Three conferences; Three scandals

2012-12-16 10:01

The ANC goes into its third successive national conference with the pall of the corrupting influence of power hanging over it.

I’ll take you back. It’s Stellenbosch 2002. It’s the eve of the conference.

The Mail & Guardian had reported its first exposé of the annual bribe the party’s then deputy president, Jacob Zuma, had allegedly sought via his adviser, Schabir Shaik.

The party shrugged off the allegations, claiming the journalists who asked questions at the conference were rude.

Fast-forward to Polokwane 2007.

The election of Jacob Zuma as ANC president is such a landslide and such a tectonic shift that the nation buys into its pact. At the conference, no mention is made of the hundreds of charges of corruption, fraud and racketeering he faces.

The ANC’s new president (and therefore the country’s de facto president to be) will be a unifier (across ideologies, race and factions) – just the tonic for a fractious land tired of then president Thabo Mbeki, who divided more than united us.

Unity was traded for truth. The word from the ANC was president Zuma had been spoken to about his high-spending, patron-making ways. On a presidential salary, this meant his wheeling and dealing for personal gain would stop.

Fast-forward yet another five years and it feels like Groundhog Day. Another ANC conference, another set of corruption allegations against the president.

This time it’s R248 million spent on Nkandla, the presidential estate.

As far as I know, only R100 000 of this is legal, according to the Ministerial Handbook’s rules on what is allowed to be spent on the security upgrades to the private residences of sitting Cabinet members.

That makes R247 900 000 of it subject to scrutiny – and possibly illegally spent to make the sprawling estate that stands like a feudal castle in the beautiful, but poor, northern KwaZulu-Natal.

Consider that the Mail & Guardian last week revealed the president’s take (alleged) from friends and arms merchants to be R7 million over the period from 1995 to 2006 and you can see why Nkandla is a problem. The amount still in question is about R240 million more.

We are now inured to corruption. And we care less that the corruption has morphed.

From transfers between merchants and politicians via cronies, the money flow is now directly from the public fiscus to politicians via tenderpreneurs.

We are well and truly corrupt.

Our curmudgeon and our conscience, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said this week: “I’ve never been so close to tears. I can’t believe this is true. That we are what we are. I mean, things are revealed and it’s as if someone said: ‘And so what?’ We go on like nothing has happened. What the heck?”

He continued: “Who in their right minds could have approved the expenditure of more than R200 million? And to do it in that area, where you have this nice place standing up, and just around there the squalor and poverty.”

Indeed, sir. What the heck? Writing brilliantly in the Financial Times this week, Jurek Martin compared the American Republicans to the ANC.

Both were born to struggle against oppression, he writes, one against apartheid, the other against American slavery.

“Each had leaders, in Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Mandela, of the calibre who come along maybe once or twice a century. But both parties have long departed from these inspirational examples.”

He might have added Tutu as another wonderful old man whom we have disappointed.

A part of me is happy Madiba is away from the headlines and unaware of what has become of his grand old movement.

It is sad that Tutu cries at our decline and heartbreaking that we don’t hear him.

Martin adds of the Republicans and the ANC: “Both are sleepwalking toward destiny ...

Put crudely, both are corrupt and living in the past, and each may be at a turning point in their respective histories, if they could only recognise it.”

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