Five-star problem

2012-04-19 00:00

HOW do you walk away and leave all this behind? This question came to me in the middle of a big government rally. The hoi polloi were on one side, sitting on the concrete stands of the sports field, the sun beating down on their backs. A few had umbrellas. On the other side, in a marquee and shaded from the sun, sat the VIPs — councillors, government leaders and officials. There were chilled bottles of water cooling in a tub of ice and caterers had laid out fresh fruit on the tables. A flank of bodyguards separated the elite from the masses.

It struck me that as a politician you have five years in office, more if you are lucky enough to get re-deployed by your party. At the end when you are no longer on the party list of candidates, how do you walk away from the VIP tent and go back to sitting on the concrete stands? How do you give up a lifestyle you’ve grown accustomed to and become an ordinary citizen again?

As I watched the VIPs swan around, I understood why giving up power is so difficult and why picking candidates for party positions has become such a fraught process in the ANC.

These thoughts came to mind when I read the ANC’s very noble policy document on organisational renewal which will be up for discussion at the party’s policy conference in June. There are some classic quotes in the document which calls for a rebirth of the organisation. It says this will require a major shift from the current pre-occupation with palace politics and internal power struggles.

The document bemoans the fact that the political life of the organisation has come to revolve around permanent internal strife and factional battles for power. There is an honest recognition that the deployment of cadres needs to be reviewed as ethics and integrity among deployees has been found to be wanting. There is also a call for “drastic and consistent action” to reverse the descent into politics of factionalism organised around competition for money and power rather than principle.

All of this is easier said than done. The question is whether the horse has not already bolted out the stable, making it impossible to reverse the situation. It seems from the organisational renewal document that the party is looking for a membership of saints when we all know that we are sinners.

This is not to take away from the lofty ideals laid out in the document and the fact that at the heart of the call for renewal is that of service to society and wanting to reconnect with the masses. Hence, there is a strong emphasis on the need for political education for members. Introducing the document, ANC Gauteng provincial secretary and National Executive Committee member David Makhura said the party wants to adopt a 10-year programme to educate and build a “contingent of new cadres who are politically conscious, professionally competent, conscientious and disciplined”.

It seems to me that much more needs to be done practically to reverse the tide. Perhaps the party should be looking at whether councillors need such high remuneration. Becoming a councillor should be more about service to the community than the salary one earns. Then, there is the issue of bodyguards. Are the numbers of bodyguards required by politicians and councillors really necessary? We are after all a democracy and have been for the past 18 years.

The document proposes an Integrity Commission to investigate allegations of corruption and abuse of power by errant members. The recent shenanigans of public servants within the Crime Intelligence Unit allegedly abusing state funds cries out for immediate and drastic action. What about the Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa, and his security fence allegedly built from police slush funds? There are also the allegations of the wives, children and girlfriends of these senior officers employed within the police force. One can’t help wondering about the sincerity of the ANC to reform itself when a tainted Richard Mdluli is reinstalled as head of crime intelligence. Then there is the case of the politically well-connected Khulubuse Zuma and Zondwa Mandela, owners of Aurora Mines, whose unpaid workforce was reduced to starvation. They were eventually fed by aid organisation, Gift of the Givers. There has been a deafening silence from the ruling party on the plight of these workers.

It seems that ultimately the renewal of the ANC is going to require a lot more than a document of good intent. It is going to require another mind-set, a change of heart. The VIP tent is new. We were once all sitting on the concrete benches. How quickly we have forgotten.

• nalini@witness.co.za

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