The meaning of patriotism: The culture of the yes man

2014-04-27 15:00

Foreign criticism of SA glosses over the nuances of what freedom means to those who once did not have it, writes Ferial Haffajee, but that’s not a licence to plunder

When the plane came to a standstill, I turned on my BlackBerry.

Twitter was flooded by #confidentialcandidate – a story about electoral candidates the DA was not yet ready to name. News alerts suggested a journalist or two might be among them. I was as curious as the next person to know who it might be.

Who from among my tribe was crossing to the dark side (politics, I mean, not the DA specifically)? Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies was on the same flight home and as he pulled down his bag from the overhead storage, he said: “So Ferial, are you a confidential candidate?”

I stammered something incoherent, red-cheeked because many people heard the minister asking me. For that entire Sunday, I was bombarded with the question, mainly by ANC people. It left me flummoxed and upset. The DA is a good party, so my issue was not with that. The questions came because we keep a solid check on corruption by reporting on it regularly.

I’m proud to be a part of the warrior corps against corruption. It is a most corrosive system, endemic and deep, as we report (again) this week. Human greed knows no limits and power corrupts, as I’ve found, heartbreakingly, in 20 years reporting the flip side of freedom. It hollows out people and systems.

For me, exposing it is an act of profound patriotism. But somehow the ANC has come to associate tough questions and what I hope is an independent stance with opposition. And often, they even associate it with being unpatriotic.

How did this happen? When did it become a sin to want freedom to be all it promised? When did the ANC begin to associate debate and dissent with treachery? And when did it start synonymising sycophancy with loyalty?

The governing party’s grudging membership of a parliamentary portfolio committee to deal with the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla unmasks its new guise. The committee’s senior members – Cedric Frolick, Luwellyn Landers and Cecil Burgess – are not originally of the ANC, but were either apolitical or from the hideous Tricameral era.

Increasingly, the party’s rank and file comprises “loyalists” like these men. They get plum positions and central roles to protect the big men. The old comrades – like Pallo Jordan, Trevor Manuel, Ronnie Kasrils and Thabo Mbeki – who dissent, question and debate in the best traditions (and interests) of the party are castigated or marginalised.

These are now “reckless free agents” who must either bring their issues to “structures” or shut it. This sends a signal that what the leadership wants are vassals without their own values and beliefs.

After the May 7 elections, when the ANC assumes stewardship of this beautiful land for five more years, it needs to take serious decisions.

What will become of the National Development Plan?What of the 3?million jobless and angry youngsters? How will we keep the lights on? What basic commodities cost? What about the platinum mines? How shall we fixthe education system? And what about healthcare?

Big questions need big debates and good leaders. The culture of the yes man is one that freedom’s next decade needs like a hole in the head.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.