Where are the heroes?

2008-06-11 00:00

On this page yesterday, columnists Nina Hassim and David Still drew attention to some gloomy aspects of ANC rule. Under the heading “Rich Pickings: the ruling party is for the wealthy”, Hassim summarised the ways — some legitimate, some decidedly dodgy — in which the ANC has in recent years amassed an enormous fortune from a wide range of investments. In the process a substantial number of party elite have become multi-millionaires and even billionaires. This rich elite reminded Hassim of the rise of Russian oligarchs during the Yeltsin presidency, who made vast fortunes by obtaining assets cheaply as they were privatised, and who used these to buy political and other favours. Later Vladimir Putin, viewing them as a political threat, swiftly stripped them of their influence: the interests of the oligarchs, many of whom had come from the ranks of the ruling party, had come into conflict with the party’s interests.

As yet in South Africa this has not happened: the rich tycoons, those who control the ANC’s wealth, and the party as a whole, still come together to transcend factionalism within the party. However, when a party and its upper echelons become inordinately wealthy, the membership fee comes to mean very little, so that the party and its machinery become disconnected from those who brought it to power. So, indeed, the ANC is increasingly a party for the wealthy, caring less and less for the very poor who put their trust in it to provide them with a living and a future.

Still, by contrast, recalls the eighties, and the highly respected Clem Sunter’s outline of the so-called high (true democracy) and low (racially exclusionist) roads to South Africa’s future.

“We need another Sunter today,” says Still, although today’s choice between high and low is different. One is the path to integrity, the other to dishonesty, corruption and eventual anarchy, and he’s not hopeful that the right choice will be made. However, having cited the questionable behaviour of many senior ANC members and officials, he notes, too, that there are many good, selfless and caring people still here.

And so Still would probably join the growing call for people of integrity, especially in the ANC, to stand up and be counted, to speak out against the tide of venality, greed and selfishness threatening to suck the whole organisation — struggle and liberation movement, political party, big-business enterprise — under.

Where are the heroes of yore, many ask? Are they not appalled by the prostitution of what was once a noble cause — liberation, opportunity and equality for all — and aghast at the hijacking of the party by its wealthy elite, impervious to the plight of the poor? Some

former activists may be old now, of course, and tired, but there are still many vigorous voices across the racial spectrum that could and should be raised in protest. Why are they silent? Have they been intimidated into silence by Africanist bullying? Or, horrible thought, has their silence been bought? Whatever the reason, they should reconsider. South Africa needs them now.

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