MAHLATSE MAHLASE: Until Ramaphosa acts, ANC's anti-corruption moves are cosmetic

OPINION

The public outcry and expectation of the ANC to find its moral fibre and act against corruption feels like deja vu.

We have been here before, the last time in 2016/17. Society had enough of the siphoning of money and were calling on the ANC to do the right thing and ask then President Jacob Zuma to step down.

At that time, Zuma was the face of the looting spree. The nation was gatvol over the lack of accountability from Zuma for the more than R200 million looted in upgrading his private home in Nkandla. The Constitutional Court ruled that he must pay back the money – then calls for him to step down led internally by the likes of Derek Hannekom started gaining momentum.

It was in those years that the Gupta emails, exposed by journalists, laid bare how the state coffers were opened for his friends, the Guptas, and other cronies to live lavishly and buy those we entrusted with running our government.
The emails detailed how our country had been sold for a song, leaving our state-owned entities decimated and us, the hard-working taxpayers, left with the bill to rescue them.

At the time, civil society amplified the voices of fed-up South Africans. They mobilised society and we saw tens of thousands of people on the streets demanding that “Zuma must go”.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) at the time finally found its backbone and also demanded that Zuma step aside.

The ANC veterans and some senior party members, including Mavuso Msimang and Snuki Zikalala, were also agitating from within.

Fast forward to 2020, and we are again reeling because thieves used the arrival of a deadly pandemic to enrich themselves, continuing the looting spree.

On Monday, a delegation of civic organisations, including foundations protecting the legacy of our freedom stalwarts, met with the ANC's top six as part of their “moral call” to all South Africans to reject corruption and unethical behavior.

Cosatu is also upping the ante, threatening to withdraw support if President Cyril Ramaphosa does not act against corruption. The lesson learnt from 2016/17 and probably beyond that - because the scourge of corruption dates back even to the Thabo Mbeki years - is that the ANC is incapable of leading society out of the corruption abyss.

It will continue to make cosmetic moves like drawing up a list of all those accused of corruption, or issue statements declaring that they are hanging their faces in shame over the stealing, but with no real consequences.

But we know they speak with a forked tongue because as they say that, they then go ahead and promote corruption-accused representatives.

On the one hand, we saw the likes of Khusela Diko and Bandile Masuku, fingered for personal protection equipment corruption, stepping down as the pressure piled up, but equally so, the ANC NEC also agreed to reinstate the party's Limpopo treasurer, Danny Masiza, and Florence Radzilani was also promoted to the Limpopo legislature, both despite the fact that they were implicated in the looting of VBS.

The reason the ANC is unable to tackle corruption within its ranks is because the nobility of joining the party to lead and serve society has long disappeared. For many, the organisation is the golden ticket to self enrichment or employment. So while this war against corruption is a necessary one to save the country, winning the war threatens the survival of ANC members.

Instead of a moral approach in the interest of safeguarding South Africa, internally it is yet another front for factional battles.

Debates have been so heated that when it was suggested that someone like former minister Bongani Bongo should step down because he is charged with corruption, the counter argument was that then Speaker Thandi Modise should also step aside because she is before the courts for alleged animal cruelty after more than 50 pigs and 80 animals were found dead on her farm after being neglected.

Now, there is even a suggestion that President Cyril Ramaphosa must himself step down for the money donated to his election campaign.

Hence the outcome of these decisions is often inaction, and even disregarding party resolutions that were taken with a lot of fanfare.

The members of the party and its leaders are also in a permanent race for control of the party, and every action is calculated to see if it bolsters or weakens a faction ahead of the next elective conference.

Someone like corruption accused Zandile Gumede wields power and her potential election as regional chair of eThekwini - the biggest ANC region - could hold sway when it comes to who becomes the next president of the party and by extension, the country. Hence her promotion to the provincial legislature, instead of telling her to stay home and answer to the charges.

Others are simply calculating that if the Hawks and the National Prosecuting Authority were to do their jobs, they would also be charged for their deeds too, so they would oppose any strong ethical recommendations to protect themselves. Others feared themselves being outed, so they protected the guilty out of self-preservation.

We have already heard ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule saying he would not step down over corruption allegations. He suggested that the ANC resolution - that those facing charges should step aside until they are cleared - did not apply to him.

For Ramaphosa to live up to his election promises, he will have to throw down the gauntlet and adopt “the if I perish, I perish" attitude and respond to the outcry by South Africans. There will never be consensus in the ANC on tackling corruption, so he should be prepared to act and speak beyond the constraints imposed by the internal political mechanisms.

As a country we should stop looking to the ANC or any political leader to end the scourge of corruption. While the most powerful tool we have is our vote during an election, we need to look for stronger systems that can stand the test of time and survive parties and individuals we vote for.

Mahlatse Mahlase is group editor-in-chief at Eyewitness News. Follow her on Twitter: @hlatseentle