Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele: Protecting the ANC has become a religion

2019-11-26 05:00
Former president Jacob Zuma responds to debate on his state of the nation address, in the National Assembly.

Former president Jacob Zuma responds to debate on his state of the nation address, in the National Assembly. (Edrea Du Toit)

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The ANC demonstrates their determination to keep "unity" at all costs while citizens watch helplessly as those who failed to protect public interests continue to occupy responsible positions at taxpayers' expense, writes Mamphela Ramphele.

Ben Okri, the award-winning African writer, in his latest offering, The Freedom Artist, explores the risks posed to freedom and social justice in our post-truth world where leaders of some of the most powerful nations behave like con-artists who believe that they are entitled to shape reality to suit their insatiable desires to hold on to political power.

Listening to the evidence in the United States (US) Congressional Impeachment Hearings on President Donald Trump, one cannot but be amazed by the extent to which the Constitution and the rule of law, were repurposed to service the insatiable desire of a president to use his office to undermine his political opponents. 

Of great significance is the extent to which the Republican Party Congress representatives are prepared to go to, to shield the leader of their party. Whilst agreeing that he may have done things in an unorthodox way, all interventions were that there is no evidence that justifies impeachment of the president.

The responses of these Republican representatives reminded me of our own dark days when our Parliament shielded then president Jacob Zuma from impeachment. The report of the then public protector, Thuli Madonsela, "Secure in Comfort", laid out unanswerable evidence that state resources amounting to well over R246m were abused by Zuma to build himself a residential complex, Nkandla. 

The truth that was in plain sight was subverted by party loyalty to con citizens into believing myths that were spun to hide the truth. The ANC as the majority in Parliament undermined the commitments made by all organs of state in their oaths of office to promote and protect the Constitution. Parliament chose to protect the Zuma rather than hold him accountable for abusing public recourses meant to fund basic services to promote social justice and human dignity. The rights of citizens were made subservient to the interests of the ANC to remain in power and keep Zuma as president.

We are now back to the same position today with the governing party in Parliament demonstrating their determination to keep "unity of the ANC" at all costs. Citizens watch helplessly as people who failed to act accountably to protect public interests continue to occupy responsible positions as chairs of portfolio committees at taxpayers' expense. 

Sitting comfortably

Former ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, mayors, and others who held high office in President Zuma's era, are sitting comfortably in Parliament enjoying good salaries and benefits paid for by long-suffering citizens. They are collectively responsible for the R500bn that has been syphoned from the public purse during the Zuma years. 

How can people like those who are being exposed at the various commissions as enablers and participants in state capture, be regarded by the ANC as fit and proper persons to be entrusted with holding the executive branch of the state to account?

The notion that one is innocent until proven guilty is being abused to subvert accountability by the ANC as the governing party. The most important requirement of public office is integrity, understood as the firm adherence to a code of morals and ethics, honesty, and incorruptibility. Public office and service to the nation require utmost integrity to engender trust, respect for the rule of law and enhancement of the establishment of shared values that make for a just society. 

Bongo in Parliament adds insult to injury

To add insult to injury, former minister of state security, Bongani Bongo, who was arrested by the Hawks last week and charged with several cases of corruption, is being allowed to continue in his role as member of parliament and chair of the Home Affairs portfolio committee. The charges he faces include attempts to bribe a parliamentary official in order to derail a parliamentary inquiry into R630m tender fraud for toilets in the Eastern Cape.

Why is he still allowed to remain a public representative in the same Parliament he tried to subvert? He was released by the court on R5 000 bail. Ten other people have also been charged and released for the same tender fraud case on bail ranging from R10 000 to R40 000.

Can you imagine any company or institution allowing a senior financial director after being charged with fraud and mismanagement back to work in the name of "innocent until found guilty" in a court of law? What would such an approach do to the levels of trust in the institution?

How would the customers or clients respond to such an approach in relation to the security of their assets or integrity of services provided? Few self-respecting people would continue to relate to an institution that harbours such officers. What makes us as citizens tolerate this intolerable behaviour?

It should come as no surprise that the latest auditor-general's reports indicate growing impunity in the abuse of public resources. The rise in irregular government expenditure in the 2018/19 from R50.1bn to R61.35bn is a logical outcome of Parliament's failure to hold those in government and SOEs accountable. Protecting the ANC and its members has become a religion. The quality of financial statements is deteriorating, procurement regulations are flouted and lawlessness, including threatening officers of the auditor-general's office, remain unpunished in our public sector.

True centre of government

Ben Okri describes a similar situation as we are experiencing in our post-truth world as like a prison: "The prison was the temple of the land. The Hierarchy had made it the centre of the land's new religion. From the prison were conducted all the rigorous obscure rites. The priests were ordained. From here the economy was run. The prison was the true Centre of government." 

The lived reality of freedom for the majority of our population that continues to live in poverty in the midst of plenty over the last 25 years, has been a prison. The dream of living in a democratic system that promotes dignity, equality and opportunities for all has become a nightmare. Many have been reduced to being spectators to elite capture of whatever resources due to them. Water, houses, toilets, schools, clinics and other basic necessities have become luxuries that they can only dream of. The 'Hierarchy' knows best and theirs is to accept their lot of living in the prison of poverty, inequality and unemployment.

We the people, must rise to our responsibilities of challenging the perversion of the rule of law and due process by the ANC through their protection of their comrades from consequence management at taxpayers' expense. Due process requires that all those charged with fraud and corruption step out of public service and clear their names before they could be considered for any other public office.  

To the extent that we remain silent in the face of the perversion of the rule of law and equality of all in the law by the ANC, or any other political party, to that extent we are complicit in undermining our Constitution which is the supreme law of the land. Our democracy and freedom are at serious risk unless we stand up and demand consequence management at all levels of society.

- Mamphela Ramphele is co-founder of ReimagineSA and co-president of the Club of Rome. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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