, nothing will change.

Not even at this weekend’s NEC meeting. What should change, rather, is the attitude of South Africans.

They must never allow any political party to believe themselves to be more important than the interests of the nation. The country comes first, always. DM

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