A robust new era

2011-06-29 00:00

I FEEL energised by the current political scene in South Africa. There seems to be a robustness that has been lacking for years, dare I say, since President Jacob Zuma took the helm. Perhaps we were expecting more after the dour years of Thabo Mbeki, but somehow our dancing, singing leader lost his groove when he became president.

Business Day editor Peter Bruce picked on the changing mood in the country, saying it’s thanks to ANC Youth League leader­, Julius Malema, whose demagoguery irritated enough people to raise a cacophony of voices.

Malema, after stirring up a hornet­’s nest, is, according to a Sunday newspaper, holidaying in Italy. Some would call that country a bastion of capitalism and part of the imperial West.

This week we have trade union federation Cosatu holding its mid- term review. The hottest item on the agenda is the secretariat report by Cosatu’s secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi. It has been dubbed a no-holds-barred, candid assessment of ANC president Zuma’s leadership or lack thereof. It is a pity that the session is closed to the media, because debate is expected to be fiery, honest and intense.

However, it is not only thanks to Malema alone that there appears to be a whiff of renewal in the air. The arms deal has once more reared its ugly head with the Swedish government investigation into its own arms agency (SAAB) and a R24-million pay-out to one Fana Hlongwane, a former adviser to the late former defence minister, Joe Modise. The arms deal remains the albatross around South Africa’s neck and shows no signs of going away. Perhaps its popping up from time to time reminds us of our loss of innocence as a country and our first big step into the world of corruption.

Talking about corruption, with government’s pronouncements sounding increasingly hollow in this regard, it is good to see Cosatu set to launch its own Corruption Watch agency by December. The federation has said that this body will be run by an independent board and will be ready to name and shame corrupt public officials. This has been the problem with so many of the forensic investigations that have been carried out by government departments, be it at national, provincial or local government level. They take such a long time to wind up, with our own Msunduzi Municipality a case in point. However, the good news on this front is the movement on the controversial police headquarters leasing deal, which appears to have been thoroughly probed by the public protector’s office, prompting the about-turn by Public Works Minister, Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde, who has announced that she will go to court to get the lease cancelled.

By far the biggest triumph for the country must be the ANC’s about-turn on the Information Bill, scrapping sections with wide-ranging secrecy clauses and heavy prison sentences. The triumph­ belongs to ordinary South Africans who lent their voices­ to the campaign and became part of one of the biggest lobby­ groups to challenge an undemocratic piece of legislation.

Sadly, part of this new robustness was triggered by the death of former cabinet minister Professor Kader Asmal. The death of yet another stately elder highlights the brave individuals who have emerged from this country, people who never lost their voices of protest in the face of injustice and unpopularity.

While there seems to be a finding of voices all around, the president seems lost amid the caca- phony. His address to the Cosatu Central Committee on Monday, while making several pertinent points, lacked force and conviction. He took a swipe at his detractors but failed to name them. He accused unnamed leaders of allied organisations of using money to promote their self-interests, he was critical of public airings of differences, saying that these should be discussed internally. He spoke of the erosion of ANC culture and the disappearance of respect and discipline.

His words lacked conviction and sounded like more of the same — just words. No wonder there seems to be a general sense of a leadership vacuum and growing momentum around the call made by the ANC Youth League that the party should begin debating who or what kind of person it wants as its next leader. The latest to join the call for a succession debate is ANC Gauteng chairperson Paul Matshile.

Zuma is trying to put the lid on the succession debate, also saying that this is not ANC culture. He needs to realise that this discussion is not going to go away. The ANC is no longer a liberation movement, it’s a political party in a robust and vibrant democracy.

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