The great African writer, Ben Okri, in his book, A Way of Being Free, writes: “There is no greater sorcery than poetry, than the imagination of the storyteller.” He goes on, in the same phrase, to say that “humanity without scepticism, without knowledge is dangerous.”
Over the past few weeks, we have witnessed both the sorcery, the imagination of storytellers and the lack of scepticism as well as knowledge. In every home, the witnesses of the Zondo Commission appeared more and more surreal as they told their truth and I kept hoping that at least one person would explain how decision-making and consultation in a liberation movement works. For example, the concept of democratic centralism was taught to us by some of the great commissars of our time, the Ma Sisulus, the Nelson Mandelas, the Ray Alexanders.
I kept asking myself: “how did we get here?”
Little doubt, the outrage started when one family appeared on the scene and became the interrupters of the status quo and, yes of course, the fault-line was the looting of the state and the omission of oversight. The visits to the Gupta compound may, at times, have been innocent friends visiting each other, but now it has become an undressing of the state machinery.
The sceptics without clear knowledge watch the saga and send missives to include people whom they believe have information. The destruction of reputations is now commonplace. The disappearance of inconvenient witnesses whose truth got too close to reality, these as the drama series writers would claim are “the days of our lives”, and yet simple known knowledge is the real victim now.
At various stages in the Struggle against apartheid as well as the transition towards democracy in South Africa, the ANC and, at times, the mass democratic movement at large placed enormous trust in me to work with many great heroines and heroes of our struggle. Tata Madiba and Mme Albertina were merely two of these exemplary leaders.
Often when confronted with the very difficult challenges our country and movement face, it is often consoling to think back and remember working with these great leaders. And so, it is not uncommon for my subconscious to whisper to me: “how would Mama Albertina have handled this?” or “what would Madiba have said?” Such a moment occurred just last week again, when witnessing all of this at the Zondo Commission.
Amidst the flurry of news of tea, some of us noted with disappointment the misunderstanding of political structures within multi-party democracies in general and the ANC in particular. South Africa had to hear how those who participated in the commission last week displayed a lack of appreciation for the elected leadership within a political organisation, vis-a-vis an elected representative in democratic institutions such as Parliament.
Senior parliamentarians, once endowed by our people with the noble task of representing them, seemingly did not comprehend the nature of a caucus or strategic committees. Tragically, in the mind of these, the purpose of a caucus was to be subjected to one meaning only: a meeting of individuals who have no need to refer to the policies nor the practices of the organisation they represent.
That the ANC would ask its caucus to hold onto a position of the party was made to appear wrong and yet the origin of the argument, on a vote of no confidence, came from the caucus of the opposition. So, the opposition in our Parliament can speak with one voice, but the ANC, it appears, has to allow many voices with many views on any subject instead of answering to the collective decision taken by the opposition parties, with many voices and one message.
And so, in this disheartening moment, it was good to recall Tata Madiba’s words to a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament, when on 26 March 1999, he said: “Each historical period defines the specific challenges of national progress and leadership; and no man is an island.”
On another occasion, the tenth anniversary of our democracy and his tenth anniversary of the day he was inaugurated as the first democratically elected president of a new South Africa, 10 May 2004, again addressing a joint sitting of the Houses of Parliament, Tata Madiba said:
“There are many theoretical debates about the meaning of democracy that I am not qualified to enter into. A guiding principle in our search for and establishment of a non-racial inclusive democracy in our country has been that there are good men and women to be found in all groups and from all sectors of society; and that in an open and free society those South Africans will come together to jointly and cooperatively realise the common good.”
Like Tata Madiba, one would want to acknowledge and appreciate the many theoretical debates that exist about the meaning of democracy. Yet, as Tata Madiba articulates, a guiding principle for our democracy hitherto is that good men and women, found across the length and breadth of our country, have come together and elected for themselves representatives.
Respecting minority rights and vowing that one group will never ever again oppress another, the writers of our Constitution, both the interim one and the final one, agreed that we would at a national and provincial level have proportional representation rather than a constituent one. This was for the simple reason that, as many political scholars have opined, proportional representation systems safeguard minority views and voices much more than constituent ones do.
Invariably, as we see even in the majority of our municipal councils, constituent representation leads to one or two major parties dominating. If our municipal councils were not forced to have half of its members based on a proportional vote, then there would be far fewer parties represented in them. No doubt, even at a national and provincial level, the ANC itself will dominate much more and there would be far fewer opposition parties if our country were run on a constituent representative basis. The case studies of constituency-based systems across the globe proves this.
Indeed, as Tata Madiba stated, good men and women across South Africa “will come together to jointly and cooperatively realise the common good”. These good men and women, as mentioned, are most aptly represented by their public representatives. It is through their public representatives that the people give life to the imperative enunciated by the Freedom Charter that “the People shall Govern!”
Through their representatives, the parties for which they voted, a number of interrelated political consultations occur. Yet the first of these consultations, one may argue, is the consultation with the people based on a party’s manifesto. The policies of the governing party then emanate from this manifesto based on the social contract established between the People and the party. Party caucuses, therefore, play an enabling role which allows for agility in the manner in which the party governs from a national level right down to the level of the ward.
Party discipline plays a key role in ensuring that the mandate given by the people to the party is not compromised and that the social contract remains intact. But again, the party caucuses serve as the bulwark against individualist tendencies, characteristic of constituent-based systems, to guarantee that the party’s mandate, given by the people, is protected.
I have watched with interest how some opposition party leaders make decisions as they stand and talk. In the ANC, though, decisions on policy and how to execute policy go through a very arduous set of consultations which attempts to bring a broad consensus on any matter to the fore. Not exactly the dictatorial system described by a sceptical witness with little or no knowledge of the process by which decisions are made in the ANC.
More worrying is that democratic centralism is now the subject of a commission led by a judge who, with respect, practices his craft based on the narrow parameters of existing laws. One can only hope that the Zondo Commission is not going to turn our democracy into more of a neo-liberal concoction than it already is; where we all sound the same and do nothing real to transform our society.
I shall await my turn to speak without fear, without favour, but I know that my words and the words of some in our society will not be received without prejudice.
The testimonies provided at the Zondo Commission of Inquiry display a serious lack of appreciation therefore of the role party caucuses play within a democracy such as ours.
Even more so, one would gladly welcome an example where a caucus, at any level, decided against exposing corruption or agreeing to be corrupt. But none of these examples exist because no party has a party line that would want to indulge deliberately in corruption.
Instead, what is more convincing as one listens to the testimony given at the Zondo Commission is a systematic undermining of the views of those good men and women Tata Madiba spoke about.
An undermining that speaks directly to the fact that the majority of South Africans vote and support the ANC. It is not the democratic system that is the problem — rather it is the fact that the ANC lives, the ANC leads and that our people, despite the ramblings of the few who testified at the commission, continue to put their hopes and trust in the ANC. This is the problem for these who testified.
In the face of this onslaught, which is ultimately an onslaught against the people themselves, there is only one thing one can do and encourage others to do, and that is to have the courage and determination of someone like Mama Albertina Sisulu. DM
Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary-General of the African National Congress.