Money for jam

2010-09-09 00:00

THIS week, members of the Young Communist League (YCL) decided to disassociate themselves from their chairperson David Masondo’s criticism of what he labelled Zuma Economic Empowerment after the president’s family members jumped from the economic sidelines to being overnight billionaires.

It was the clearest indication yet that we have swiftly moved from being an apartheid state to Zaïre­ification without the usual interlude of Zanufication. In such an interlude, young communists would easily condemn political elites using incumbency to allow those closest to them to benefit from state resources.

While it is normal, even logical for party acolytes and praise singers to seek to defend the indefensible, one would have expected a bit more from the youth wing of a party that claims to be committed to the upliftment of the working class and the poorest South Africans.

Clearly our expectations of the communists have been too high. It would seem that they are more interested in not being booed at the next ANC do, than they are about the plight of the poorest they claim to serve. By choosing to be polite about state-elite gluttony, the YCL has made the interests of the ruling alliance more important than those of the country and, more importantly, the most marginalised.

After one has made peace with the fact that senior communists adopt a see/hear-no-evil approach because they too are beneficiaries of the million-rand sedans, the young communists still have it in them to speak out against the Mobutufication of our country.

You don’t need to be a political maverick to condemn the sudden “money for jam” wealth of the president’s family barely two years after their father and uncle took office.

It is even more shocking that the ANC Youth League — generally bandied about as the representatives of right-wing interests within the ANC-led alliance — would be more vociferous about how the political elites have turned the state into their feeding trough.

With the communists co-opted, we are fully on course to being “a predator state where a powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich”, as aptly captured by Cosatu leader Zwelinzima Vavi.

He went on to say: “Just like the hyena and her daughters eat first in nature, the chief of state’s family eats first. We have to intervene now to prevent South Africa from becoming a state where corruption is the norm and no business can be done with government without first paying a corrupt gatekeeper.”

You may or may not like Vavi but there are times when one would rather be on the right side of correct than in an argument with the wrong people. This is one such occasion.

To say, as some apologists have, that they have committed no crime is to be desperate. The fact that something is not illegal does not necessarily make it right. Apartheid was indeed legal. It was the law that white people were superior to blacks, but that did not make it right.

There may be nothing illegal about the president’s 28-year-old son raking in a billion rand but there is everything morally reprehensible about that if he had no known entrepreneurial streak before his father become the number-one citizen.

It is perfectly legal for the president’s nephew to sell for millions of dollars oil fields in the Democratic Republic of Congo which he had acquired only four months previously, but it still offends our sensibilities.

We cannot and should not wait for our country to become a full-blown Zaïre before we start acting. Vavi again: “We have to intervene now to prevent South Africa from becoming a state where corruption is the norm and no business can be done with government without first paying a corrupt gatekeeper.”

One of the places where this must start is within the ruling alliance. It is heartening to know that the alliance still has the likes of Vavi who is not afraid to speak truth to power in the interest of the constituency he leads.

States do not just degenerate into kleptocracies overnight. Cultures that breed such states are nurtured by an apathetic citizenry and a civil society that thinks it owes the state more loyalty than it does the citizenry. This route gets swifter when the state successfully co-opts those friends of the most marginalised.

It is shameful when the brightest young minds subvert their own intelligence and hold their tongues just so they are kept on the guest list the next time the party elite throws a bash.

The young communists should look at themselves in the mirror and weep when they see what they have become. Like their senior comrades, they will have to live with their consciences. They may survive being booed at the next ANC shindig but they had better start drinking more of that wine to dull their pangs of conscience, if they still have any.

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