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The leaks on the CR17 campaign funds have demonstrated a death of principle within our organisation, the ANC, which we must refuse to accept as the new normal, writes Mzwandile Masina.
A Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz once said that principles are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference. This means that principles not only anchor thinking persons, but they provide such persons with a compass – one with a true north guiding them through tumultuous terrains.
The important thing about principles is not that they offer us a sense of certainty in the direction we are taking, but that in the process, they guide us through difficulties and dangers and help us to negotiate these. It is for this reason that principles must always be the foundation on which we build organisations.
The conversation on principles is one that the leadership and general membership of the ANC and the broader mass democratic movement need to have. In fact, the conversation is long overdue. The recent developments pertaining to the CR17 campaign leaks necessitate that we engage in a meaningful conversation about the organisation’s desperate need to reclaim its principles so that they may anchor us in the decisions we make moving forward.
In the not-too-distant past, the ANC found itself faced with an ethical nightmare when former president Jacob Zuma was embroiled in the Nkandla dilemma. Specifically, when the details of the extent to which Nkandla was problematic arose, those surrounding the president insisted on defending the indefensible. Even when our voices were not loud enough, some of us remained firm in the conviction that principles must never be eroded in the pursuit of political favour.
In 2017, at the height of the discontent around the polarising and immoral Gupta family that sought to undermine the credibility and integrity of the South African state, I stood firm on the conviction that the former president and his NEC collective needed to distance themselves and the organisation from the malfeasance that surrounded this family. I said at the time that the family was an impediment to our capacity to fashion a transformative and meaningful revolution – a position I continue to stand by.
In spite of this, my position on the need to protect the integrity of both the ANC and its president was never fluid. However, I was uncompromising in my belief that the principle of truth, of telling no lies and claiming no easy victories, is a principle that must provide a thinking person with a frame of reference.
I quote this example to demonstrate that principles, unlike the wind that blows in a direction undetermined, are not ductile. They are not things we can stretch thin and change at a whim. Principles must anchor us so that we may be consistent in defining parameters for what is acceptable and what is not, regardless of who is involved and what our feelings are towards that person.
The past few days have demonstrated a death of principle within our organisation which we must refuse to accept as the new normal. Bank statements alleged to be belonging to one of many CR17 trusts were recently leaked, showing the transactions that were made towards the CR17 campaign.
These statements were preceded by leaked emails from the campaign, which included names of potential donors and other material evidence. The bank statements in particular are important because they identify beneficiaries of the multi-million-rand campaign fund – including but not limited to politicians, campaign managers and strategists. Some of these persons, in their own capacity or through companies and organisations they ran, earned millions of rands.
Many conversations have been sparked by these revelations, including the very important conversation about the role that money is playing in the political direction of the ANC.
Former president Thabo Mbeki has opined briefly on this matter and correctly asserted that what is required is a more nuanced discussion that goes beyond this particular campaign. This is fundamental.
In his profound warning about what politics of money can do to the revolutionary conscience of a progressive organisation like the ANC, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin posited that bourgeois reformists and pacifists are people who "as a general rule are paid, in one form or another, to strengthen the rule of capitalism by patching it up, to lull the masses and divert them from the revolutionary struggle".
The argument posed by the former president is therefore a principled one that we must visit in the immediate future, for it is fundamentally about the soul of the ANC and its legitimate claims to be a revolutionary organisation grounded in the aspirations of our people.
But another important conversation, and one which is not being given the attention it demands, is the one on whether there could be grounds for criminal investigation into some of our own comrades. The indication that some beneficiaries of this campaign fund used the resources not for what they were intended for, but for their own personal interests such as the purchase of houses, is not something that must be taken lightly, because it begs the question of whether such purchases were ever declared. If this was not done, then it means that some of our comrades have lent themselves to money laundering and tax avoidance, which are not only criminal and prosecutable, but also deeply unethical.
More than this, the ANC is not ambiguous on the question of its members being embroiled in such acts as money laundering and tax avoidance, which are a chromatin network of the nucleus of corruption. At the party's 54th national conference of the ANC, we took a resolution as follows: "ANC should take decisive action against all members involved in corruption including those who use money to influence conference outcomes" (Section 9, sub-section 9.2, page 76 of Report and Resolutions). It is for this reason that this conversation is especially critical and is, as I have asserted, about the very soul and legitimacy of the ANC.
When I raised this matter, some comrades came out guns blazing in defence of what is undebatably immoral. Tragically, accusations arose that I was being oppositionist to ANC leadership. This could not be further from the truth and I have demonstrated on numerous occasions the respect that I hold for the organisation and all its leaders as well as leaders of the alliance. But just as I believed it principled to differ with the dominant narrative around the Gupta family, I find it necessary to do so now. The
ANC that I grew up in, that I serve and that I love, is not an organisation where difference is punished. To hold a different view even to the president of the organisation has never meant one is a pariah and attempts to normalise this kind of thinking must be resisted at all cost, because their cost to the movement is colossal.
We must never falter in defining principles and using them as both an anchor and a reference. We must be clear as members and leaders of the ANC that the only time it is necessary to be in a state of defence is when we defend members who are under attack for ANC policy positions or for decisions they took in the best interest of the organisation.
We cannot and must never normalise a culture where we defend individuals who commit questionable acts in their personal capacities, and then want to claim that such defence is necessary or even revolutionary. To do this would be setting parameters for the normalisation of politics of personality cults, where individuals are elevated above the organisation. No travesty could be greater than this.
We must learn, as ANC members, that principles are fundamental. Above all, that wrong is wrong no matter who does it.
- Masina is the regional chairperson of the ANC in Ekurhuleni. He writes in his personal capacity.
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