Polokwane unease

2008-01-22 00:00

POLOKWANE has been carved up, dissected and analysed ad nauseam. I never intended to write about it, and then it hit me: I could think of little else. There are many things that make any decent, honest person cringe in dismay at the events that took place. Because it involved the ruling party it appeared as if the whole country was involved and that is far from the truth.

There are two things in particular that stand out about the representivity of Polokwane. It was only a small percentage of the population who were represented there. It is a well-known fact that the branches of the ANC are not all that they are cracked up to be. The paid up membership is a small percentage of the voters who go to the polls to vote for the ANC. The reason they do is partly historical and partly the fact that they believe that they are voting for a liberation organisation. The street protests we witness are an indication of the way it might go if the voters had a better political understanding of the way we are being misgoverned.

What happened in Polokwane was a form of mob rule. Increasingly we see people coming together to force a viewpoint on others. When large groups of people are incited to attend court proceedings in support of one or other miscreant, then it is not just a way of showing solidarity, it is a direct interference with the way justice is going to be meted out.

In the struggle for control of the ANC the leitmotif that runs alongside is the struggle for the spoils of power. What makes it so despicable is that this battle for control was accompanied by the election of an executive that had a large number of fraudsters and people convicted of serious offences. By the act of constituting such an executive the whole organisation is tainted and the delegates thumbed their noses at good governance and the striving for an ethical and caring society.

The main thrust of what bothered me was the idea put forward that Polokwane was a watershed for the democratic process. I could hardly believe my ears. When an organised group goes against the very instructions of its own organisation by wearing T-shirts that were specifically disallowed and flaunted that disrespect of its own organisation, and that organisation, could and would do nothing, we are left with the distinct feeling that this was anarchy.

Anarchy is the very antithesis of democracy. So how could this be viewed as an expression of democracy? The truth is that this was a well-orchestrated palace coup. A palace coup does nothing for democracy. It just means business as usual with a new guard. From such beginnings dictatorships are possible. When people flaunt their organisations’ rules and wishes there is little chance that they will respect anything or anyone else, for organisational discipline and loyalty are the hallmarks of a committed cadre.

When a few people can make enough noise and are able to threaten the rest into submission, a very poor precedent is set. Once the die is cast then it will permeate all sectors and institutions of society. There is no boundary that will keep it within the corral of the ANC. That means that once scores are settled within there is no reason that others will be exempt.

In South Africa we live on the very edge of ethnic, tribal and racial division. I don’t give much credit to our supposed rainbow nation when the temperature hots up. The fact that many Zuma supporters used tribal loyalty is deeply disturbing. The events in Rwanda and now in Kenya show how easily this can turn violent. It needs just a few inciters to fan the flames. The ANC has enough of those. It is the height of irresponsibility of any leadership to condone, let alone to allow, divisive and irresponsible wild talk and behaviour. It is no use distancing oneself after the deed is done. The culprits are still there and unchastised, ready to do whatever takes their fancy next time. But then leadership in the true sense of the word is sadly lacking in this messy affair.

Finally, the notion that some or other accused person can be pardoned and then either step down or be appointed to high office, shows how little the ruling party and others respect the rule of law. There can be no trade-offs for accused people to pull the ruling party’s chestnuts out of the fire. The very idea means that lawlessness will prevail and pardons will be bought cheaply. We already have enough fraudsters and other unsavoury people in the halls of power. We do not need more. The ruling party needs to get a grip on criminal behaviour and the behaviour of its members before they make us not just the polecat but the laughing stock of the world.

• Nina Hassim is a pharmacist and a former political activist.

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