Leaders aren't listening

2008-08-11 00:00

The litmus requirement of South Africa’s Constitution for the government to involve ordinary citizens in decision-making is now in danger of becoming a principle on paper only. The astonishingly glib way in which the African National Congress (ANC) leadership dismissed calls from the public to debate the decision whether to close down the Scorpions, the National Prosecution Authorities’ (NPA) prosecuting unit, the country’s most effective crime-busting unit, is a case in point. The National Assembly’s Portfolio Committee for Safety and Security is preparing to process two draft bills — the South African Police Service Amendment Bill and the National Prosecuting Authority Bill — that aim to close down the Scorpions and incorporate its members into a new organised crime unit within the police service.

The public have been invited to give their views in public hearings on the Scorpions’ closure to debate these bills. Yet Yunus Carrim, chairperson of the Public Enterprises Portfolio Committee, has insisted that the decision to close down the Scorpions has already been taken and no matter what citizens have to say in the public hearings, the decision won’t be reversed.

Quite worryingly, Carrim was quoted in The Star as saying: “Why can’t you understand that even if the entire country were to say no, it is possible that a [political] party could choose to say yes.” This one sentence lays bare just how extraordinarily complacent, indifferent and arrogant many in the ANC leadership have become. They are not servants of the people anymore. Carrim said that the decision to disband the Scorpions was taken by more than 4 000 ANC delegates who represented “about 750 000 ANC members”.

In a moment of lucidity, no doubt induced by his sacking as Western Cape premier, Ebrahim Rasool, in an interview with the Sunday Times, pointed his finger at the heart of the ANC. Rasool, speaking after his sacking, said that the ANC leadership is failing to understand that the ANC is the “driver” of the nation, not the “nation”. Yet, if the ANC is the driver of the nation, then it needs to get mandates on policies from the nation. Now, the core ANC leadership mistakenly think that they are the nation, that whatever they do or say is the nation itself doing it or speaking.

If the ANC leadership, or a faction of it, decide that the Scorpions have to be closed down to protect Jacob Zuma from facing 16 criminal charges, and other ANC leaders under investigation by the unit, then this is what the nation wants, because the ANC is the nation. Furthermore, the ANC leadership thinks that because they were elected in 2004, they can essentially do anything they want, without having to listen to the views of those who elected them. The reality is that the ANC leadership have now become an exclusive club, which prioritises their own personal, faction and ideological enrichment, disguising it as being in the interest of the nation. They do not care about consulting, debating or including anyone outside their club in decision-making that affects SA’s future. As Rasool said, robust debate within the nation has now been replaced by personal relationships between comrades in the ANC, the government, the provincial executive committee and the relationships between a variety of deployed people.

The job of making the glue that holds the members of the ANC leadership club together is to make the compromised ANC president Zuma the country’s next president, even if it means razing the country to ashes. The truth is that the ANC’s closure of the Scorpions, allegedly, as ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) member Siphiwe Nyanda submitted to the parliamentary public hearings, because the unit is responsible for “serious violations of the Constitution and the rule of law”, is but a smoke screen. Surely, whatever the Scorpions’ mistakes they do not warrant that the unit be closed down. What we need to do is to tighten democratic oversight over it and all other security, intelligence and military agencies.

South Africa is faced with a crime wave that is washing investment, jobs and skilled people away, terrifying society and undermining the rule of law and the credibility of the state itself. Furthermore, it is hard to imagine public confidence in the police services dropping lower. Yet, the effectiveness of the Scorpions in fighting high-level corruption and crime was a glimmer of hope.

In 2006, the Constitutional Court made a series of seminal judg-ments on the duty of the government to listen to ordinary citizens. Constitutional Court Judge Sandile Ngcobo, in his important Doctors for Life judgment in which the Health Department was criticised for not consulting widely when it made its policies, insisted that it was a constitutional requirement that before any legislation in Parliament is passed, there has to be public debate and involvement on the merits of such legislation. Ngcobo said that when the constitutional assembly drafted the Constitution it never intended to limit citizens’ participation in political decision-making to only their right to vote. He said that not involving citizens in the law-making process would render laws invalid.

The ANC leadership must heed this message, not only pertaining to the Scorpions, but on all other policies.

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