JUDITH FEBRUARY: Good news for the ANC is little more than empty promises again
In Gqeberha on Monday, President Cyril Ramaphosa and several ministers in his Cabinet took a tour of Aspen Pharmaceuticals’ sterile facility.
It was the moment when a rather big announcement was about to be made: Aspen will now be manufacturing millions of Johnson and Johnson vaccine doses not only for South Africa but for the African Union as well.
Of course there is no discernible vaccine plan apart from Ramaphosa saying, "I want vaccines now" as he ended the tour of the facility. Unfortunately that is not a plan, though governments like nothing better than a good news story - even one in two parts. Part two of this vaccine good news story is that jabs need to get into people’s arms.
As we enter this tricky phase of managing the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize appears to have lost some of his initial energy in dealing with the pandemic. This might have to do with the fact that his name has been linked to some very serious tender scandals, which are now being investigated by the Special Investigative Unit. There seems to be no-one in public life who is beyond reproach and so inured have we become to scandal, that we blinked and moved on.
Unfortunately the "good news" vaccine story was unhelpfully overshadowed by the African National Congress's (ANC) internal politics. The marathon weekend ANC NEC meeting ran into Monday as the ANC navel-gazed about a simple matter. Should those ANC members charged with criminal offences step aside from their positions?
Anyone who knew nothing of this matter or didn’t understand the ANC’s tendency towards prevarication and self-interest would wonder what on earth the debate was about? Common sense and a commitment to ethical governance within any institution would surely mean that someone facing criminal charges should step aside? Central to this is ANC secretary-general Ace Magashule who faces charges of corruption, theft, fraud and money laundering.
Magashule has shown little appetite for stepping aside. Instead, he has used all manner of corrupt proxies to drive a wedge between him and Ramaphosa as ANC president.
These proxies are a motley crew, a veritable rogues’ gallery who will do anything to stave off facing the courts and justice for their misdeeds. They launch attacks against the judiciary and muddy the waters using "radical economic transformation" as a convenient slogan.
Key to this propaganda machine is imbongi-in-chief Carl Niehaus, who works from Magashule’s office penning papers and sweeping up the shrinking crowds in favour of Magashule and former President Jacob Zuma.
Zuma himself has disregarded the Constitution and failed to appear before the Zondo Commission, now leaving it to the Constitutional Court to decide his fate.
Magashule and Zuma have one thing (many things?) in common - their own self-preservation. Both men are prepared to tear down the edifice of the democratic state and its Constitution in order to ensure their own survival.
They are shameless populists who threaten war while protesting their innocence. We see them for who they are.
Eventually, the ANC NEC confirmed the following, ‘‘’All members who have been charged with corruption or other serious crimes must step aside within 30 days, failing which they should be suspended in terms of rule 25.7 of the ANC constitution.”
If a week is a long time in politics, 30 days will be a lifetime. Magashule has requested guidance during these 30 days from ANC leaders like former Presidents Mbeki and Motlanthe. One can imagine those conversations will be short, if they happen at all. Magashule is more likely to find succour with a merry band of corrupt leaders led by Zuma.
The country is not duped by the language of unity the party presents. It is busy tearing itself apart and has been doing so for a long while.
Zuma and his decade of capture which enabled the large-scale looting of the state is the most graphic symptom of a party that had lost its moorings. As far back as 2005, then Secretary-general, Kgalema Motlanthe said the "cancer of corruption is eating away at our party". Now, given its ethical bankruptcy, the ANC remains unable to steer public debate on the crises we face; it is mostly in a state of disarray, given the factionalism and corruption.
The Zuma years in particular were rooted in a dangerous anti-intellectualism that persists. In the cause of populism, Zuma joked about “clever blacks” at rallies and the presidency itself became an empty shell. Today, the ANC’s so-called battle of ideas is safely a “battle of factions”.
ANC policy debates have mostly mired in factional battles and debate about whether to use the term "white monopoly capital" or simply "monopoly capital". When Ramaphosa penned an open letter to his fellow ANC comrades last year in the wake of COVID-related personal protective equipment corruption, it spoke volumes about what the ANC has now become: an organisation mostly bereft of values. The claims in the letter are irrefutable, given the information in the public domain regarding the near-decade of State Capture and most recently the looting of COVID-19 funds, which the Auditor-General described as “frightening”.
“The ANC may not stand alone in the dock, but it does stand as Accused No 1,” Ramaphosa wrote in an open letter to the party in August last year. It was a damning indictment of the party he leads.
While we live through load shedding and its devastating economic impact, we feel the full effects of State Capture, we fully understand what the ANC has become and how that has hollowed out state institutions.
Yet, given that it is the governing party, it is reasonable for South Africans to hold the ANC to a standard that fulfils the promise of the Constitution. Even in the face of increasing electoral competition, the ANC seems to have run out of transformative ideas and we now talk openly about the possibility of it either losing an election in future or the prospect of a coalition government.
Our greatest challenges remain poverty, inequality, unemployment, cleaning up the state and repurposing institutions. And dealing with the effects of a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic.
This will take time, energy and a commitment to building cross-sectoral solidarity and linkages. That in and of itself will require the ANC to lead with integrity and clarity of purpose. But then it itself must be fit for purpose.
At the moment, it is a hollow shell and like all empty vessels, makes much noise but not much progress.
February is a lawyer, governance specialist and Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy'. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february