Sir, these are the standards you set

2011-07-30 11:15

One of the Cabinet ministers from whom I learnt most of my politics, Geraldine ­Fraser-Moleketi, once ­remarked in exasperation to a press corps question at the yearly ­ministers’ briefing week: “But you never asked these questions of apartheid ministers.”

I felt like answering: “Yes, but we didn’t expect any better . . . ”

Apartheid was a venal and evil system. Its Cabinets were comprised, until the final years of detente, of largely evil men who amassed ill-gotten gains. It’s how they rolled.

So we expected no better. My bar for governance and ethical leadership by the ANC is, of necessity and by history, set much higher.

And that goes for its youth league too for it was the political school of the founding president, Nelson Mandela, despite the foul-mouthed spokesmen who now sully public life.

Though there have been disappointments in the 17 years of freedom, I hold firm to these standards in understanding and assessing political progress because they were bequeathed to us by the ANC.

This week brought with it a range of “But you don’t ...” questions for the City Press investigation into the finances of ANC Youth League president Julius ­Malema. But you don’t investigate the DA (they are tiny, hold no real incumbency and are covered with fairness and robustness on our pages).

But you don’t investigate white corruption, by which I think they (or you) mean the bread price-fixers, the cellphone ­mafia, the construction cartels.

That’s true, as is the view that white heroes found on the wrong side of ethics like Hansie Cronje and Alan Knott-Craig get a soft ride in some media.

A friend asks where the brouhaha was when ­Christo Wiese was found with a suitcase stuffed with pound sterling on a flight out of South Africa.

I get it. I’m introspecting but still cling fast to the belief that it is the ANC that matters because it’s the ANC that leads. Surely it is the ultimate patriotism to point out that the youth wing is losing its way (and sometimes its marbles too).

We do give long column inches of coverage to Malema because we understand how powerful he is.

And because I often agree with Malema on his critique of the failures of wealth distribution in ­post-apartheid South Africa if not on his ­solutions.

Malema knows the difference between income and wealth: first generation middle-class black people have ­income but no wealth.

Half of all South Africans have no significant income ­beyond government grants. This is a ­powder keg and Malema is the man with the flame. And he knows it.

Wealth is bequeathed through the ­generations by trust funds (ironically). It bequeaths its holders with what Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has called a “knapsack of privilege” that includes magnificent networks, good education, a car at 18, confidence and all the other ­intangibles of privilege.
 
Most black people do not have this, and all Malema’s speeches contain this narrative. His new nom de guerre is Commander in Chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, no less.

It explains why he has taken over the black middle-class as a constituency from former president Thabo Mbeki.

It explains why his core constituency is the time-bomb generation – the three million and climbing number of young people who can’t claw into South Africa Shining.

I concur with Piet Rampedi, who wrote recently on these pages that Malema was a Jekyll and Hyde: a leader of extraordinary potential whose only downfall would be his need for bling.

Mr Cash must explain how he lives a life so far beyond his means.

The ­argument that he is a Robin Hood who distributes his mystery wealth is not washing for ordinary entrepreneurs who feel cut out of the tender system.

It’s important to ask when Robin Hood becomes Corrupt Crony. Julius Malema has threatened a defamation suit. I am confident of our reporting standards. 

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