It is sad when a party loses talented people. It is sadder when one has worked for decades to build a party to see it teetering on the brink of a major setback.
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President Cyril Ramaphosa and other senior ANC members during the party's 107th anniversary celebrations. (Tshidi Madia/News24)
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The dilemmas facing ANC members today are no different from those faced by members of the National Party who associated it with the restoration of their dignity as Afrikaners after long periods of humiliation by British colonialism, writes Mamphela Ramphele.
The painful tragic-dramas unfolding in the various commissions of inquiry reflect the heavy cost of party loyalty trumping loyalty to our constitutional democratic state.
At the same time we can only feel pride and gratitude for the role our independent judiciary has played over the last 25 years in holding those in power in both the public and private sector accountable. Once more the nation is relying on the strengths of the judiciary to shine the light on the abuses of state power by party loyalists who captured the state and repurposed its institutions to serve their own interests.
We have under-estimated the power of emotional ties that express themselves as loyalty to political parties that trumps the requirements of the rule of law and professionalism in public service; the loyalty to a party so many grew up in, one that gave them a sense of self-respect and purpose in the darkest hours of our nation's life, have proven very costly to our society.
Loyalty dilemma for ANC members
The dilemmas facing ANC members today are no different from those faced by members of the National Party who associated it with the restoration of their sense of dignity and pride as Afrikaners after long periods of humiliation by British colonial domination. Strong emotional ties between members (institutionalised in the Broederbond) and to the National Party, led to state capture and excesses justified as a necessary price to pay to secure retention of political power.
Post-apartheid state capture first expressed itself in the design, execution and cover-up of the corruption of the arms deal in the 1990s. The allocation of billions to purchase arms to defend ourselves in a non-existent war, was legitimised by Parliament despite overwhelming evidence of corruption, the aftermath of which still reverberates in former president Jacob Zuma who faces more than 700 counts of corruption.
Good people in the ANC were silenced, and allowed themselves to be silenced into acquiescence in the interest of the undeclared spoils that flowed into the party.
The Nkandla scandal in the 2000s took us into the depths of the ridiculous. The overwhelming evidence of corruption and nepotism amounting to over R200m contained in advocate Thuli Madonsela's report "Secure in Comfort", was swept aside by Parliament in favour of a loyalist subcommittee report that flouted the rule of law and constitutional requirements that obligated Parliament to hold the executive branch of the state accountable.
We were then treated to a tragic show of then minister Nkosinathi Nhleko wiping copious sweat as he tried to convince us that the large swimming pool was in fact a "fire pool", a necessary security feature to protect then president Zuma.
Good people allowed themselves to be silenced
What is being revealed now at the various commissions of inquiry is large-scale abuse of power and repurposing of state institutions to serve the interests of powerful politically connected people. Good people, especially young professionals and competent directors of boards of state-owned enterprises allowed themselves to be silenced and become complicit in the devastation visited on our public assets and heritage.
Many of those who went on to confess to faith leaders in the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and elsewhere spoke of the immense pressure they were put under in the name of protecting "the movement".
The most recently released report on the state intelligence system is frightening. It reminds many of us who fought against the apartheid system how state capture entered private intimate domains to strip people of their dignity and silence them.
As a banned person in 1977 I could not get reasons why I had been banished from King William's Town, where I was an activist community health worker, to an unknown place called Tzaneen in the then North Eastern Transvaal, because it was not in the interest of the state security for me to get those reasons! The interest of National Party to retain power became conflated with those of the state which is the common wealth belonging to citizens.
Irony of Zuma's tactics
The cruel irony is to see how Zuma, a professed liberation leader, employed the same tactics to retain power for himself and ANC party loyalists.
President Cyril Ramaphosa's efforts to unearth and clean out the rot of state capture and repurposing of state institutions need to be accompanied by soul searching within the ANC and wider society. To what extent is the ANC willing to tolerate mediocrity, abuse of power by public officials, corruption and undermining of the values of Ubuntu embedded in our Constitution in order to retain political power?
Citizens who have the power to choose who should represent them in public office also have to reflect on their complicity in sustaining a system of governance that has resulted in state capture on their watch. In a constitutional democracy such as ours, we, the people have the responsibility to choose only those leaders whose conduct promotes the values of Ubuntu we hold so dear, and to hold them accountable for their actions.
Loyalty is also the biggest obstacle to citizens exercising their responsibilities to use their votes to hold their leaders accountable. Citizens' loyalty has emotional and cognitive elements to it. For many, the ANC is a family party just as the National Party was for Afrikaners. Voting against a family party is seen as the ultimate disloyalty, not only to the party but to one's family.
Appeals to loyalty are what keep good people in the ANC despite their revulsion at the corruption within. Loyalty has also provided bad people within the ANC with security despite their betrayals of the promises of freedom.
State capture 'a cancer'
Our failure to institutionalise civic education in school curriculae, faith-based youth development programs, as well as in workplace staff development programs, ensures perpetuation of citizen sense of lack of options in the exercise of their votes. The use of public violence and destruction of public property by poor people to press demands for basic services, reflects the sense of powerlessness amongst them. Many do not know that they are the rightful owners and custodians of public property. They destroy it as a proxy for punishing government whom they believe owns it.
Tragically, the very same citizens would go back to vote for the same local, provincial and national authorities who have failed them.
State capture is a cancer that has infested our socio-economic and political culture. Like any cancer, it requires comprehensive radical actions to eradicate it and prevent its recurrence. These actions should include addressing the festering wounds of humiliation that perpetuate the idea that we are defined by what we have, rather than who we are – human beings with a sacred centre at the core of our beings.
This new-found self-confidence would eliminate the need to depend on authority figures, public or private, instead of seeing them as the servants who should respectfully serve 'We, the People'.
- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA.
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