ANC’s become a foe of independence

2011-03-19 11:22

I experience independence as a tangible outcome of freedom.

Before 1994 there was no physical independence as our geography was set by the contours of the Group Areas Act.

Neither was there mental independence, as the mind was shaped by coloured education.

The only saviours then were the foot soldiers of the democratic movement, the most visionary being those of the United Democratic Front, who painted for the youth a landscape that showed what an independent and dignified future might look like.

And so, independence is near ­God-given for me: the ability to be an agent, to have a view and a voice and to not be compelled to agree with the political order (or to agree if you so wish) are the finest gifts of freedom.

It is the lifeblood of democracy, the essential vein of the institutions upon which a free society is built – like the courts, the corruption fighters and the media.

Thus it has been an abiding sadness to watch how the ANC, while being an ambassador for dignity as a fundamental constitutional pillar, has become a foe of independence.

We should celebrate this week’s ringing Constitutional Court judgment, which declared the legislation setting up the Hawks as unconstitutional for many reasons, but most importantly for enshrining the value of independence in our country and for declaring corruption a cancer.

The court has said that the Hawks, which replaced the Scorpions as South Africa’s top corruption-busting agency, are not sufficiently independent.

In my years covering the movement (later, the party), I have watched the ANC morph from one that was confident enough to debate its differing positions in the open, to one that is a closed shop to the wider citizenry.

Now, while many national executive committee members may believe that Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel has opened a vital debate on non-racialism in the 21st century, ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has quashed the public discourse by slapping Manuel on the wrist.

This suggests a fear of independent thinkers or institutions.

The party is so uncomfortable with an independent and tjatjarag media corps that it wants to introduce a system of “co-regulation”, a fancy term for systemic censorship.

And it is uncomfortable with the institutions established under chapter 9 of the constitution, a founding document the ANC was instrumental in drawing up.

Instead of acting on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s report released 28 days ago, which found that a R500-million lease of a new police headquarters was illegal, government will “interact” with Madonsela.

The last time government “interacted” with public institutions during the arms deal, they melted like jelly in a heat wave.

All of them – from then auditor-general Shauket Fakie and parliamentary speaker Frene Ginwala to public protector Selby Baqwa – showed that putting up a fight for independence will fell even the bravest warriors.

Others whom government “interacted” with but who proved less malleable, like former director of public prosecutions Vusi Pikoli, were fired.

The ANC has dissed the Constitutional Court before and its wilder sidekicks have attacked judges.

Let’s see whether it will keep to the 18-month deadline, the time-frame the court has set for Parliament to pass a law that will enable setting up a genuinely independent anti-corruption agency.

If Madonsela’s experience is anything to go by, government believes that deadlines set by independent institutions are subject to “interaction”.

This week’s Constitutional Court judgment will go down as one of its finest, but it is a low point for an organisation that taught us the value of independence but has failed to give meaning to it in a post-apartheid setting.

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