Crooks and empty promises

2009-02-10 00:00

WHEN news of the breakaway from the African National Congress first surfaced I could hardly believe my ears. Not-withstanding the fact that the ANC has for too long been all things to all people, I never imagined that this would happen in my lifetime, because the ANC has always been able to paper over the cracks and close the hatches when confronted with criticism. It has been able to withstand its own internal contradictions and wrangling for as long as I can remember.

The formation of the Congress of the People (Cope) has opened up other cracks and the ANC can make a great fuss of showing unity, yet the two spin doctors cannot spin away the leaks and innuendo that surface every week. This, together with the formation of Cope, is a good thing and it will show the electorate that the ANC is not the monolith that it claims to be. With the formation of Cope, the unthinkable has happened and not too soon. The ruling party will now have more opposition and it will have to (if this is possible) watch its step. This is good because anything that dents the total control of the ruling party assists in opening space for debate and transparency.

However, the formation of Cope is not enough in itself. It has firmly placed itself in the fold of the Congress movement with allegiance to the Freedom Charter and its name is aligned with the history of that movement. It also has high-profile members who said and did little to rock the boat during the reign of the Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki factions. They also did little that one knows of about some of the more bizarre events in our recent history — the HIV/Aids fiasco of the Mbeki era, the behaviour of the former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, or about some of the more embarrassing foreign policy decisions. They project and position anti-corruption together with other things, such as the defence of the Constitution and justice system.

Many people are looking to Cope for direction, especially young people who want to be part of a vibrant, modern society. They are tired of the politicking and rampant abuse of the resources of the country, and the way in which society has been corrupted by these elements. They are dismayed by the slide into ethnic and tribal factions, and the way in which these have sometimes been elevated. The ANC parliamentary list reinforces these feelings. The ruling party, against all norms of principles and decency, is determined to foist on the electorate people who are both flawed and unsavoury, as well as criminal. They show the country the finger, while they loudly proclaim their anti-corruption stance. They have amnesia about the misdeeds of those whom they wish to protect. However, the way that Cope has reacted and dealt with similarly discredited people who have joined its fold augurs ill for those who look to it as a beacon of hope. People of the calibre of Peter Marais — that old apartheid-era quisling and yes man — should have no place in the political life of South Africa. People like him should have been shown the door. The Peter Marais of the world are unrepentant of their past and have no moral or political standing. This, of course, leads directly to the question of Allen Boesak. I am often amazed at the hype and myth that his name generates. This is a man who, under the cloak of the church, was able to divert money for needy causes into his own pocket. This is a man who, under the cloak of religion, would have thundered against those who broke the 10 commandments — but who exempted himself from those commandments. This is a man who was negotiating with two political parties at the same time to get the best political deal for himself. When he got no joy (promise of high office among other things) from the ANC he arrived at Cope with pomp and ceremony to a hero’s welcome. Then there is the myth of his oratorical skills. Oratory means presence and skill, as well as the content of what is said by a person.

The young people who flock to Cope deserve to be taught that a rigorous engagement with ideas is necessary to distinguish it from other parties if it is to make any meaningful contribution to the political life of the country. They also deserve to know that it is not in their interests to heap acclaim on people who would sell themselves to the highest bidder and that adulation for dishonoured former leaders on their part is no different from the adulation and foolhardy blind loyalty bestowed on the president of the ruling party.

Until this lesson is learnt there will never be a way forward to a more principled alignment of forces. As long as opportunists of every hue can just slip into organisations and no voice is heard in protest, these organisations will be open to the corrupting influence of these self-seekers. No matter how it may help them to garner a few extra votes, it should be uppermost in the minds of the leadership of serious political parties that they and their membership must be beyond reproach. I say this because there is a creeping sickness in society that makes people avert their eyes or totally ignore matters of corruption and other anti-social behaviour on all sorts of levels.

All the political parties have put forward anti-corruption as something they won’t stand for because they know that the vast majority of the citizens are sick and tired of this festering sore. Yet at the same time, the ANC and Cope (which may even become the second or third largest party) shield and promote people known to have been involved in such activities. Talking the talk is not enough. Action is imperative. Anything less is a disservice to the country and disrespectful of the citizens.

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