Forgotten lessons

2014-12-02 13:45

SA’s national leadership would do well to remember Gandhi’s prescient warning almost 70 years ago

Mahatma Gandhi famously called for the Indian National Congress to be dissolved – it had done its job by ending British rule. The wise and wizened Gandhi called for a new organisation to serve the people of India, one that would eschew corruption.

According to Venkat Ram Kalyanam – the only living witness to the assassination of Gandhi five months after independence – Gandhi received more than 50 letters daily from freedom fighters and concerned citizens.

Most of the letters were about corruption and cronyism of congress ministers. Gandhi shared his views with then prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru – to no avail.

Kalyanam says Gandhi dictated a note towards the end of 1947 in which he said: “I am not responsible for what is happening in this country. I have repeatedly said that I have neither any part nor any say in many things that are going on in the country today. The plain matter of fact is that I am no longer the current coin I fancied I once was. My voice is in the wilderness. My writ runs no more. Time was when whatever I said the masses followed. Today, mine is a lone voice. I now say things which do not go home. I know that I am a back number. Yet, I go on saying what I believe to be true.”

This is so very relevant to the ANC and South Africa 20 years since the fall of apartheid – Marikana, Nkandla and the recent shenanigans in Parliament are but recent pointers towards a decline that began some time ago.

Nelson Mandela, like Nehru, formed the first government and the real rot began towards the end of his term and the start of Thabo Mbeki’s.

It started with the arms deal, the proceeds of which provided the ANC with much-needed cash and many intermediaries with fat personal rewards.

The precedent was set and since then, certain local and international businesses and the ANC government have conspired to deliver on the creation of wealth for some and proportionally little for the masses who repeatedly vote – depressingly – for a party that has delivered little.

Growth is forecast to be lower than 2%. Inflation is 5.7%. Compared with the other Brics countries, the South African gross loan debt-to-gross domestic product (GDP) ratio exceeds that of Russia and China.

Unemployment hovers at around 25%, homicide rates per 100?000 sit at 27.3. The police force is largely corrupt and in disarray.

We spend more on health as a percentage of GDP and still the state of public health is shocking: our infant mortality rate is 42.15 (deaths/1?000 live births in 2013).

Equally, we spend more than any Brics country on public education (10.1% of GDP, 2010) and the quality of education delivered is in inverse proportion to the spend.

A report published by the World Economic Forum has ranked the quality of South Africa’s maths and science education last out of 148 countries. And we boast the highest Gini coefficient in the world.

The Freedom Charter and our stellar Constitution that enshrines dignity and human rights seem to have become words that belie our actions.

Perhaps that’s why Jeff Radebe, South Africa’s longest continuously serving minister, was moved to pronounce in June this year: “The ANC’s vision of a nonracial, nonsexist, democratic, equal and prosperous society basically summarises the Freedom Charter.”

Aren’t you relieved?

I’m not.

My forebears came to this country in the 1870s and successive generations have evinced an unbroken record of service in the struggle against apartheid and towards a better life for all – many were ANC to their very marrow.

They paid with their blood, but mine’s beginning to run cold.

Cachalia is commentator, independent strategic consultant and founder of Mentisfactum (made by mind)

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