RIP Mangaung's corruption resolution, RIP
Saying corruption is a problem in our society is like saying Floyd Shivambu isn't afraid of using gestures when he can't find his words. Corruption is now so serious, and so much money is being wasted, that sometimes it appears service delivery is grinding to a halt. And certainly, in some smaller municipalities, where we've seen people dying because of sabotage to water pumps, it is. To be able to predict whether this is going to be repeated across our country as a whole, it is vitally important to examine how the African National Congress (ANC) is doing in its own battle against corruption. So far, the party has done a good job in working out theoretical solutions. But it simply cannot implement them.
In the run-up to the ANC's 2012 Mangaung Conference, the party drew up a long list of discussion documents. One of the more interesting was drawn up by the always-thoughtful Gauteng Provincial Secretary, David Makhura. As one of the main leaders of a province that was going to oppose President Jacob Zuma, he was always an interesting choice (he has since gone on to other things, like becoming Gauteng Premier and tilting at e-toll gantries). Makhura had to focus on combating corruption within the ANC, finding ways to ensure that people in the party who were convicted of crimes would not continue to besmirch the good name of the ANC by remaining within it. Oh, and of course, that they were punished for corruption.
In the end, after some discussion at Mangaung, the final resolution, announced by Collins Chabane, was that any member of the ANC found guilty of financial crimes or corruption by a court of law would be automatically expelled. The fact that Chabane, someone seen as relatively close to Zuma's circle of power, was making the announcement, would appear to indicate that this was something most people in the party agreed with, no matter where they stood on the leadership question.
One of the mechanisms created was an 'Integrity Commission' that would consist of ANC elders, who were seen as neutral politically, to make decisions and recommendations to the disciplinary committee.
It seemed at the time a very interesting and possibly quite clever idea. It would certainly mean that someone like Tony Yengeni, who was carried to prison after an arms deal conviction by the famously neutral National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete, would not be allowed to tarnish the party again. (Yengeni had come out of prison, been elected to the ANC's National Working Committee, and then, amazingly, been put in charge of educating cadres by the party. A serious case of the teacher being the one bringing the tequila to class.)
That was in December 2012. By March 2013 a small problem arose. Former Robben Islander Andrew Mlangeni, the chair of the commission, explained that he only heard the news of his appointment "on the television". No one had bothered to contact him beforehand. While he's obviously a loyal cadre of the party and would never say no, that's just rank bad manners. From a party that sometimes stands on its insistence on respect for its symbols and its leaders, it was certainly very odd.
Having said that, a few days later the ANC seemed ready to show that things had changed. Then Limpopo MEC Miriam Segabutla was charged in court with corruption. She wouldn't be the last ANC figure in the province to be in that unfortunate position. Luthuli House sprung into action, with then spokesperson Jackson Mthembu rushing out a statement and doing interviews, calling for her to "do the right thing". When Mthembu was pressed, he wouldn't explicitly say she should resign, but in the end she did.
Perhaps, just perhaps, things were changing.
Those looking for hope here were probably also made happier by the inclusion of the Mangaung resolution about corruption in the ANC's 2014 election manifesto. That someone convicted of a crime should be removed from office is something incredibly obvious. And yet that promise was a major news story when the party launched its policy document. An indication, perhaps, of how low expectations have become.
In the election process itself, there were even more indications that all was not well. The ANC's first publicly announced election candidates list included Dina Pule. A person for whom the word "disgraced" could have been invented. She'd so obviously misused public funds, and then denied doing so at the behest of her significant other, that anyone could see it. Parliament itself had publicly rebuked her after a finding by then ANC MP Professor Ben Turok (who described the investigation as one of the hardest moments of his life, because of the way the people being investigated conducted themselves: basically, they lied, he said). While it seemed like a very public humiliation of her, and thus a rejection of her corruption by the ANC, then its MPs all moved to hug her on live television. It was not a sign that those who are corrupt are unwelcome in the party. But in the end, Pule decided to not make herself available. While the party refused to say if this was because of pressure from Luthuli House, presumably to make life easier for her, that also meant that the public message was it was her own decision to withdraw, and not the party's. Which means the party doesn't look strong on corruption.
Worse was to come. Former Gauteng MEC Humphrey Mmemezi had been kicked out after a series of incidents involving the purchase of art with provincial government credit cards at that hallowed hall of high art, McDonald's. But he somehow ended up on the ANC's national list, and is now a Member of Parliament.
Since then, the party appears to have almost given up on this resolution. In June Buffalo City mayor Zukiswa Ncitha, and four other top East London officials, were charged with using public money to profit out of Nelson Mandela's funeral. She has refused to resign, and there appears to be very little reason for her to do so, as she appears to be aware that there will be no sanction from Luthuli House for not "doing the right thing". (And just so that we remember how abhorrent profiting from the Madiba funeral is, consider how Luthuli House would have reacted if it had been a DA councillor arrested for profiting from that particular funeral.)
The list of people who have been accused of serious crimes and continue to hold senior positions in the ANC goes on. John Block is still the leader of the ANC in the Northern Cape, despite facing serious criminal charges. In 2010, when this little website was just a few weeks old, we wrote about the "rise of the provinces as criminal enterprises" within the ANC, with Block as the starring character. Nothing has changed since then, as the wheels of our justice system grind almost as slowly, and with the same political effect, as their Italian counterparts.
This particular Mangaung resolution, and the intent behind it, is surely about to die.
At the moment it appears that Pule Mabe is the front-runner to be the first leader of the newly reconstituted ANC Youth League, if its congress ever goes ahead. And yet he faces serious corruption charges, and just last week his assets were seized by the Assets Forfeiture Unit. As we've said before, this is a very serious test for the ANC.
If Luthuli House allows this to happen, then it's clear that the Mangaung Resolution on just this aspect of the party is dead and buried. And while some will remind us that he is "innocent until proven guilty", the fact remains: the perception is that the party would not punish for corruption.
And yet, you don't have to be a political rocket scientist to work out why this particular resolution is on life-support. Taking action against any leader within the party can turn them into an enemy, and thus is to be avoided. In a way, this could well be a structural problem; to win an ANC conference you need the support of such a broad coalition of constituencies that you can't risk alienating any of them. Even a system featuring an independent disciplinary committee, such as the process that eventually expelled Julius Malema, has not been seen as fully independent by many people.
This would seem to mean, then, that for the same reasons it appears difficult for the ANC to form a proper coherent economic policy leading either right or left, it is almost impossible to punish people who are corrupt within its ranks.
And people like Mmemezi, Block, Mabe and Ncitha know this. So does everyone else in the party. Which means that this kind of behaviour may only be encouraged in the future.
You could ask why they behaved like this in the first place; what gave them such assurance? Who was their number one example?
_Stephen Grootes is host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 CapeTalk, and the senior political correspondent for _ Eyewitness News . Follow him on Twitter: @StephenGrootes
This column first appeared on Daily Maverick.