JUDITH FEBRUARY: Everything the ANC has touched has turned to ruin

OPINION

South Africans move on very quickly. It is a very useful defence mechanism when living in a country which swings between such incredible highs and such painful lows. But we do need to exercise memory against forgetting.

On 14 October, Minister in the Presidency, Mondli Gungubele, recently appointed Minister of Defence, Thandi Modise, and her deputy, Thabang Makwetla, were ‘held hostage’ by ‘military veterans’. We are told that the ‘veterans’ were demanding R4.2 million each, including a housing allowance, medical aid for their families and university bursaries for their children. Previously, they had protested outside Luthuli House causing it to be evacuated.

The group, a seemingly motley crew, was made up of the Liberation Struggle War Veterans (LSWV), comprised of members of various armed groups that fought apartheid, including Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Apla) and Azanian National Liberation Army (Azanla).

The police were informed of this ‘hostage’ situation and eventually the ministers were able to leave and 56 people have now been arrested. We are also told that the Police Special Task Force intervened, in military fatigues. Feeble explanations came afterwards, including from Gungubele saying that this was part of a ‘maturing democracy.’

A ‘maturing democracy’? It is hard to know where to begin analysing the comment made by the man who is closest to the President. His subsequent words were more on point. Then he said, “We found ourselves in a situation which I consider untenable, legally unacceptable, where we thought we were in a meeting, whose intention was to attend to the problems that affect military veterans. We could not agree on how the meeting should take place. We reached a point where I thought we were agreeing that it should adjourn. As we were leaving the meeting, proceeding to the doors, they closed the doors. It is at that point that we realised that we’re held hostage. It’s situation that was averted by the security forces, very effectively and successfully.”

Unfortunately, this incident is yet another sign of the absolute impunity and near anarchy that abounds in South Africa. Would we have been surprised had someone used a firearm in that situation? Would we have been surprised had someone attacked any of the ministers present? The ‘veterans’ had demanded a meeting with President Ramaphosa. Would we be surprised if they were to hold the President himself hostage? Can anything surprise us anymore? We will leave aside the fact that deputy President, DD Mabuza, was scheduled to attend the meeting, but did not.

The antecedents of impunity are many and complex, but the consequences of state capture have left the state unfit for purpose. Of course, this dysfunction is a direct consequence of the state of the ANC itself. The hostage incident should cause us to ask several questions, not least of which is why the ministers were meeting this group of veterans in a private hotel?

Every day millions of South Africans bemoan a lack of services, yet it’s mostly only at election time that an elected representative deigns to come out to listen. One is drawn to the inexorable conclusion that this is about internal ANC politics spilling into the open and now posing a direct threat to the state, its authority and legitimacy.

In a democracy undergirded by the rule of law, this is unacceptable. Sadly, this is nothing new. What was the ‘insurrection’ of July other than internal ANC politics turned bloody and violent, opportunistically using those on the margins of society and the general sense of lawlessness, to create chaos and undermine Ramaphosa’s presidency?

Related to this is that our government is mostly on auto-pilot. It seems as if everywhere we look, everything the ANC has touched has turned to ruin. Whole towns, potholes, sewage running down the streets, and the details of governance neglected. The state of local government finances is well-documented in the Auditor-General’s ‘state of local government’ report. It makes for dismal reading. The challenge is that corrupt or incompetent politicians face no consequences, the ANC itself simply recycles them - often as ambassadors, or as in the case of Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, as Speaker of Parliament.

A story which perhaps would be missed but is related to the manner in which things are falling apart deals with the closure of several research units specialising in the control of invasive species by using insect banks. The tender process via the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment has been delayed. One research unit has already closed down.

It may seem an innocuous story given the scale of degradation all around us, but it is illustrative of the lack of care and attention to detail prevalent throughout our country. Again, the capture of the state has consequences. The things that need to work, for human life and for the environment, are simply not working.

These invaluable insect research units are needed to optimise agricultural production and yet, the bureaucratic response is peppered with disinterest. Our public service itself is awash with individuals (not all of them, of course) who have neither the skill, insight nor interest in fixing things.

When one reads too of museums closing down, others like the Freedom Charter memorial site in Potchefstroom, it speaks to the lack of care of that which has been entrusted to us.

And so, our towns and cities lurch from crisis to crisis.

The upcoming local government elections have brought the countrywide dysfunction into stark relief. Ramaphosa is traversing the country essentially telling citizens, ‘trust us’. Why we should is quite another question. Of course, the impunity which sees a motley crew of ‘military veterans’ hold ministers hostage with no fear of reprisal, is the same impunity which allows elected representatives to loot state coffers with abandon.

That is the country we live in.

State capture has caused the NPA to be hollowed out, the Hawks cannot truly be trusted, and the police service is dysfunctional. We are saddled with a Police Minister who cannot lose his job because the President needs him to ‘deliver’ KwaZulu-Natal at the next ANC conference. Political assassination is now commonplace in our country and whistle-blowers fear for their lives.

The rule of law has broken down.

In July, billions of rands were wiped off the economy and infrastructure was destroyed. The President himself told us it was an ‘insurrection’ and he said (this is worth repeating), “we know who they are”. Yet, more than three months later and three people, peripheral to the actual events, have been arrested.

The law has no teeth and those who planned the insurrection know it. Those who held the ministers hostage know it too. No matter that 56 people have been arrested, the statistics tell us that they are likely to be free to commit another crime soon enough.

Former President Jacob Zuma has been granted medical parole, even as he is brazen enough to visit a casino with Dudu Miyeni, a woman who was responsible for the destruction of SAA and the loss of countless jobs destroyed. But, shame is a rare commodity in South African public life and so we should not be surprised at the level of chutzpah. How did it happen that former Commissioner of Correctional Services, Arthur Fraser, made the cynical move to release Zuma despite the medical evidence suggesting that he did not qualify for medical parole? And, did Ramaphosa know of this? He says he did not, Fraser says he did. Who to believe?

Zuma, aided and abetted by unethical lawyers, strides the legal stage like a colossus, determined to break the system, this week trying, but failing, to have State prosecutor Billy Downer removed from his corruption trial.

There are countless examples of impunity by the powerful, too many to mention here, but all reflective of a deep betrayal of the promise of the Constitution. It has become trite to observe that the centre is not holding, that the ANC is unfit for purpose and unable to rectify the many ills which plague us.

It is in large part a political party providing cover for criminal activity. No matter how much Ramaphosa tries to convince us otherwise, South Africans are well able to see through the rhetoric. We have become inured to the empty promises.

There is word of what some are calling a ‘catastrophic’ fuel hike by the end of October 2021. This affects the price of paraffin as well, which is used in most poor households in South Africa. There is a multiplicity of reasons for the price increase, but incorporated in it is the Road Accident Fund levies. We know too that this fund is riddled with corruption - yet another painful example of the looting of a public institution. How long before ordinary South Africans rise up against even more economic and social pain and corrupt governance?

Ramaphosa’s words on the campaign trail ring truly hollow in the light of the impunity which appears unending.

Judith 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

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